by Kimberly Beer

It begins the first time
her tiny fingers
wrap around the reins,
commanding power
far beyond her years
and weight twenty times
her measure.

The leather is worn,
dark and dirty brown,
but still fully alive,
its essence sweetened
with the sweat of
a hundred horses.

The bay gelding
with the deep set eyes
feels the small tug
on the bit in his mouth,
feels the subtle shift
of weight on his back.
He lifts his head,
readies himself,
searches for the feel
of the cotton lead rope
in the hands of the teacher
to give him direction,
but it is not there,
horse and rider have been
released, freed by
the wisdom of
the teacher
to be on their own.
A gift is exchanged
in that moment,
a communion,
a scared endowment
between three beings,
teacher, student, horse.

In the years to come,
she may leave the barn,
forget how to cinch
a saddle, omit buckets,
blankets and stall picks
from her life,
but she will never
lose this moment,
and in her darkest
hours — those days
when life whips her
to the breaking point,
she will return here,
to the smell of
horse sweat and sweet feed,
to the feel of the reins
in her hands and,
if she has learned well
her riding lesson,
she will be able to
rise above her challenges,
sit tall in the saddle,
and command her life.