So. It happened like this.
I was about eight years old, madly in love with all horses. My uncle had a farm, and he let me ride all over his land.
I could have told you then that bliss smells like horse sweat and pine needles.
But, everybody knows that.
Sunlight streaming through shade trees, a peaceful stallion grazed in the dusty light.
I sat quietly on his back for days, thinking if National Velvet could solve mysteries like Nancy Drew, then that’s who I was. Nancy Velvet. Did Nancy Drew like burned marshmallows, I wondered, and glanced over at the field full of cattle sleepwalking in the perfect heat.
One afternoon, they gave me a different horse. I was disappointed; the other horse and I, we were best friends. He was going to miss me bad.
But, a horse is a horse, right?
So, I pulled on my boots and walked out, expecting a day of traipsing through tall grass and butterflies, Queen Anne’s Lace.
When I climbed on the horse, he wasn’t friendly like my uncle’s stallion. He was jumpy and shaking all over. I thought when he recognized the advanced level of my horseback riding skills, he would calm down, and we could ride on.
He did not. Recognize them or calm down.
Until that moment, I thought horses understood me and loved me as much as I loved them. I thought I was a girl in a book, and the horse would know that.
He and I had not read the same book.
I screamed. The world was a blue-green blur, and a fence was rushing straight at us. At the last minute, the horse jerk-bucked a hard turn to the left, and I flew off his back to the right.
I lay in the brown grass in shock. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. My heart was broken.
I didn’t get back on him the way they always say to do after a fall. I couldn’t lift my right arm, and the only horse available to ride at that moment was the one who had just pitched me across the corral.
I sobbed my way to my grandmother’s porch, where they fed me Kraft cheese singles and cold Pepsi in a metal cup—Arkansas smelling salts. My mother found my glasses in the grass and brought them to me. My uncle stood looking at me, mournful.
Someone said weakly, “she should get back on,” and we all looked out at the horse, now, finally, grazing peacefully. Everyone looked away, and my grandmother brought me another slice of cheese.
I had known fear before that day. Night terrors, alone in the dark with every evil creature staring red-eyed across the room. Fear of an adult’s anger, fear of injury in childish games.
But, this was the saddest fear, laced with betrayal. My shoulder was dislocated. I couldn’t hold reins or get in the saddle for a long time.
I never really rode again after that.
Until a couple of years ago, my husband took us on a vacation to the Rocky mountains.
He wanted me to have a chance to get back on. He knew that I had prayed a thousand times for another good ride.
I told the lady, “a three-legged nag, that’s all I can handle.”
She laughed and said, “Oh, you need Daisy. She’s perfect.” Daisy was a spotted gray horse, an Appaloosa. She tossed her head when I walked toward her. I looked at the guide. She said, “Just climb on. She loves this ride.”
I thought my lungs would explode.
All I could do at first was clench the reins in sweaty fists and pray and pray and pray not to die. Pray that none of my family would die.
It was a long way down the side of that tight, narrow trail.
We rode single file through closely spaced pine trees. The air was thin, and the shade was cold.
I watched Daisy’s feet stumble over rocks and thought I was going to vomit. Chad looked back at me and smiled. I smiled. Gagged.
I could hear in my mind, reassurance, a peaceful sound. I so wanted to be healed of that moment, such a long time ago.
The trail guide called out, “plan to stop a minute when we come into the clearing. It’s a lookout point, beautiful!”
When we stepped out of the dark woods, the horse in front of us stopped, and before I said, “whoa,” Daisy stopped behind him.
I bravely took a picture of the back of her head before looking up to see the view.
I breathed in and sat on that old gray mare and cried. Tears streaming down my face, the sun burning my neck and a cool breeze blowing, I knew blessing.
Snow covered, majestic green and craggy, the Rocky Mountains faded into white clouds. The wide valleys rolled out like a carpet. The sky was so blue. So blue.
In that moment, I could have told you that the purest bliss, the purest of all, smells like mountain air and horses and freedom. It smells like redemption.
What do you need to “get back on?” What old hurts have caused fears that keep you from your fullest life? What are those old hurts and fears costing you? What will it cost you if you never face them? What could open up for you if you do–healing, freedom, joy, something else?
Prayers. For you to get back on. Remember Lady the Fearless and her lightning water? Have a cup. Heaven’s smelling salts. And get back on.
Nancy Velvet forever.