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Updated: May 7, 2023

My niece was born a horse-crazy kid like me. She took her first riding lesson at three years old and continued taking classes until she got serious about swimming around twelve.

She was ten when I bought Rudy. The first time she met him, she was on crutches. She has Perthes disease, a hip disorder in young children that usually occurs between four and ten. She had undergone surgery on the femoral head of her hip and could not bear weight for two years. Despite this restriction and others plus more surgeries in her future, Cece was her usual bubbly self.

I was nervous about Rudy being around her. What if he knocked her down, or worse? She seemed oblivious to the danger and wanted to be in the middle of everything I did with him. I have a picture of her holding him with a giant smile, and he looked equally content. That first meeting seemed to set the stage for their relationship and subsequent interactions.

Cece stayed with me at least twice annually, and every time her focus was spending as much time as she could with Rudy. As she got older, got off crutches, and developed her horsemanship skills, she could do more with him.

He was patient, tolerant, and loved all the attention. Cece was eager, attentive, and radiated positive emotion. In 2019 she turned thirteen and was as big as I was. I felt she had developed a relationship, bond, and respect with Rudy. The time had come for her to ride him.

She was beyond thrilled. She was almost in tears as she reached her foot into the stirrup. Once on him, she collapsed her torso onto his neck and wrapped her arms around his neck in pure joy.

Every time she rides Rudy, he's an angel. He listens attentively and treats her like precious cargo. My heart swells when I watch them enjoy each other's company.

Cece came for her fall visit last weekend. She's sixteen now, and I keep waiting for the day that the pull to boys is stronger than the desire to be with her middle-aged aunt and horses. I'm delighted and surprised each time she chooses Rudy and me.

Things are changing, though; she drove us to and from the barn on her learner's permit. We spent a fair amount of time talking about boys when we weren't at the barn. I wouldn't expect anything else given her age.

We spent twelve hours at the barn over two days. Cece rode Rudy twice, and as always, they did great together. But on the ground, things were different. Rudy can be nippy and mischievous at times, and he was both. He tested her in ways he never had.

Meanwhile, she was rusty in her handling techniques and gave him mixed messages. The result was frustration for both horse and human. At one point, she said, "why does he keep doing this?" Cece also observed that Rudy focused on me instead of her, and in some cases, he deferred to me.

Reflecting on the weekend, I wondered if he viewed her as an adult worthy of proper testing? The kind of testing he does with me. I'll never know the answer to why Rudy approached her this way, but I'm sure it was a combination of things.

Naturally, I wanted her to have another great experience with him, but the weekend was a lesson in the reality of horse ownership. Until now, she's only experienced Rudy being willing. It was good for her to see him be challenging, to question her, to say 'no,' and decide he had had enough.

I made the mistake of thinking she knew precisely how to handle him. Don't get me wrong, she knows a lot, but to be fair to both of them, she needed more direction from me to affect the best outcome. Next time, she can drive to the barn, but I'll keep my hands on the wheel when we're at the barn.

Written November 15, 2021

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