The Sweet Taste of Dirt

It’s common wisdom that when thrown off a horse, you have to get back on. But when you’re nine years old, that’s easier said than done.


Bella Neiberger , Student Contributor

The sides of my cheeks pulled my lips into a tight smile as I stood in a circle around the grooming area. It was the first day of horse camp. The sun shone through the big doors just down the hall, filling the air with the morning’s warmth and the quiet chatter of eager little girls. We all stood patiently, waiting to each be assigned our horses. Our coaches stepped into the center of our huddle with two clipboards. They rattled off names but I didn’t hear a thing till mine. “…and Bella you’ll be with Duster, the new horse”

The new horse! Wow, that’s so cool, I thought to myself.

We grabbed our horses and started to brush them off. Duster was a short stocky western horse that was being trained for English riding. He had a light caramel coat with a dark coarse mane.

The walk to the arena shot sparks of excitement and nerves through my body. I had been riding for almost six months. It had been my dream since I was five to ride horses, but my mom wouldn’t allow it till I was nine. The gentle sound of hooves hitting the sand followed us all the way up to the arena and through its gates.

After getting on and finishing our warm-up, the fun part began: jumping. Duster rode like most lesson horses–slow, steady, and like they didn’t exactly want to be there. I figured jumping would be the same.

My turn came along and we headed to the first jump in the course. The world around me slowed. At that moment, it was just me and Duster–everything outside the ring became immaterial. My eyes set on the jump, heels down, shoulders pressed together, and mindset on showing off to my trainer proving I was perfectly capable of riding new horses. The rush of adrenaline surged through my veins as Duster’s hooves leaped from the ground and for just a moment I was flying. The freedom of jumping was incredible and I knew I could never get sick of it.

We landed on the other side of the wooden standards and headed to the second jump. But something was wrong–Duster dropped his head and began to canter much faster. I pulled the reins trying to steady our pace, but it wasn’t working. In fact, it was doing quite the opposite. My mind was whirling. How do I get him to slow down? I could feel my body rocking side to side in the saddle. My muscles began to ache as I did everything I knew how to attempt to slow down the now galloping horse under me. 

All my efforts were useless. There was no stopping him. I could hear the faint yelling of my trainer, but couldn’t make out a word. My mind was too busy. Between throbbing in my whole body and terror running through my mind, I gave into my basic human instincts and let go of my reigns, gripping the front of my saddle as hard as a could.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

He began to buck. I hadn’t fallen off a horse yet, and I surely had never dealt with a horse that bucks. I really need to–

Everything went black. 

When I opened my eyes again, I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t in my saddle anymore.

But I wasn’t on the ground either.

I was dangling on the side of Duster.

My heart pounded so hard I couldn’t think. My foot was caught in my stirrup, leaving me hanging on Duster’s side. I reached to try and free myself, but I simply couldn’t get my limbs to move as I wanted them to. I gave up and threw my arms back down, my hands hitting the ground in a sharp whack. Pain ran through my hand, but I wasn’t concerned about it. After what felt like a lifetime of being hung in the air by only a leather strap, a loud snap finally sent me falling to the ground.

I could taste the dirt and iron in my mouth. A warm trickle ran over my lips. I’m bleeding, but that’s not what hurts. I stood slowly, my whole body shaking. Every inch of me wanted to lay in the soft sand, but the fear of being stepped on overruled any ache in my body. As my vision finally cleared I saw Duster still racing around the ring and my trainer sprinting toward me.

“Are you okay? Oh, my gosh Bella, your thumb!”

I looked down at my thumb. It was completely bent to the side and was already turning a purple and yellowish color. Clearly broken.

“Come, come on, get out of the ring,” my trainer called. We hobbled to the side of the ring and under the railing. Everyone bombarded me with questions of if I was all right, but I still couldn’t get my mouth to form the words. Eventually, someone caught Duster and I was able to clear my head. 

“You’re a real rider now. Nobody is till they fall off,” someone had said. 

That did it. those words forced my cheeks to pull my lips into a tight smile. I giggled and everyone laughed.

I am okay, I thought. I am a real rider now.