Expressive 2010 2nd Place
When I was young, my grandparents owned a small, ten-acre farm that was situated near a highway in Enoch, Utah. As the only child of a single mother, most of my childhood was spent exploring all of the wonders that the family farm had to offer. My days consisted of climbing dusty haystacks, sliding down cement irrigation ditches, catching wild stray cats, and doing whatever it took to entertain myself.
If there was one thing my ‘second home’ specialized in, it was horses; my grandpa had owned horses for longer than I had been alive. When I was seven or eight, my mom and grandparents gave me my first horse, Clue, which Mom had bought from a friend who couldn’t afford to feed her. Clue was a very tall, and very fast, sorrel quarter horse, which meant she was a light orange-brown color with white “socks” on three of her legs and a white stripe on her face. With Clue came independence that I had never known before, and I spent all of my afternoons riding and exploring the trails of dust and sagebrush that surrounded the small farming community. Clue and I had the same interests: we both liked to explore, and we both loved to run with a speed that would make the winds jealous. I wouldn’t let anything prevent me from doing what I enjoyed most . . . except for my own foolishness.
I was ten years old and in the fifth grade. My mom and I lived in a condominium on the other side of town, but I was enrolled in the elementary school near my grandparent’s house. One day, as the yellow school bus drove us home, my friend Kevin and I agreed to meet up at his house. Kevin lived just up the “street” from my grandparent’s house, which, in farming terms, meant that he lived about a mile away. I would bring my horse, and he would bring his roller blades. I would ride Clue, Kevin would skate next to us, and we would just follow random roads for the fun of it. Outside the small, blurred windows of the bus, steel-gray storm clouds darkened the surrounding mountains and skies in a way that was especially oppressive to kids who planned to spend time outdoors. It was spring, and we weren’t about to let a few clouds stop us from having fun, especially after being cooped up during the winter snows. We made our plans, and I got off the bus, at the end of my grandparent’s dirt road, anxious to get home and saddle-up.
I hurried up the dirt road that led to my grandparent’s red brick farmhouse. I walked in the door, tossed my backpack on the couch, and made a beeline for the scuffed and dusty riding boots that I kept in the laundry room. As I pulled my worn black boots on, I gave my grandma a quick explanation of where I was going. Her reaction was to try and talk me into staying home. She had a feeling, a sense that went beyond the storm she saw when she looked out the living room window. Because I made a habit of seeking out storms, I had ridden in the rain many times in the past, though my grandma never liked it when I did. To me, she had always worried too much. Whenever I had tried to climb a haystack, she would make me stop in case I fell. When I would slide down the irrigation ditch, she would get anxious that I would drown, though the water was only a foot deep on a good day. Whenever I rode, she would tell me that I might fall off. I always got the impression that if she had it her way, she would have locked me up in the house to prevent something bad from happening. So, when she tried to convince me to stay home, I treated it like any other day that she tried to talk me out of riding, and I made up my mind to go anyway. I chose to ignore her premonitions, even though she had been more insistent that day than she had ever been in the past. Back then, I had no idea what that choice would cost.
As I prepared to walk out the door, Grandma made her final argument: “It’s been raining and the roads are slippery. Your horse could fall.” I laughed at that point since, unlike cars, horses had the same traction on wet pavement as they did on dry pavement, as long as there wasn’t any ice involved. I pointed that fact out to my grandma, assured her that I would be alright, and walked out the door to catch Clue and saddle her up.
As I rode Clue down our dirt road surrounded by old, broken down wooden fences and green alfalfa fields, I couldn’t help but notice the fresh, rain-scented air and the empowering sound of thunder over the distant mountains. Even though the weather threatened to throw off my plans if it started to rain, the energy it emitted was amazing. There was no wind that day, but the storm’s presence could be felt all around. It filled my surroundings with power. It was as though the storm had brought the world around me to life. Clue seemed to enjoy the atmosphere as well as she walked with an eager pace. Storms never did spook her.
To get to Kevin’s house, I had to ride along the side of Minersville Highway. Minersville Highway was a well-traveled road that led to some neighboring small towns. Riding to the side of it was not dangerous, but crossing over it could have been because of the 55 mile per hour speed limit and regular traffic. The turn onto Kevin’s paved street was on the other side of the highway, so I had to cross over the two lanes of traffic to get there.
When I got to Kevin’s house ten minutes later, I found him waiting outside with his roller blades on. We barely had the chance to say “hello” when a mixed-breed dog trotted up to us. The dog was of a medium build, a lab or a collie, with shaggy brown and white fur. Kevin explained that it was a stray that had been following him around for about a week. She seemed like a really friendly dog, and although Kevin tried to sound like she irritated him, I could tell that he was attached to her.
Once I was introduced to the dog, whose name I have forgotten, Kevin and I set off down Kevin’s street talking about our teachers, homework, and various other things that ten-year-olds talk about. The dog trotted down the street with us, dancing playfully around Clue’s feet. The two animals seemed to enjoy each other, and they both seemed to be having as much fun as I was.
But the fun didn’t last. The next thing I knew, a car with chipped and faded red paint sped down the street toward us. The driver put on the brakes as the dog ran into the middle of the road, but she didn’t stop in time. The dog yelped as the car hit it. The dog was lying on its side in the middle of the road, and Kevin was the first to reach her. Miraculously, the dog was alive, but she was hurt. Kevin looked sick and pale, and I couldn’t believe what was happening. It almost felt like a dream. My first impulse was to run home for help, and with very little persuasion, Kevin agreed that I should go.
I galloped away toward home on the compacted dirt that stretched along the edge of the road. There was a brown church at the very end of Kevin’s street where the street intersected with Minersville Highway. The church was one of the few places in the area that was surrounded by a sidewalk. What happened next amounted to nothing but sheer stupidity. I knew that the dirt would blend into sidewalk as I neared the church and highway, but I wanted to get home fast to find help. I slowed Clue’s pace slightly so that she could keep her footing as she made the transition onto the cement, but I didn’t listen to my own gut-feeling that told me to stop that horse before we got onto the sidewalk.
We galloped onto the cement sidewalk, coming closer and closer to the point where the sidewalk wrapped around the block to run parallel with the highway. Clue’s shod hooves rang and echoed on the ground as I saw the turn coming, but I knew we wouldn’t make it at the speed we were going, and Clue refused to slow down. Clue always had a tough mouth (meaning that she didn’t respond very quickly, or easily, to commands). I pulled and yanked on the reins as the corner drew closer, but she was determined – she was running toward home and wasn’t going to stop for anything!
I knew my horse well enough to know that when the sidewalk ended she would try to turn around the block and onto the highway in the direction of home. It felt like slow motion, even though it had to have happened in an instant. I remember the pit I had in my stomach as I realized that there was nothing I could do, and, in a flash, I pictured what would happen when we galloped in front of the speeding cars. I could feel the fear as it made my heart pound and my breath stop. It heightened my senses instead of dulling them. I took in every detail: the sight of the cars and trucks on the highway, the heat in my face and the sweat on my hands as I gripped the saddle, and the feel of the horse as her weight shifted to her right side while she turned the corner. I knew we were going to go down. I could hear the sharp and deep sound of metal horseshoes scraping on pavement as Clue’s feet slipped out from underneath her. I could feel myself instinctively lean to the left as a counter-balance. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Strangely, I didn’t feel anything as my 1,500+ pound horse fell on top of me. I remember making that observation in the back of my mind as Clue struggled to get up and regain her footing. Panic had the opportunity to sink it. It dawned on me that I was lying in the middle of a major highway. A couple of cars passed by on the other side of the road, but they didn’t stop and only barely slowed down. Instinct kicked in, fed by a fear that screamed of the dangers around me. I tried to stand up and pull myself off the road. I immediately knew something was wrong when, while I jumped to my feet, I felt a searing pain shoot up from my lower leg as the broken bone pulled apart. I fell backward, still struggling to push myself off the road with my good leg. I managed to gain a few feet when a man, an off-duty cop who witnessed the accident, appeared and cautioned me to stay still, but I had too many worries to listen to his advice. What happened to Clue? Did she have the sense to get off the road? Where was Kevin? Was he still waiting for me to bring help?
I looked over just in time to see Clue trot back home. Once I knew she had made it, I tried to tell the man about the dog, but I wasn’t sure if I was making any sense. Everything felt chaotic, and I had a hard time explaining what happened. The man, whose face is blurred in my memory, asked me questions while we waited for the ambulance. The strange thing about accidents is that some senses are dulled while others are sharpened. I was only vaguely aware of other people who had stopped to see what happened and of the traffic that was speeding by on the highway, but I did notice the way that the asphalt smelled like a mixture of oil and rain. It wasn’t really raining, but an occasional drop or two would fall out of the sky. My leg didn’t hurt, but it was cold and a little tingly, like it had fallen asleep.
It felt like an eternity before the ambulance came to take me to the hospital. I had been very lucky. My stupidity had given me a badly broken leg and a slightly damaged knee, but nothing more. I was fine, the horse was fine, and, as I found out much later, the dog was fine.
I think back at all of the warnings I had: my grandma, whose premonitions had been 100% accurate, and all of my own instincts that I had continually ignored. She may have been overly-cautious most of the time, but what I failed to see was the opposite extreme within myself.
I learned many important lessons that day. I learned that, while taking risks is a part of life, it is also wise to use caution and good judgment. Hiding away because something bad might happen isn’t right, but ignoring common sense and intuition isn’t the thing to do either. There’s a rule in the horse community that says, “If you fall off, get right back on.” I made a choice that day as I drifted in and out of sedated sleep. I chose to get back on. Almost two months later, when the day came that I finally got the ok from the doctor, I was back to riding the trails on Clue. I chose to live my life knowing that there would be risks, but I wouldn’t live my life recklessly. The accident taught me caution, not fear. It taught me how to be strong, how to survive, and how to listen to my instincts and the instincts of others.