Stevie her most serious straight-A-student look. “Stevie, we’ve got to talk,” she began.
C AROLE COULDN ’ T HELP herself. She was supposed to be saddling Starlight to take him out for a ride, but something more interesting was going on in the ring next to his stall. Marie was having her first riding lesson at Pine Hollow.
Carole had been in the tack room when Marie arrived, accompanied by both her mother and her physical therapist. She’d kept out of sight, but she hadn’t missed a thing. Mrs. Dana was afraid that Marie would get hurt. The physical therapist kept talking about muscle groups. Max and Marie stuck to a more interesting subject: horses.
Marie told Max that she had taken lessons for two years before she and her parents had moved to Willow Creek a year ago.
“I’m an intermediate rider,” she said. “At least I was.”
“Well, then, you will be again,” he said. “Now let’s get you up here.”
He boosted her into the saddle. This time, she was riding Patch, a gentle, reliable horse. Max checked the way she held the reins, and she was doing it right. He told Marie to grip firmly with her legs. The therapist beamed. Patch began to walk.
At Max’s insistence, Mrs. Dana and the therapist retreated to a bench on the side of the ring. Mrs. Dana’s right hand went automatically to her mouth as she began chewing on her nails. The therapist picked up a pencil and began making notes on a clipboard.
Much more interesting to Carole, however, was what was happening in the ring. Max was being himself, a strict instructor. Patch was acting as he always did. The interesting part was what was happening to Marie.
When she’d first climbed into the saddle, fear had shown in her face. She followed instructions, gripping with her legs and moving the horse forward. Max had her ride him through a circle and then a figure eight at a walk. Each time the horse responded to an order Marie gave him, she grinned. Carole thought she knew exactly how Marie was feeling. It was the same way she felt every time she got on a horse, and it was a feeling she never tired of.
Marie had spent months immobilized and lying flat in bed, and a lot of time since then doing everything her mother or therapist told her. Her very life had been controlled by pain and discomfort and by her grief at herfather’s death. She’d had no say in anything that had happened to her for a very long time. Now, in the saddle on Patch’s back, she was in charge. Patch, a very large animal, was doing exactly what she told him to do. And most important, it was fun.
“Okay?” Max asked, though Carole was sure he knew the answer.
“I’m fine,” Marie said quietly. “We’re fine.” She leaned forward and patted Patch’s neck. That was just what Carole would have done then, too.
The therapist interrupted with something about muscle groups and stretching. Max reminded Marie about riding in the two-point—or jump—position, meaning she was to let all of her weight sink into her heels, rise out of the seat, flex her knees, keep her back completely straight, and rest her hands on the horse’s neck for balance. The therapist nodded sagely. Mrs. Dana switched to biting the nails of her left hand, and Max said “Good.” Marie beamed.
So did Carole. She knew then that Marie would be in her class on Tuesday, at Horse Wise on Saturday and, with a bit of luck in the “distraction” department, that she would join the polocrosse team. Satisfied with what she’d seen, she returned her attention to Starlight. It was time for him to get some exercise.
“N EED SOME HELP with the saddle?” Lisa asked Marie on Tuesday afternoon before riding class.
“Just if you could watch and see if I’m doing it right,” Marie said. “It’s been a long time.”
Lisa watched. Marie took a bit longer than the others but she did just fine. Lisa had to pitch in a little to remind her about the buckles on the bridle, but it was obvious that Marie was eager