Two weekends ago, my husband and I had his young cousins, age 7 and 10, come to visit us for the weekend. Recently relocated from Orange County, California to Camas, Washington, JD and Lauren had stayed with us for a few days in the spring while their folks were moving, and we all had such a great time that my husband and I suggested that the kids come and visit us for a weekend.
Lauren is nuts about horses and her brother JD likes them, so I took her and JD to the local rodeo playday. The play day had everything from leadline to adult divisions. Not only that, our neighbor planned to attend with her son, who is friends with JD. Perfect, I thought! Saturday morning, I woke the kids up early, and we loaded my show gelding into the trailer and headed to the playday, a mere 10 minutes from home.
I took Lauren in the leadline division, and JD decided to pass on the peewee division and just ride around the grounds instead. After poles, he decided that he wanted to ride by himself, without me leading him. Chase is the kind of horse that usually won't go any faster than the kids can make him, so I didn't hesitate, figuring that if JD could make him go, he could ride him. Normally, I have to step in and grab the reins when Chase stops, so I walked alongside him, ready to get him going again.
Suddenly, Chase spooked a bit at something going on around the announcer's booth, hesitated, then cantered off THROUGH THE OPEN GATE OF THE GROUNDS ONTO THE STREET! Parents and onlookers were yelling things like "Say WHOA!" and "Pull back on the reins," but JD was too scared to do anything but drop the reins and grab the saddle horn. I was running after them, as fast as a middle-aged gal in cowboy boots can go in 95-degree heat, but the gap between me and the horse was widening. Fortunately, a quick-thinking parent hopped into their Suburban and cut Chase off about a quarter mile up the road. Thank GOD it was a country lane with no traffic! JD held on and suffered no injury other than being scared to death.
On the way back into the rodeo grounds, everyone applauded JD for staying on, praising him "Good job for cowboying up!" Lots of parents were encouraging him to get back on, but he was too scared, sobbing into my shoulder that he just wanted to go home. Lauren gently suggested that he should wait to go home until she'd had her turn at barrel racing. :) I was particularly worried because JD had said his back hurt, so home we went. As it turned out, JD was just scared and his back was fine - once we got home, he still had enough energy to pick blackberries with my husband.
The next day, as JD was coaxed into getting back on a horse, and I gave him a leg up onto Juice, my husband's 17 yo Paint gelding, I reflected that I had been a particularly poor role model. Not only did I not wear a helmet myself that Saturday, I didn't make the kids wear one, either. I'm not sure what came over me, because I usually wear a helmet and insist upon guests wearing one, too. All I can say is that in an instant, the implications of that bad decision came home to me, and I was no more than just lucky that the kids weren't hurt. Even in the most benign of circumstances and on the safest of horses, accidents can happen, which is why it always makes sense to wear a helmet, no matter how experienced the rider, no matter how broke the horse. Those kids were my responsibility, and I let them down. From now on, a helmet - every ride, every time.