Letter to Me

Dear Sixteen (and beyond) Year Old Me,

Hey, what’s up? I know, I know, you’re moody. Mom and Dad have once again forbidden horse back riding due to those Below-85-Grades. You have once again skipped out on your after school tutoring because ‘your teacher wasn’t there’ or ‘they were too busy’. Do they believe you? Of course not. So now you’re sitting on the computer in the library at home taking remedial math courses online and playing that Warrior Cats RPG in secret (I STILL talk about how fun that was, by the way. And you are definitely going to use that creativity and story telling later.) Mom is still on that health kick, right? Be prepared for a lot of vegetables ‘secretly’ hidden in mystery meals and gagging.

Don’t worry, I am not here to steer you straight. Because honestly, I am still on your side. So what if you’re getting  only barely decent grades? Yes, that 72 isn’t an 85, but it’s in math. You are terrible at math. You worked your butt off and paid attention to get that 72. Remember when it was a 42? Yeah, hate to break it to you, but Dad still does.

You have that silly black choker that you haven’t taken off in years. (It’s going to make your neck obscenely huge in pictures.) And you are writing that fantasy trilogy with Sarah. You collect Breyer horse figurines, and you sell lost golf balls to golfers in your backyard. You read more than you breathe. You love Nutella. Your room is bright teal, and you still sleep with your closet light on because you swear you see shadows moving in the dark. You are convinced you will never have a love interest and that you will die alone on your ranch with a herd of horses and take out dinners every night, and you’re quite alright with that.

You are also upset about the Tennessee situation. Right now it’s April of 2010. More and more plans for moving are becoming rock solid, and suddenly this fantasy your parents had been dreaming about since they bought that Victorian fixer upper are becoming reality. It’s scary. All of your friends and life are in Texas. Your horse. The highest level of choir you have at school has let you in, and you love singing. You have a driver’s permit and you can’t wait until you can drive Sarah and Ashton to Firewheel Town Center and the movies by yourself. You don’t know a single soul in Tennessee except your family members, and your cousins don’t live in your future school district.

It’s going to be really hard. In fact, you are making plans as we speak to someday return to Texas and live at Horse Haven in a trailer home, riding Heather’s horses and maybe even teaching a few lessons yourself. But it’s hard to focus on that, I know. You have Hunni to think of. You have to find a place for her new home in Tennessee. She depends on you, and you are powerless to do anything to help ease her transition. You are terrified. You’ve never moved before. You’ve only ever known this red brick house with the gazebos and golf course in the backyard, the cicadas in the summer and the crippling cold in the winter.

Like it or not, in October you are going to leave home and end up in Knoxville. And you are going to handle it about as well as getting hit with a bag of bricks. First of all, you are going to be going to this weird school called an academy that has four different sub-academies, a super weird layout and only four classes a day, and early dismissal on Wednesdays. You are going to suddenly have the looming fear of certain classes, such as US Government and Economics, that you are required to take to graduate. (Oh, you might want to remind your school counselor about that when you get next year’s classes. Because she is going to forget and then blame it on you when she finally realizes how much she screwed up two years from now a month before graduation. Good luck with that.)

In November you will turn 17, and in December you are going to meet a boy. He will quickly turn into a boyfriend. He will take advantage of you and say it’s love. Your parents will ban you from seeing him, which will only make you want to see him more, and he will draw out the relationship until September, where he will promptly dump you and then string you along for ‘benefits’ between his girlfriends, and then have the nerve to say he still loves you and that he wants to get back together soon. Again and again. You are going to get your heart-broken, shredded, mauled, pulverized and then spit on by this boy. Don’t trust him. In fact, how about you wait in the cafeteria after school, instead of waiting on the sidewalk for your mom to pick you up? Just don’t go outside. Don’t go outside and start idle chatter with him. Please, I still have issues about that mess. Do us both a favor.

Even though, really, it will turn out okay. Because when you move to Tennessee in October, you are going to meet this chick called Ali. At first she is only going to be a lunch mate that will spare you the loneliness of eating in a bathroom stall by yourself (which you’ve been doing for what, a month now?) But soon you’ll be hanging out with her. Getting more involved in theater because of her. In fact, you will become the Prop Master and you are going to get tons of theater friends. She will be your lifeline and only motivation to get through the rest of high school thanks to the heart breaker you are infatuated with. She is going to be your best friend.

Plus, on graduation day she is going to help you officially get over that loser. Whats better than being best friends? Being your best friend’s brother’s girlfriend, that’s what. If you two thought that college would be the graveyard of your friendship, think again. You are going to get closer than ever, and you are going to meet someone you can envision the rest of your life with.  So when the funny girl with glasses and long brown hair offers to sit with you at lunch, accept it with enthusiasm. Trust me.

And you know, I guess you should go outside and wait on the curb and chit-chat with that boy. Because he is going to teach you a lot of lessons, and one day you are going to be grateful that you have knowledge and understanding and perspective. It is going to be great at first and you aren’t going to remember my warning, but that’s okay. You will think you are in love. And he will destroy you. You’re going to be sadder than you’ve ever been, but you are also going to emerge stronger. You were able to survive that. And now you are so much happier and better off, I promise.

Oh, and you are going to keep fighting with Mom and Dad. Again and again and again. But ultimately you still love them, and you know they just want you to be safe and happy. So maybe try going to a few of those tutorials. And quit picking on your brother and take time to hang out with your sister. She will think you are an absolute queen.

I have to go now, I’m at work you see. Yes, you get a real job. As in a desk job staring at a computer and answering the phone all day. Yeah, it’s kinda boring, but it’s better than what a lot of people have. You are going to get your very own Jeep. You’re going to live in a yellow house with your to-be boyfriend, Justin, and have two puppies. You are going to eat meat after a lifetime of vegetarianism. You are going to drop out of college. You will stop riding horses, but ultimately it’s better for Hunni if she never comes here. She is happier at home in Texas. Your life is going to be so much better and so different. Just hang in there. I’ll see you in the mirror, okay?

Love, Yourself

Sweet As Hunni

Growing up, I owned at least 20 three inch thick books on horses, and spent hours upon hours absorbing everything I could about them. They were beautiful, graceful, wild creatures that you could ride and run and fly away on, and for a young girl, that was everything I could ever want. My first horseback riding lessons began on November 10, 2008 as a birthday present.

I am sure my parents thought it was just a phase, so when they set me up for lessons they must have been expecting me to tire of it after a year or so. Quite the opposite happened.

November 10 was a rather dismal day. The sky was cloudy, threatening to pour down rain at any moment, and the ground was a thick, oozing sea of mud. But I was ecstatic.

That first day was mainly spent in the barn, where my instructor, Heather, showed me how to tie a horse, how to properly groom them, and how to saddle them up. In the future this would all become a remedial, thoughtless task, but that first day she may as well have been showing me the road to El Dorado. I couldn’t get enough. By the time I had successfully accomplished the tasks to her liking, my lesson was almost up and thunder was rumbling in the sky above us. Bob, the fat grey horse that had patiently stood while I fumbled with the saddle ties and hoof picks, was dozing off, and I was resigned to the fact that I would have to wait a whole week to ride again. Until Heather emerged from the tack room, helmet in hand, and plopped it down on my head.

That first ride was otherworldly. It lasted all of five minutes, Heather was leading me around kiddie-style with a halter up and down the gravel driveway, and Bob was moving at a pace so slow that wet paint could dry faster. But it is something that will stay with me until my dying breath.

Months passed and my lessons advanced, and soon I was competing and winning ribbons. With the ever faithful Bob, my confidence grew and I began to think of myself as quite the rider. Looking back I can only laugh at myself. Bob was the perfect beginner’s horse. He was slow, fat, gentle, and too sweet. He would rather go take a nap than cause trouble. Any beginner would feel like a master riding him, because he was simply too lazy to ever do anything but what you wanted. And he was the only horse I had ever ridden, so it obviously went to my head.

Until another new girl came to the barn and needed Bob’s gentle touch. And suddenly, I got thrown headfirst into the big leagues.

Heather always told me that even despite Bob’s easiness, I was a good rider. I had a natural seat and a stubborn drive. So when she set me up with Hunni, I can only imagine she knew what she was doing.

Hunni was sort’ve a mystery. Her mother, Emma, was nothing more than evil personified. She was troublesome whether you were on or off her, and had a stubborn ferocity that would make Chuck Norris quiver in fear. Her one goal in life was to make sure you knew that she could pommel you into a pulp within seconds. And Hunni was her one and only offspring. A complete wild card.

From what I had gathered from other riders, Hunni was a much more toned down version of Emma. She didn’t approach you with a fight from head on. She waited. She was just as stubborn and just as deadly clever, but she liked to bide her time and test you first. She was a loose cannon, who only gave you respect when she decided you earned it. But I was young and foolish and I thought I was the best rider this side of Dallas… I was doomed.

On the day that I was to begin riding with Hunni,  Heather had gone out to get her from the pasture because I was running late. When I entered the barn, Hunni was already tied up and was dozing off, ignoring the world. Until I bounced up to her, clutching a saddle.

The stocky mare woke up, and eyed me for a second, taking in the saddle in my thin arms and that eager light in my eyes. She stood up straight, narrowed her big brown eyes and gave me a look that clearly stated how absolutely unimpressed she was with me and my pathetic existence. I think I gulped.

Throughout the tacking up process she was quiet and still, watching me move around her until I fell into a blissful ease, deciding that this mare wasn’t scary at all. She lifted her hooves when I asked, and didn’t twitch a muscle as I ran the brush over her coat. It was like I was nothing more than a bird twittering around her as I secured the saddle and bridle. Once everything was properly set, I grabbed the reins and began to lead her out of the barn with the other riders…

But she didn’t budge.

“Come on, let’s go, lazy butt!” I said, tugging a little on the reins to get her moving. She simply stood, head held high, looking down on me with  a ‘Go Ahead And Make Me’ look on her face.

I struggled for a few seconds, yanking on her bridle and even poking her tummy to get her to lift her feet. She leaned back, resting on one back leg and flicking her ears, turning her head to look down the barn and out the window. I may as well have not been there.

Heather finally came back and asked me what on earth I was doing, and only laughed when I explained rather angrily that Hunni wasn’t moving. Heather took my place, and Hunni pranced forward, flicking her tail and acting like her one goal in life was to parade after the rest of my lesson group. I was speechless.

After scrambling onto her back and catching up with the rest of them, we all entered the lesson arena. Hunni plodded along, as quiet and easy as ever. We all walked in a circle, stretching out our horses legs and warming up before the real lesson began. Finally, Heather instructed us to do a nice, slow dog trot for a couple minutes. In the past, Bob had had the slowest trot (at times it was slower than his walk), so I was fully unprepared when Hunni took off like she had been stung by a bee.

I bounced in my seat and could scarcely keep my feet in the stirrups. I remember that those three minutes were the most nerve wracking of my entire life, as Hunni thundered around the arena, jackknifing me up and down in the saddle until I was sure my dinner would  make a reappearance. Mercifully, Heather had us slow back down to a walk and I slumped in my seat, holding my sides together and scowling down at the devil mare beneath me. She snorted and I swear I saw a smirk.

Next came the simple task of walking over ground poles. (It’s literally as easy as it sounds.)  One by one we each took turns walking our horses over the three inch thick poles. The object of the lesson was to try and lengthen our horses strides so they wouldn’t clip them with their hooves. Finally, it was my turn, and I eagerly forced Hunni into position and prepared to make her do as I asked (for once).

Hunni sidled up to the first pole and stepped over as easy as you please. I should have known something was wrong the moment I felt her hesitate and stiffen up right before the second, but as I said before, I was a complete idiot back then.

The horse seemed to turn into a helicopter and leaped straight up into the air, flying over the second pole and then bounding with similar height over the last pole, stopping on a dime as soon as she cleared it. I landed hard in the seat, all air knocked out of me as I floundered like a fish to get back into the stirrups and gulp down air. My friends were all snickering and Hunni was eyeing me out of the corner of her eyes with that same bemused smirk.

The rest of the lesson went about as smoothly as sandpaper. Hunni had this cute habit of stopping and not budging, and then ‘tripping’ so I would lurch forward and end up somewhere on her neck. When we all lined up to canter around the arena one at a time, Hunni pulled this rather ingenious trick of biting down on the bit and taking off while I could only hold on for dear life. By the time the lesson was over, I could not get away from that horse fast enough. As I unsaddled her and led her to her stall, I was muttering all sorts of threats and curses under my breath, hoping the new girl would back out of lessons so I could have a sensible horse like Bob back and not this devilish calamity called Hunni.

As I checked her water and hay and moved around her stall, Hunni watched me with an unreadable face, eyes narrowed and ears twitching, as if she couldn’t decide whether to bite me or stomp on me. I locked the door shut behind me, and turned to leave. As I walked away, I heard a loud, braying neigh come from her stall, and glanced back to see her head sticking out, watching my retreat.

Like I said, I was doomed.