"Always A Rider" by Hillary Schoelzel

Words Hillary Schoelzel | Illustration Abbey Holden | Published in Volume Two

It was after midnight by the time she finally got the baby to sleep, and though her eyes felt heavy, she stood beside the crib and delicately traced the embroidered pink horse on the chest of her daughter’s cotton onesie. She’d received so many of these gifts—horse outfits and blankets and toys and books—always with the same smiling words of encouragement. She’ll be a rider. Just like her mama.

But was she a still rider? It had been a long time since she had sat in a saddle. More than just the nine months she was pregnant, but also those years in the city when she saw more sunrises from the office than her own apartment. Even in college, she had only ridden on summer vacations and holidays home from school. She’d always thought she would get back to it, but gazing down at her sleeping daughter, it was hard to imagine she would ever ride again. Where would she find the time? Or the energy? Or the money?

Yet, as she rested her elbows on the edge of the crib, she found it was not unlike leaning on the pasture fence. And those hours she spent pacing the nursery, gently bouncing her fussing baby, reminded her of the hours she’d spent hand walking her colicking horse—walking and walking until the vet arrived and staying long after he’d left to stand at the stall door and keep watch.

All the hours she’d spent at the barn —she thought of them now. How often had she gotten up early to feed and water and brush and muck and sweep? To wrap and unwrap. Braid and unbraid. In the heat, in the cold. When she wanted to and when she did not. How many hours had she practiced, prepared, and perfected? Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t. But even the horse that had bucked her off and galloped back to the barn alone still had to be caught and cooled and bathed.

She wondered how many times she had picked herself up out of the dirt, not just in the ring but in her life as well. Had brushed off the sting and the embarrassment of the fall. Had climbed back up and tried again. And how often had she responded to uncertainty by sitting up straighter and keeping her eyes focused on what was ahead, her trainer’s old mantra—pace, position, track—replaying in her mind and giving her confidence even when she was nowhere near the barn. Surely, she thought, no amount of time or distance could take that away.

Now, her daughter was stirring again, threatening to cry. Smiling slightly, she reached into the crib and picked her up. Holding her baby to her chest, she settled into the rocker—the rhythmic sway of the chair like a canter beneath them. Would her daughter be a rider? She wasn’t sure. But she knew that she was. She always would be.

Find this piece and more in Calling All Horse Girls Volume Two!