Building brighter tomorrows
for the boys of today.

by Sonja Rhodes

The wind was nipping my nose on the frosty afternoon that the lady came around to my pasture. At first I avoided her because I didn't see the point or the purpose of what she was doing. I turned left and then right, looked away avoiding eye contact. I thought maybe she would give up and leave me alone.

I knew her plan was to take me to the mesa with the boy, but the boy wasn't there yet anyway-he was busy with other things and just returning in the white van from some group outing. Maybe he didn't really want to be with me anyway. I wasn't sure.

The lady wouldn't give up, she approached me, talked to me, and waited for me to acknowledge her. It seemed easier to meet her half way than to keep on avoiding it. She seemed harmless and hopeful.

She proved to have good intentions as I followed her and waited at the standing rail. I was thankful that she didn't make the rope knotted. I know that knotting the rope takes away my options and if I needed to flee I would be stuck. This lady looped the rope so I had something to hold onto without being captive. She knew I could pull away and leave, I knew that if I did, she would go with me till I was ready to go back, but she left the impression that she trusted me to stay. I was thankful the choice was mine, the rope was secure but not confining.

The boy showed up and the lady asked him to brush Skipper and me while she broke the ice in the water tanks. The boy smiled while he brushed us, I noticed this and became less annoyed that I was taken out of my home and comfort zone. I realized I'd been standing there, cold- focus inward, not noticing the company of the others around me. It wasn't so bad being there with that boy, being taken care of.

I saw that while he groomed me, he seemed ok with being there with me, so I relaxed.

The boy conversed with the lady as she saddled us, then they climbed up on our backs. The boy took hold of my reins and with that connection I couldn't help but size him up. I decided who I thought he was. Maybe I didn't know him well, but I had to ask myself right then--who he was going to be to me.

As he held my reins he had the most vulnerable part of me right there in the palm of his hands, as he held the leather that connected to that metal bit in my mouth.

I thought about my past--I wasn't always a dependable horse. I know how to buck. I know how to spook off and leave a rider in a heap of dust. I know the power of my weight and muscle. I feel lucky that the lady took the time to teach me that I can be confident in myself--safe and kind toward others while still staying true to myself. I have learned to be patient, gentle and playful. I have learned not to be judgmental of those who take hold of my reins a bit harshly. I see now that they're just learning and that they're doing the best they know how while trying to communicate with me.

Somehow I've learned now to relax and help them through those clumsy times without blame or defensiveness. There was a time though when I'd of thought about bucking a rider off for not knowing what I felt I needed from them. But bucking a rider off never left me feeling very good about myself. It seemed like everybody lost and everybody blamed everybody else.

Now here I am, a year gone by. I've been carrying the weight of boys of many shapes, sizes and temperaments. It goes against my instinct of self-preservation, but the more I do this, the more I see how good it is to be strong for others and to help them to be faster, stronger and braver than they were before they met me. I am proving that I can be trusted and reliable, even though once I wasn't.

The boy took my reins and held the bit comfortably in my mouth with them. He rubbed my shoulder and smiled. We began our trip up the hill together. The lady and Skipper went ahead, Skipper was moving quickly--he seemed to make it look easy even though I noticed an unsteady rhythm in his gait.

The boy and I moved more slowly, sometimes we stopped and the boy looked far away studying the desert and horizon. I could sense all he considered as he watched the vast stillness while the wind whipped against our faces.

Many times along that climb he seemed to go someplace else in his mind, but his hands remained steady, connecting us so I went with him to those places deep within himself and far away to other places -- out there somewhere.

I wondered if he knew I was there with him.

Sometimes the climb tired me. The rocks were hard under my feet and the frost on the grass made the footing uncertain. Sometimes I'd begin to slip but the boy would catch me with the reins and steady my steps, keeping me from falling.

As we neared the big rocks I grew tired. The way was steep, reaching the top seemed far away, maybe impossible. I stopped more often, I rested longer. The boy expressed concern that I wouldn't make it further. He didn't know if I could.

I knew that the lady knows about my strength and ability. I knew she was probably gauging the circumstance, the environment, time and future events. I knew she was considering how far to push, how fast to progress--and whether it was about this particular hill we were climbing--reaching that one specific goal, or if in fact the conditions of the day required a change of direction. She might have known that sometimes unexpected destinations prove better than the plans we have for ourselves.

The lady spoke to the boy about this briefly, and- just like the way she wrapped my rope at the standing rail earlier, she gave this boy options.

She asked him if he wanted to continue our climb to the top of the mesa. This meant slowly picking our path through the rocks under the shadow of the tall hill as the sun quickly sank behind its back.

Or, did he want to go toward the hills where the sun still shone brightly over a smoother, more gradual trail away from the sharp rocks and scrub brush.

The boy chose to go the way where the sun shone. The path had less obstacles and the hard places didn't bruise my heels. I wondered if he knew how much I was thanking him for choosing that way, and considering me. Did he knew how much easier it was on both of us. Did he realize how cold, and long and difficult the other path might of been had he thought only about reaching the highest place that day.

We still had to work as we walked on the path the boy had chosen. The wind still beat against us sometimes, and we still felt the cold on our skin, but the sun was there, softening the frozen ground and warming the air. We could have ran and played with ease along that path had we decided to. It wouldn't have caused us any harm.

We saw herds of deer and watched the ranch dog running after them. We stopped after some miles, at the top of the furthest peak from where we'd expected we'd be when we started.

We looked over the valley and water. The boy enjoyed some trail mix the lady had brought and while they ate it, he talked about the hopes and dreams he has for his future and thanked the lady for the time he'd had with me. I knew then that I was a very Lucky horse.

The boy noticed as we headed back to Cherry Gulch that I was actually much stronger than he'd first thought. My stride became quick as I knew I was headed toward my home.

I knew the way I had to go to get back to the place I'd started. As I went I remembered the way he'd chosen for me to go. I remembered the journey we'd taken together and I reflected on how difficult the path had been sometimes, and how it made me feel uncertain.

During that part of the journey I had questioned myself and I probably questioned the boy too sometimes, wondering whether he really cared about me or if I was just a way to pass the time. I knew he had doubted my abilities for a while--but then he chose the way that he thought would be best for me.

I remembered how back at the pasture I had thought at first that I'd rather not even go at all, that it was a waste of my time and energy. I thought I'd be missing out not being back there where I'd always been.

Being there with that boy, I realized that I was so glad I had gone the way with him and experienced the journey.

Spending that time with the boy and knowing that he really did care about the path I took and how it affected me--it made me thankful. I knew I was in good hands and the time it took, the choices we made together, they reminded me I was stronger than others knew and more capable than I gave myself credit for. I was also more willing than my nature would have chosen on its own without the determination of others who were choosing to wait it out with me and go along side to places more peaceful and rewarding than I'd imagined they could ever be.

Dec.4, 2009 Written and interpreted by Sonja Rhodes, ES Cherry Gulch Boy's Therapeutic Boarding school Cherry Gulch is a ranch-style, therapeutic boarding school designed specifically for 10 -14 year old boys. Cherry Gulch’s supportive, encouraging and respect-based approach is designed to build students up—rather than tear them down. Cherry Gulch is passionate about providing early intervention and prevention to help boys reach their full potential and become well-rounded, pro-social young men. We are dedicated to providing outstanding therapeutic and academic services to students and their families. This is accomplished in the context of a safe environment working toward “Building Brighter Tomorrows for the Boys of Today.”