Flicka. Not what I would call an original name for my first pony. But that’s what I called her. She was a pretty little Pinto. I was thrilled when we bought her and brought her home to our Midwest farm. I named her Flicka. Just like the horse on television.
I thought I knew a lot about horses. I was a huge fan of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. I watched My Friend Flicka and shows like Wagon Train and Rawhide. We had lived in Arizona and been to real honest-to-goodness rodeos. And I had my dad. My dad had a pony growing up. He offered his wise instruction on learning to ride. “If the horse throws you, you just have to get back on.”
There was more to riding a horse. I knew that. I knew you had to mount the horse from its left side. I knew you needed to brush and curry and feed your horse regularly. I knew quite a bit. The only problem I could foresee was that I had never actually ridden a horse before.
The coin-operated ponies in front of the grocery store didn’t count.
Even that didn’t seem like an insurmountable problem to me since I also knew Flicka had never been ridden before, either. I assumed she was as excited to have a rider as I was to ride.
There was one other teensy problem. I didn’t have a saddle or bridle. My dad was getting the tack I needed as soon as he could. In the meantime, I was to feed and care for my new friend.
I knew from watching TV there were two philosophies concerning how to train horses. One was called “gentling.” Gain the horse’s trust and love before trying to ride it. The other was to “break” the horse by getting on and proving the rider was in charge. I figure my dad probably bought into the idea of “gentling” Flicka.
But Dad was a grown-up. He could hardly be expected to understand a little girl’s strong desire to ride her first pony. I could handle it. I was, after all, seven-years-old.
I didn’t have a saddle or blanket, but I did have a burlap feed sack. I didn’t have a bridle, but I had a halter and lead for Flicka. I was all set. I led my beautiful pony over to the fence. I climbed the fence and gently, slowly, lowered myself onto Flicka’s back. Whoosh! I was off her backside. Not so gently and not so slowly.
If the horse throws you, you just have to get back on. My dad’s words rang in my ears. So once again I spread the burlap sack on Flicka’s back, whispered kind words in her ear, led her to the fence and made my climb.
A few minutes later as I gathered the burlap sack and myself up off the soft earth, I tried to do a little problem solving. There had to be an identifiable problem to be fixed. It couldn’t be Flicka. Or me. There must be something else amiss. The burlap. Of course! What was I thinking? My poor, sweet pony didn’t like the scratchy burlap on her back. I wouldn’t either. I tossed the burlap aside and led my precious pony back to the fence. “I’m sorry I put that scratchy sack on you, Flicka,” I cooed. I petted her head and she gave me the I-forgive-you look.
Well, it wasn’t the burlap. It only took a few minutes to learn that one. I decided that though she may have forgiven, she hadn’t forgotten. I took a deep breath.
One more time. Okay, one more. And another. And another….and yes, another.
I don’t know how many times I was thrown that day. It doesn’t matter. The important, memorable event was that on that very day, with no more than a halter to guide her, I rode my new friend, Flicka. I rode her bareback around the pasture. Within the week, my dad had purchased my saddle and bridle and the perfect blanket for my pony.
For the next three years, Flicka was my best friend. We spent long summer days riding along the creek, picking apples in the orchard, herding any animal coming into our path. We trotted, cantered, and galloped our way all over that farm. We went fishing and exploring. Though we never left our Ohio farm, we traveled the old west, discovering gold and shooting cap gun pistols at outlaws.
So what does this have to do with writing? Everything. If you read last week’s interview with Sandra Merville+ Hart, you’ll see she approaches writing and publishing in that “gentling” fashion. Starting with smaller writing opportunities and building up. [If you didn’t read her interview, you can do so by clicking HERE.]
I’m not a bronco rider, either, but I may still be a bit like that seven-year-old girl. Determined to never give up. Convinced there are readers as excited about reading as I am excited about writing.
The best part? Whether you are a “gentler” or a “breaker,” the final experience of publishing is worth the effort. So which best describes you?