(This is an imported post from my old blog: Oct 6, 2010)
When I was 8 years old, I met a girl who became an inspiration, and has remained so throughout my life, though it's only been the last several years that I've come to realize this.
By that time, my family had moved out of the city to the 100 acre farm my dad had bought. Within a year, he'd torn down the old red barn that was in the process of falling down anyway, done extensive landscaping, put up pole fences, and built a brand new barn, complete with three standing stalls and two box stalls, and its own paddock. He then proceeded to buy horses (and various other livestock, but I'll stick with just the horses here). He bought a 6 year old buckskin quarter horse mare, two 2 year old quarter horses (a filly and a colt), a 3 year old Appaloosa mare, and a nasty tempered Shetland pony for me, though I rarely rode it, for obvious reasons.
The 2 years olds were halter broken, but that was all. My father set about finding someone to saddle train them. Consulting with the man who had sold him the horses, he found someone. And that summer, the girl who trained horses made her appearance.
She showed up one Saturday morning in June with her father, in the rusty half ton truck they drove. When she stepped out of that truck, I was captivated instantly. Dressed in cowboy boots, worn boot cut jeans, a button down shirt, and a cowboy hat, with her dark hair tied back beneath it, she looked the epitome of a cowgirl, though at the age of 8, I doubt I even knew whether such a creature existed. She couldn't have been more than 17, but when introduced to my dad, she shook hands with him in a very mature fashion. And when the three of them headed off to the barn and the paddock to meet the horses she would be working with, I followed after quietly.
Her name was Candace, but everyone called her Candy. She was likely average height, but of course I was 8, so she seemed tall. She was lean and her face was tanned, and when she smiled she rarely showed her teeth. As we walked to the barn, she walked with purpose; long, confident strides, that I immediately tried to emulate. When she met the horses, she spent a great deal of time with them. Obviously at some point she agreed to train them, because every weekend after that she showed up on her own to work with them, until summer break, when she began coming every second or third day. And every day she showed up, I followed her to the paddock to watch her work.
She never seemed to mind my presence. I was a very quiet child, very watchful, very attentive. It was very important to me that I not make a fool of myself, that I not embarrass myself around her. We barely spoke at first. When she worked the horses on the lunge line, or was working them up to the saddle, I sat on the top rail of the fence and just watched. And when she finished working them, we would brush them (she doing most of the work), after which they would be turned loose. We would then climb back up to the top rail of the fence and watch them awhile.
Eventually, we started talking, mostly me asking questions about the horses, or about what she was doing with them, and her answering. She was always patient, and always soft-spoken. I paid fierce attention to everything she said, everything she did. Later, looking back at that time, it was obvious to me that I completely idolized her. I was a child, she was (to me) a grown up, and she was everything I wanted to be. She moved with a confidence I ached to possess, and her quiet nature was soothing, so different from what I was surrounded by in my own family environment.
I recall specifically one time toward the end of the summer, when she and her family, and my family, were all trooping out to the pasture to see the new foal birthed by our mare, that had been sired by their leopard Appaloosa stallion. They walked in two loose groupings, and I was trying to catch up to my dad, through all these people. I finally squeezed up next to her and said politely, looking up at her, "Excuse me."
She smiled down at me. "You're excused."
"Thank you," I said, smiling back.
"You're welcome," she said, still smiling.
That was it. The height of the exchange. But it has stuck with me for years, because I may have been a child, but she never treated me like one. I learned from that, as I learned many things from her that summer. I learned patience, and silence. I learned careful movements, and thoughtful observation. I learned to pay attention when children speak, and to answer their questions with respect and consideration. I learned about horses, and though I've never trained a horse (I trained dogs privately and with much success for 15 years), I know that I could.
As children, we never know how the people who enter our lives will affect us. But they do. Every single person who crosses our path has some affect, whether significant or not. As adults, we are able to look back and ascertain the merits (or not) of those encounters. Though I never saw Candace again after that summer, I have thought of her over the years, and come to realize the impact she had on my formative years. I would not be the person I am today had she not come into my life. Someday, I would like to thank her.
Someday, I will. I've found her, you see. So, yes, I will thank her.