I have worked hard to convince myself that expensive lessons outside of our home are luxuries rather than necessities. First, they make our days too frantic, and second, they cost too much money. Though I would love to indulge every extra-curricular whim of my children's hearts, I cannot.
I tell myself it is good for us to not get everything we want . . .
I remind myself that we have luxuries about which some people only get to dream . . .
I am firmly convinced that we have our whole lives before us in which to live, and if we miss some opportunities as children, there are years of adulthood yet ahead . . .
But that was before J9 had her first horseback riding lesson.
Several years ago a member of our homeschool group organized several (deeply discounted) sessions of group trail riding for one age bracket and half hour sessions riding a horse on a lead around the corral for a younger age bracket. E12 was old enough to go out on the trail, while S10 and M10 happily sat on the backs of gentle horses who patiently walked in circles for a living. J9 was too small to do anything more than hold my hand and look at the "pretty ponies."
We looked forward to doing it again the next year when J9 would be old enough to participate, but it turned out to be a one-time deal.
I don't think we've ever ridden a horse since.
But J9 has been hungry for horses. She reads about them; she talks about them; she studies them for her elective; she write stories about them; she draws them. Her hunger has been focused and sustained for so long that I broke a rule (with her permission) and combined her Christmas and birthday gift into one by buying her a package deal of 4 horseback riding lessons. They are frightfully expensive, and more than once I've been afraid that I've used our money unwisely by spending it this way, but the promise was made, the lessons scheduled, and there was no going back.
This Thursday was her first lesson. Many small irritations frustrated me that day--Isaac wouldn't go down for a nap; we left late; my cell phone died; the kids came along to watch, but then had to sit in the car with me because liability insurance when horses are involved is complicated; S10 had a dreadful breakdown over the disappointment; E12 didn't do her schoolwork--then I really looked at J9's face.
Not one irritation mattered in the light of the anticipation shining from her eyes.
Nothing was too frustrating to overcome for that sweet smile that she kept trying to repress but wouldn't be repressed.
Her instructor couldn't be more perfect for my girl; she's a mature, gracious, soft-spoken woman. I felt a connection between them immediately. It was with perfect confidence that I entrusted J9 to her care while I tried to entertain the troops in the van.
It was a long hour.
At the end I walked back to the stable to pick J9 up. She and her instructor were putting gear away and talking about some general concepts to remember for next time. J9 was glowing--alive and glowing! She and her instructor had that "we're best friends from another life" feeling about them as they talked.
I asked, "How was it? Was it wonderful?"
J9 couldn't put it into words. She just nodded her head, mute with joy.
Her instructor said, "She did an amazing job. She walked and trotted. When she trotted she kept her seat, and I've never seen that before in a first time rider. She just seemed to know how to keep her balance by being strong but loose."
I nudged J9 with my elbow and said, "Hey! Wow! Maybe you have a gift!"
"A gift. Yes, a gift. I would say that she has a gift, " replied the instructor thoughtfully. She smiled at J9 and said, "You are a gift to me. Your smile is the best thing I've ever seen. I wish I could take your picture and look at it whenever I need something to make me feel better. You rode very well. Yes, you have a gift."
Then they talked about horse-y things that I couldn't understand for a few minutes while I marveled.
This instructor is a sincere person. She's not loud or jokey or given to exaggeration. Her comments look rather shallow typed out for reading, but to hear them was another matter entirely. I believe her when she said that spending an hour teaching my girl was a gift to her. The energy between those two was palpable. The light on my girl's face was different from anything I've ever seen there.
Before this experience I would never ever have considered horseback riding to be essential. Food is essential. Shelter, love, faith, forgiveness--all are on my essential list.
They're just really interesting and fun . . . if you like them.
Seeing my J9 and her instructor together is teaching me otherwise. Horses mean something powerful to them both. They share a love that passes my understanding.
Love, though, is on my essential list.
If that love is not fed it will die, and a part of J9 will die with it. Of that I am absolutely certain.
Suddenly horses are very, very important to me.
I would even go so far as to call them . . . essential.