In November of 2010, Rylie was 3, almost 4. We were 2 years into speech therapy and had made it to the top of the waiting list at a local therapy riding center where people of all ages and with all capabilities ride horses retired from the daily grind. The horses are as varied as the riders: cart-pullers, rodeo stars, Disney parades, and 4H stars.
It was the first time in my 2 years as a Therapy Mom that I saw Rylie doing something I wished I could do. There was this tiny, 25-pounder… in a purple helmet and pink boots… riding around a ring like a natural. She was paired with Bubba, a quarter-horse donated by a volunteer who used to ride barrels in the rodeo. Bubba wore purple “socks,” or ankle wraps, to help with his arthritis.
With Rylie, Bubba was a king.
The time came sooner rather than later that Bubba had to retire for good. The daily walking of lessons added to the stress of barrel racing in his younger years had finally added up to pasture time. We said goodbye at his last lesson and talked excitedly about Ry’s new partner, Barney. Surely lots of riders were sad to say goodbye to Bubba, but this was Ry’s first horse, and he would always be special. We spent lots of time talking through the transition and how Barney and Bubba were great friends.
A couple of weeks later, one of the volunteers met us in the barn and asked if we’d stay after for a minute. Lindsey is not so tall and always in jeans. Bubba? Bubba was her horse, and she reassured us he was happy at home but that he missed his kids.
“Hey,” she said, bending down to talk to Rylie, “he asked me to give this to you. I think he misses you and he wants to say hello.”
With that, she handed over a tarnished and bruised metal trophy buckle with a girl in the middle… a girl on her horse.
“Bubba?” Rylie asked.
“Yep. That’s Bubba. That was his first rodeo buckle. We won it together. I think he wants you to have it. You looked great out there tonight, Rylie.” And with that, she turned around and went back to tacking the horses for lessons.
No doubt, Rylie is too young to grasp the significance of that gift. For now, it sits high on a shelf in her room, next to her special horse figurines and miniature cowgirl boots. How many days have we talked about Bubba in our life? Every day since meeting him. But the buckle is more about Lindsey recognizing the love another girl has for her horse, and giving her a piece of him. Rylie doesn’t realize it yet, but what she got was more than a piece of metal.
Someday, I will tell her the story again. About how sometimes love is bright and beautiful and obvious. And about how, other times, love is well-worn and uneven. Sometimes love is bold and front and center, but more often it is quiet and steady, hidden beneath the effort and layers of life.
Love multiplies when shared.
And it comes in absolutely every shape, size, and shade.
Thank you, Equest Center, for loving your clients so well, for recognizing the amazing relationship between horse and rider, and for giving them both a chance to run.