Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ecurie, again.

This is a story about horses and dogs and Abraham Lincoln.

First, horses: Another lesson yesterday, and another daughter off a horse.

We missed two lessons during the school vacation. E. and G. were quiet at the prospect of another lesson, and got quieter as we drove to the stable and lesson time approached. Once in the ring on their horses, they both seemed fine. I stood in the gallery above the ring with two other mothers--one Italian, one French--and we consoled each other while our children took their horses, or while horses took our children, over low jumps.

The Italian mother brings her two Golden Retrievers with her to the stable. Her way of managing anxiety is to walk the dogs up and down outside the ring. The French mother copes by smoking. I cope by trying to call the States on my cell phone, one of those tricks that theoretically my cell phone can do but at which it sometimes balks. By the end of the lesson, we have exhausted our coping tricks and just stand and watch.

G.'s horse yesterday was not unlike my phone: theoretically, it knew how to take jumps and was capable of it, but sometimes it just balked. On the first balk, G. fell off but did so so slowly as to make it look like an awkward but capable dismount. She landed on her feet, grabbed the horse's reins, and put out her hand to touch his muzzle. I think she was reassuring him. She got back up in the saddle and came around again. This time, the horse took the jump but came back down with a lurch. G. lost both stirrups--France, Italy, and two dogs leaned in towards me--and went over the left shoulder. She landed on her knees, but caught the underside of her chin on a plastic cube that was dividing the large ring in half.

I played it cool up in the gallery. We all leaned over a bit, none of us breathing, and watched the monitrice come over to G. and put her hand on G.'s shoulder to keep her from standing up too fast. Not until the monitrice who had been teaching at the other end of the ring stopped her class and came over to G.--a full, count them, 25 seconds or so after she fell--did I go down to the ring. I walked over to where the monitrices were telling G. to breathe.

Ca va, she's fine, she's fine, don't worry. The monitrice for G.'s class reminds me of one of my aunts who, if flames were spouting out of the Lincoln Tunnel, and we were stuck in traffic with theatre tickets and dinner reservations, could say, it's all fine, don't worry, and I would believe her. I patted G. and checked for tears; she was completely collected. Her breathing was shaky but when the monitrices asked her questions, she responded in perfect French.

Then I realized that there was blood--not much--and that G. had about a centimeter-wide split under her chin where she had hit the cube. The monitrices saw it at the same moment I did. Did I know the pharmacie down the road? It was open until 6--half an hour from now--and I should ask for a particular type of bandage, and have the pharmacist take a look at it. Probably no stitches...but we should go right now. And, by the way, if G. vomited in the night or complained of headaches, she should see a doctor.

What you do not want to hear from your child's horseback riding teacher is the phrase: if she vomits tonight after hitting her head in a fall, take her to the doctor.

The French mother appeared with a bandage to cover her on the way to the pharmacy, and the Italian mother looked on sympathetically. The girls and I rushed off to the car and to the pharmacy, where the pharmacist handed over a bandage--two euros--and told me not to worry. We came home, treated the patient with a hot bath and chocolate, bandaged the wound, and are now engaged in trying not to worry.

And it's not about the injury, really. It's not very bad; there will be a small scar, but it's under her chin and will be hard to see. It will make a good story for her to tell, and I can imagine her telling it: I was taking horseback riding lessons in the south of France... What we worry about is our responsibility. We're the ones in charge, making the decisions, trying to find a way that is "reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future,"--here's Lincoln in his second inaugural address--"no prediction in regard to it is ventured."

Now dogs: Last weekend we took the dogs and the girls on another Sunday afternoon walk up on the plain of Caussols. The dogs were happily off leash, and we heard sheep bells in the distance. Rounding a hill, we learned a critical fact about sheep bells: the sound they make is easily distorted, and what sounds like it is in the distance can in fact be as close as the next curve. Wendy and Alice saw and smelled what must have been 500 sheep--a glimpse of heaven for them, I imagine--and bolted towards them. Out of nowhere appeared two of the biggest white dogs I have ever seen. They were more like polar bears than dogs. As we watched, they stopped our little terrier-poodles in their tracks with a few firm but surprisingly gentle and tooth-free nips, and within seconds, probably about 25, Wendy and Alice were back at our sides. E. and G. both thought it was a great adventure.

But what about next time? What if the next polar dogs are not so gentle?

Last night I dreamt about Abraham Lincoln. (Stay with me here.) I was with a group of people from different places in my life. We all knew that Mr. Lincoln was in danger of being assassinated, and together we came up with a plan to protect him. It was a good plan; I don't remember what it was, but I remember the feeling of satisfaction after we had hatched it. Some of us were going to go to Ford's Theater, and others were going to take the president somewhere else, somewhere safe, and then we were going to meet later. The plan worked--everyone did what they were supposed to do--but at the end of my dream, someone shot President Lincoln, and he died.

So here's the moral, as revealed by my subconscious. Even if there's a really good plan, sometimes good presidents get shot, even if they're already dead and memorialized. Sometimes dogs get into trouble, and sometimes girls fall off of horses. What we have to do--back to the second inaugural--is bind up the wounds our charges get, and try to hold firm in what we see to be right, and"do all which may achieve and cherish" lives which are "just and lasting."

If I were to venture a prediction for the future, though, I do not think it would include a lot more horseback riding lessons.

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