Such a hot day! June will be over soon. I can hardly believe I’m 14 and Doris 15. Teenagers and school janitors, too – we are almost grown up.
Our ponies, Grace and Daisy, are just plodding along. Their barn at school was very warm, and now there is very little breeze to cool us. Even the mosquitoes and horseflies aren’t buzzing around. People must be staying home; not one car has passed us on the road. I call to Doris, who is ahead of me.
“Doris, can you make Daisy move faster? Please try, and then Grace will keep up.”
Doris gives Daisy a little kick, and for a few feet she trots, but then goes back to walking. Finally we are at the corner where we turn and start up the slope of the small hill on the side road which runs by our house. Only a quarter of a mile from home now. This is where the ponies usually become anxious to get home and are happy to run … but not today. I say, “Nothing is going to make Grace and Daisy hurry today.”
Doris laughs and says, “Today we could ride them backwards and they wouldn’t care!”
The idea is so ridiculous that I reply, “Let’s try it and see!”
Grace and Daisy have been our mounts for eight years. We know them as well as they know us. Still, in a few minutes our bizarre behaviour thoroughly confuses and alarms them.
It turns out to be more difficult than we had expected to reverse our positions on the horses, without dismounting. There is much twisting, sliding, slipping and balancing precariously as we struggle to turn around and face backwards. Of course we giggle, laugh, and shout as one or other of us comes close to biting the dust and then recovers. The horses are beginning to snort and toss their heads, but we scarcely notice. Finally we are both facing backwards. How odd and strange it seems.
Our knees are now pressing into the horses’ flanks, our heel into their ribs –neither areas where the ponies expect pressure. We sit there, looking out over the horses’ rumps and laughing. It is apparent that we have to dismount and then remount in order to finish the short distance up the hill and into our yard. As we try to figure out how to dismount from the position in which we are sitting, our movements prove to be the final straw for our ponies. They become thoroughly spooked, jump around, and then break into a fast gallop heading for the farm. Doris and I have no choice but to fling ourselves down on the horses’ backs. We reach out and dig our fingers into the top of the tails, and cling like leaches on a slippery swimmers’ back.
Finally, Grace and Daisy swing from the road into our farmyard. They roar up to the fence around the house yard and stop dead. Doris and I shoot out over our horses’ rear ends and onto the gravelled road of the farmyard. We lie there for a moment, the wind knocked out of us, then slowly get to our feet.
Mother rushes up, pale and shaken and (almost!) speechless.
“What do you think you were doing?” she cries – and our answers are pathetically unsatisfactory.
“Don’t you realize that you could have been killed?” is the next question, and we have to admit we had never entertained the thought that any danger was involved.
As we move inside, we hear only too clearly about the danger that Mother saw. Glancing out the kitchen window, she had seen our two ponies coming over the top of the rise, running wildly.
“I thought they had no riders!” she said, the fear still strong in her voice.
Her horrified realization that we were lying flat on the horses’ backs, facing backwards, had impelled her into the farmyard—and it was likely her presence that had stopped Grace and Daisy in their tracks.
Later, as we are in the kitchen having our scrapes washed, cleaned and disinfected Dad arrives home. Mom goes outside to meet him and break the news. We hear him, almost shouting, say, “They were doing WHAT?”
We two culprits have a sudden urge to laugh. This we quickly suppress and instead gather our wits to prepare for the tongue lashing which is about to be delivered.
It is 76 years since that afternoon and I still shake my head when I remember it. I wonder how two experienced horsewomen with reasonably good sense could have pulled off such a senseless and dangerous prank.
Parents who have lived through raising teenagers could likely substitute their own memories of thoughtless and reckless activities which their children survived. The questions asked, by many generations, are similar:
“Why, during the teen years, do young people seem to lack risk-evaluation skills?”
“Why are young people drawn to dangerous activities?”
“Why do the higher mortality rates for these years not act as a deterrent?”
“What is the force that pushes youth toward risky ventures?”
In the last several decades much research has been done by sound and qualified scientific organizations to study these questions. There are many theories, and no solid answers. One group supports an evolutionary theory – that between the protected childhood and the older adults with their family responsibilities, evolution favours young emerging adults who will take risks, and so tackle risky ventures. The ventures which are successful may favour the advancement of the species. Other researchers reject this theory completely. The research and the debates continue.
So it is that parents today, like those through the ages, are still tasked with the job of trying to guide their young folks through those marvelous but perilous years when everything seems possible, and the young believe they are immune to all danger. May we be wise to guide, quick to celebrate their courage and their successes, and strong enough to bear the price which sometimes must be paid.