As my horse and I brought up the rear following a young stable hand, my nine-year-old Levi and my ten-year-old Liv on a recent ride down a steep, muddy path overgrown with tree branches, I was a bit surprised that no one from the stables had cleared the way for riders. Especially since we were paying for it! Swatting a twig out of my face, I asked the stable hand about it over the suction sound the horses’ hooves made as they struggled up a steep, sodden incline. She explained that, “We can’t tend all these acres, but we train our horses to be prepared for any terrain or weather conditions. As long as the riders, who can be as young as six, use the aids I showed you: pulling the reigns to the left or right to guide them, pulling them back to slow them down, and a gentle kick to get them moving faster, the horse will do fine on the path.”
Not only did this explanation ease my fears about the children’s safety as we cautiously made our way down a slippery slope, it resonated because it’s so relevant to this season in my life. Two of my stepsons have moved out this summer, and after two years, the young man who has lived with us is moving on as well. My head knows this is the natural progression of life – children move up and away, to be in relationships, to attend college and pursue careers and to just be on their own – but my heart still hurts. As parents we fret about how they will maneuver their way through the wild world.
Like with the horseback riding trail, we can’t always prepare the path for our children. But we can prepare our children for the path. We can equip them with the aids they need to successfully navigate the rainy seasons, the dry spells, the downhill sloppy spots and the taxing uphill climbs. There will be times when they’ll face crossroads where they’ll have to decide to go one way or another in order to stay on track. Other times they’ll need to slow down to regain their footing. And when the going gets tough, they’ll have to kick it into high gear to keep pressing toward their goals. When these times come, hopefully they’ll recall the guidance we provided as they saddled up for the great adventure we call life.
From behind I occasionally caught a glimpse of Levi’s profile. Instead of anxiety or fear, I saw pure, unadulterated joy. The same as I see on the faces of the three young men embarking on their rides. Hearing Levi tell his horse, Muddy, to “Giddy up!” as we reached a flower-filled clearing, I could almost hear the big boys saying the same thing. They’ve all got a trail to blaze.