Scene 4: The Riding Lesson
A few minutes later, Karen and Joshua finished saddling and feeding the horses. The crunch of car tires on gravel broke the silence.
Karen ran to the door. A shiny blue Buick station wagon was bumping its way up the rutted drive from the pavement to the barn, with a cloud of dust floating behind it. Karen followed Joshua toward it.
Joshua waved, and the car stopped. A tall, slender man got out of the driver’s side door. His long-sleeved plaid, western-style shirt with pearl snaps looked brand new. So did his Levis and shiny cowboy boots. He clomped a straw cowboy hat on top of his bald head and nodded. The other front door opened, and a tall woman dressed in similar new cowboy duds climbed out.
“Morning, doctors!” said Joshua. “I’m prouder ’n a peacock to have your son here at the ranch. Today, Tim gets a private lesson. After he gets the hang of riding, we will add him to a class to help his socialization. But he’s never been on a horse before, so I want to focus on him today.”
The doctors waved at someone in the vehicle—Karen knew it must be Tim—and then walked the few steps to the corral. Karen noticed they left the motor running and knew it must be for the air conditioning. The air was cool, but the sun was hot, and they did not want their son to swelter in the parked car.
Karen kept silent while the adults discussed Tim and his needs. She knew Joshua had met with the parents the week before, and they had a general plan of therapy for their son. They talked a lot about increasing his self-confidence and giving him the feeling of being in charge of the horse. Karen recalled her first rides on Pegasus and the joy she felt at communicating with him and making a genuine friend. She had not been interested in controlling him or being in charge of anything but her own life, but then her disabilities were much lighter than Tim’s. She brought her mind back to the conversation and reminded herself that she was here for Tim, not for herself.
Joshua suggested they begin by getting Tim up onto the most gentle horse he had. He pointed to an aged mare, a bay with a gentle disposition. He explained he had a special saddle with straps that would help Tim keep his balance, since his legs were both paralyzed. Karen would walk beside the horse while Tim rode. When he felt confident enough, she would hand him the reins.
“And folks,” Joshua concluded. “Don’t be surprised if this takes several sessions. Bein’ up on a horse, having to balance on a moving animal when you have only your hands to work with, ain’t gonna be no roll in the hay. We have to take it slow. We may have some goals of self-confidence in mind for Tim, but he’s likely gonna be struggling to survive this first ride, at least in his own mind.”
The parents both looked uncomfortable. The father forced a smile, but sweat ran from under his hat. His red face was full of the lines of kindness and worry. The mother’s face looked as if it had been set in sadness for many years. She had pretty reddish brown hair under her red western bandana, and her figure was slender and fit, but her green eyes were full of the same guilt as Mama’s.
Joshua said, “We’ve been palaverin’ for a few minutes. Why don’t we get Tim out here so he can join us?”
Karen trailed behind as the adults walked to the station wagon. She had butterflies fluttering in her stomach about giving her first lesson, even though she knew Joshua would be with her every step of the way. For a moment, she paled, and her body turned cold and trembled. Knowing that Tim was older than her and super-intelligent made her apprehensive. She thought Joshua would have her teach small children, not boys who were almost grown up.
Joshua and Karen stood back as the two parents helped their son out of the back seat and into his wheelchair. Tim did not need much help getting from the car to the chair. He put one hand on each arm of the chair. Then, using his upper body strength, he lifted himself into the seat and dragged his legs into position. Karen had never seen anyone do this. Even sitting down, he was as tall as Karen was standing up. He would be taller than his father, if he could stand. He had the same reddish brown hair, and brown eyes, but his hair was thick and curly, and his eyes held a sadness, a sadness that he might never become independent. And the frown that clouded his face reflected his mother’s.
His father introduced him to Joshua and Karen. Tim spoke with a long stutter, but managed to say hello, and he was glad to meet them. Joshua explained that Karen was disabled but had been riding for years and was certified to teach. He added that Tim would be her first student.
When he said that, Tim grimaced and said, “You-you-you mean this girl is going to teach me?”
Joshua said, “Yes. Karen is one of the kindest and most intelligent people I have ever met. She will be a great teacher.”
Tim and his parents glared, but said nothing. Karen beamed. Joshua led them back to the corral, and Karen was amazed that Tim could push his own wheelchair up the dirt road and through the gravel. At the corral, Joshua pointed out the horse he thought Tim should start on.
“This is Daisy. She’s almost as kind as Karen, but not so smart.”
Everyone laughed, even Tim. He looked up at Daisy and raised his eyebrows.
“How am I going to get up on her?”
Joshua laughed. “For that, we have a miracle of modern engineering!” He pointed toward the barn. The crane he used to lift hay bales from the ground up into the barn attic, projected out the front of the barn. He had replaced the heavy iron hook they used to life bales with a contraption of metal bars and straps similar to the ones in a medical hoist.
Joshua had Karen lead Daisy out of the corral and into position in front of the barn. Then he and Karen tugged the straps under Tim’s legs, which was easy to do since Tim lifted his body by pushing down on the wheelchair arms, and Joshua sent Karen up into the barn to operate the winch.
In a few minutes, Tim was on the horse, grasping the pommel with both hands as he struggled to keep his balance.
“Whoa, Daisy,” said Joshua. “Whoa, girl. Stay where you are.”
Joshua explained that as Tim became accustomed to riding, his body would naturally learn to keep its balance. He had seen this with other paraplegic riders. It always took a little time, so the main thing was to give him the help he needed without overdoing it.
“Now, I want Karen to lead Daisy very slowly while Tim’s parents walk along, one on each side. Tim’s very strong in his upper body, so I don’t think he’s in any danger of falling, but if he starts to slide, then his parents and I can help him.”
Karen looked up at Tim. His face was pale and covered with sweat. He looked down at her with an expression as if he were on top of a tall building, peering over the edge. She waited for Joshua’s nod, then took one small step forward. Daisy followed. Tim pursed his lips and nodded. Karen took another step and stopped. Tim’s parents and Joshua moved forward in unison. Karen tried taking two small steps. They went well. Then Daisy shook her head, as horses sometimes do, and Tim slid to his right, toward his mother.
Joshua and Tim’s father grabbed Tim’s left hand and pulled him back upright. Karen held Daisy’s reins. Tim’s mother was pale, terrified at the possibility of her son falling. Joshua and Tim’s father looked a little worried, but not much. Karen looked up at Tim.
He smiled. “I’m OK. I can do this. I want to learn to ride, and I will.”
Joshua congratulated him on his courage, but then suggested that both parents walk on one side while he stayed on the other. The lesson continued for another few minutes, and then Joshua said that was enough. They were doing great, but they should not overdo it.
Original text ©2023 by Karen Lynn-Chlup. All rights reserved.