My daughter Lila, who turns 11 next month, has been taking riding lessons for two years. A few weeks back, I was sitting in the car, half reading a back issue of Harper’s, and half watching Lila’s lesson. She seemed to be doing a lot of galloping. I got out of the car, thinking I’d get a picture of her breezing past, but then realized something was wrong.
Not that you’d have noticed listening to Mary, Lila’s teacher. She maintained her authoritative teacher voice–emphatic, carefully enunciated–but her instructions were along the line of “grab the mane and pull” and “tell her whoa.” Around the ring Lila went twice more at full gallop, and I heard her start whimpering about her stirrups. I started feeling sick. Her posture was getting worse and worse. Things were happening very quickly, and yet I remember this in slow motion: she started sliding off center in the saddle, then rotated a little more to the right, then quickly down the horse’s side, and off. A thud, the sand flying. But she landed clear.
Mary and I got to Lila at about the same time. She had banged her head pretty hard. We stood her up and brushed her off and checked her pupils.
Once satisfied that Lila wasn’t badly hurt, Mary was immediately back in teacher mode, explaining what had happened. The girls had been doing no-stirrup work, which they often do. Lila had begun to tire and started trying to get her feet back into the stirrups. In a frightening loop, she was pressing tighter and tighter with her legs, which told her horse, Contessa, a young rescued thoroughbred, to go faster. Contessa started to canter, then gallop. Mary estimated horse and rider had raced eight times around the ring. Poor Lila was hanging on for dear life, but her thighs gripping the horse only made it go faster.
Contessa ambled back to Lila and gave her a nuzzle. Mary then gave Lila a leg up, and she finished the lesson.
I spent a lot of time in the following week beating myself up: what the hell kind of parenting is this?!
The other day, Lila had locked herself in her room for an entire afternoon. When she emerged, she proudly invited us in to see her wall of equine wisdom. The deployment of duct tape reassured me that she was indeed my departed dad’s granddaughter, and the sentiment of the epigram at the top spoke for itself.