I was pleasantly surprised by a little girl a while ago.
Usually the kids under 8 regard horses just as "gogogo" hairy toys. But this one was special :)
She was the daughter of a diplomatic Dutch family, and she was I'd say around 6? Her front "milk" teeth were getting replaced by permanent ones, I apologize but I have no idea around what age this happens. Anyways she was really small, sweet and kind , a tiny chocolate chip.
The fact that she was already speaking Dutch and quite fluent English also amazed me.
I was waiting around for my riding lesson and she had just finished hers. She was riding Sara, the riding school pony.
After she finished, we both sat on the bench, and Sara already had to take the next child for a lesson.
I was discretely looking at the girl, she wasn't making any noise, so small and quiet. And all of a sudden she asks me:
"How would it be to be a horse?"
I first thought the language barrier got us and asked her to rephrase. She repeated patiently:
"Do you think a horse is happy to be a horse?"
I paused. I was not sure what to answer. So many horses, so many lives, so many different standards.
"If the rider is careful and if they take good care of them, I think the horses are happy."
"Do you think Sara is happy?"
I paused again and looked at the pony. Poor Sara. Compared to the cart horses from our countryside yes, she lived a princess life. But was she happy?
Hour after hour, all day long, trotting around with children bouncing on her back and sometimes yanking her little mouth. Then back to her stable, never free to graze in a paddock, never having a day off.
"I think with a rider like you, she is."
The girl did not seem to be much impressed of my compliment. This time I looked at her more carefully. She is so exotic, her ebony skin and her curly tight hair make her sparkle like a tiny black pearl in the middle of us, this bunch of Caucasian eastern Europeans.
Even her family seems different, let aside the racial difference ( her sisters and mother were blonde with blue eyes which led me to the assumption she could have been adopted) but also in attitude. Her mother is chatting gracefully about the weather with an instructor. Her older sister pushes Fatima in an extended trot.
But the little one ...she's silent and watching Sara, the pony.
"I took a break because I'm tired. When will Sara get her break?"
Gah. What to answer? That it's only Sunday morning, it's weekend, the kids will start pouring and Sara will do her little trot circles until afternoon?
"Sara is not quite tired yet. There are more children waiting for her"
The phone rings. The next child announces he cannot make it to the lesson. The instructor decides to take Sara to rest for an hour. After the mother agrees, I take the little girl's hand and we go after them.
We find Sara in her stable box, chewing her hay. We pick up a brush, I lift the girl in my arms and she starts brushing the pony's coat carefully.
"Are you sure this brush isn't hurting her?"
"She would move away if she'd hurt. I think she likes it"
"Is this her room?"
"Is this where she sleeps?"
"Yes, and that is where she eats."
The little girl takes a look around. The box is fine to me, large enough, clean, fresh water in a bucket and some hay.
"My room has a bed and a big mattress; why can't Sara have a bed and a mattress?"
"Well, horses cannot sleep in beds. "
Her little face became the living expression of disappointment.
"I wanted to take her with me and share my bed with her. It's big enough for both"
I feel like hugging her so much.
"Horsies can get back pains if they sleep on soft mattresses. This type of bed is the best for them"
I realize she's still thinking about something and I remain silent while her minuscule hands patiently work on a knot in the pony's mane.
"Well then. I'll stay here with her. This looks comfortable enough"
We had to go back and I've seen her again only once more, around 1 week later. She politely saluted me, with a peculiar dignity for such a young child. I the same day Sara spooked and the little girl fell on the ground with quite a loud thump. I was worried she might cry, however she got up, dusted off her clothes and her first question was...
"Is Sara ok?"
Yes, Sara was ok.
"Did Sara get upset on me?"
No, Sara just got scared of that big horse (ridden by a brainless pothead straight into her) that accidentally hit her on her hind leg.
And the lesson continued.
There has been over an year since then. I'm sure her teeth are still shiny white and completely replaced by now. I wonder how will she grow up and I really hope that someday, over the decades, she will keep inside her that little girl who wondered upon a horse's happiness.