Makayla Cichosz-King takes us on a wild ride from long ago.

A ride on the wild side, by Makayla Cichosz-King

I was very small when my grandparents took me to a horse ranch in the middle of nowhere. I had always loved horses, even if I was terrified of them and their big teeth. A lady greeted us as we climbed out of the car, and while the adults talked I awed at the dozens of horses surrounding me in their different corrals. My grandfather then departed to go fishing, and the lady brought out a horse for my grandmother and a pony for me.

His name was Little Joe, though I didn’t see the irony in the name, seeing as he towered over me (and I had for years towered over my classmates). The first moments on Little Joe’s back were terrifying. My sneakers slipped in the stirrups, the heavy flanks rocked back and forth, and every so often the pony would canter to the side as if to throw me off, or toss his head as if to bite through my apple-sized knee.

Fortunately, my fear did not last long. My grandmother mounted her horse and the lady hers, and as she led us into the wilderness, I grew accustomed to the swaying of my pony and the lack of a safety belt. We just seemed to becoming fond of one another – with him eating at every slow moment and I gently berating him for it – when we descended a wooded hill behind my grandmother, and Little Joe’s steady step failed him.

A log hidden in vegetation caught his hoof, I was later told, but all I knew at that moment was the drop of the pony’s thick weight beneath me and my sudden airborne descent down the hill. In land covered in trees and sharp rocks and thorny bushes, the result could have been disastrous and easily fatal for one of us. However, I landed on soft ground covered in leaves, receiving minimal damage, and more miraculously, the lady was able to coax Little Joe to his shaky feet and ascertained that he had received no injury. Indeed, after our initial scare, we were both back to normal and quite eager to continue on. What’s more, our fall and recovery seemed to strengthen the tenuous bond between us.

The lady led us up and down the wilderness for miles, and while she seemed to have difficulties with her own mount, Little Joe and I read each other perfectly. When she could not entice her horse into navigating a steep hill, Little Joe climbed it steadily. When she could not even pull her horse across a little bridge, I led Little Joe cantering gracefully across it. When she could not slow her horse to her command, I sped on Little Joe and bid him go faster until I was warned to stop. I did not want to, for I was feeling like the queen of the world on my pony, a daring racer and adventurer in a wild part of the world.

And at last, when we returned to the ranch, I begged for another ride. When my grandfather returned for us, I begged that he and my grandmother bring me back another day. I received vague promises, and as I sat in the back of the car, I worked hard to commit every moment to perfect memory. I watched Little Joe, tethered to a post, waiting to return to his corral, and I was convinced that, when I returned, he would remember me.

Makayla’s essay was the best from Libby High School in the 2013 Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness scholarship competition.

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