Posted by: Staff | 01.08.2009

College Essay XVIII: by Ali Cooper


“Are your teeth broken?” said the voice from over me. I ran my tongue over my teeth, tasting the gritty sand that I hadn’t meant to eat. I forced my eyes open and saw the EMT’s bony, dirty knees in my face. “I wonder if she’s ever eaten dirt,” I thought. I could only see parts of her; why was she so close to me?

“No.” I mumbled, closing my eyes once more.

“Squeeze my fingers.” I grasped her cold, dry fingers but didn’t open my eyes. “Good. Now don’t move. It’s not safe to roll over yet.” She asked if I knew where I was, if I could feel my legs, and if I could wiggle my toes.

“Okay, let’s move you onto your back now.” My mom’s boots plodded closer to my head and the EMT’s clogs stepped backwards towards my legs. They gently helped me roll over. “This might be a little uncomfortable,” the EMT warned as she slipped a stiff, hospital-y looking neck brace underneath my head. It scratched against my chin, already raw and stinging. My mom’s hands carefully slipped my gloves off and unclipped my helmet. She left my hairnet on, and I felt a flicker of self consciousness. I was just lying there, in the dirt, pulling a lunch lady look. Cute. My trainers watched uneasily from a few feet away. The EMT asked if I was ready to stand up. I said okay, so I was lifted to my feet and we started to walk back to our barn’s tent.

What is it that compels me, day after day, weekend after weekend, horse show after horse show, to put myself in a position where I could so easily end up in the dirt? It all started as the typical, pig-tailed horse-crazy seven-year-old’s love for ponies. Fast forward ten years, and I find that the same little girl’s passion has evolved into her way of life. People still call me “horse-crazy,” and all right, I’ll admit it. All through elementary school, I galloped instead of ran. I cantered up and down the aisles of supermarkets and department stores, counting my strides between the frozen foods section and the deli department. I absolutely lived for my weekly rides, doodling the names of the lesson ponies onto every book, folder, and scrap piece of paper: Star, Blue, Sugar Bear. I would gush to my friends about which pony I would be riding the following afternoon, even though it was perfectly obvious that none of them had any interest…at all.

When you’re little, it’s easy. You’re allowed to be that pony-crazy kid. You aren’t overscheduled with teacher meetings, Shakespeare assignments, math extra-help sessions, or newspaper deadlines. You don’t have to send another round of frantic emails to your unsuspecting teachers requesting homework assignments in advance so you can get them done before the horse show that’s going to take up your weekend. Social sacrifices and missed family obligations aside, Watson, the fifteen-hundred pound animal who whinnies my name every time I walk through the barn doors justifies it all.

I’ve learned to care for a living creature in all seasons and weather conditions, whether it be snow, downpours, tornado warnings, or hurricane-force winds. I’ve learned to be a humble winner and a graceful loser; how to persevere through the (many) losses, falls, and disappointments; how to set new and higher goals with my trainers each year, and then how to craft a plan to execute them; how to develop good sportsmanship, which is crucial when competing against my best friends every weekend. The hours spent both in the saddle and at the barn have made me determined to fit this time-consuming passion into my life. Riding Watson, no matter the time or place, frees me from stress over schoolwork and the worries about what to wear to so-and-so’s party later on. It’s just Watson and I, enjoying the moment. Nothing can touch us.

So I may not have to gallop up and down the aisles of Whole Foods to feel connected to my passion. (Well, maybe once and a while, when no one’s looking…) Instead, I carry it with me every day. The best part of it all, dirt-filled mouths included, is that I’m figuring out how to apply the lessons I’ve learned from riding to the rest of my life. It’s never fun to fall in the dirt. But when you have a passion, when you’re lucky enough to find something worth lying in the dirt for, you’d better grab the reins and go for it.

If you would like to submit your own essay, either anonymously or attributed, please send an email to Ali Cooper or Michael Firer.


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