By Meghan Lagaden

There is nothing more humiliating when it comes to riding horses than falling off a horse. There is nothing more humbling when it comes to riding than falling off a pony. This is my story about just that.

I had a small pinto pony named Jessie growing up. She had a hitch in the stride of her right hind, a sassy attitude, and the most beautiful, feminine head. On the tiny show circuit of my hometown, she was a decorated champion. Her versatility knew no bounds and her heart was made of pure gold.

When I was about 6 or 7, my parents took my sister and I to a small horse show at the Rock Creek Fall Fair. Although I didn’t have a jumping coach and I was very new to the sport, I knew I wanted to enter in the jumping classes. On this particular day I trotted into the ring with my pretty pony, my heart swelling when the announcer called her name, “Classic Shades”. Before I knew it, I was cantering up to the first fence: a menacing white cross rail. Sailing like pirates through a jagged storm, we jumped fence two and three.

Now, typically number 4 is a special number for me. It was my hockey number for numerous years, including AAA Midget Girls. The day of the horse show, however, proved to temporarily skew my perception of my lucky number slightly.

Jessie stopped dirty at fence four. No real reason, it just happened. I went sailing over her shoulder, dampening my beige breeches as I hit the dirt. I bounced up again like any young kid would, fumbling for the reins and mumbling reassurance out of my pudgy cheeks to an otherwise unconcerned pony. The announcer even remarked in laughter at the sight. Here I am, this tiny rider with red pigtails cooing to her pony to confirm she’s okay.

The judge came over and asked if I wanted to jump a final fence before excusing myself from competition. I passed a glance to the other end of the ring, near the announcer’s booth and the in-gate. I was looking at fence seven.

Fence seven was green fill; a solid fence on the rail with a take off-spot seemingly too advanced for my lack of experience. Through sniffles and tears, I confirmed I wanted this scary fence to be my schooling fence before exiting the ring. I was legged on to my pony, and I urged her into a gallop far faster than what I’d had at the start.

Jessie knew my earnest intentions, her small body rounding and surging forward. We approached the fence, all the while my guts squeezing in my abdomen. But, like all horse friends, in that moment, my pony was there for me. She soared over the jump in perfect form. I hit a moment of euphoria in the air; it took all my will not to squeal with joy.

Let this story serve as a reminder that it’s not always the recognition of a first place ribbon that keeps us hungry to learn our chosen equestrian sport. Sometimes, it’s about the bravery that comes with hopping on again and again with valiant horse warriors that put our fears to sleep.