I had my first experience with animal rights when I was 10 years old, but I didn’t name it as that until just now. It surprised me then, and still baffles me at times.
One chilly November day, near the end of the 10 sessions of horseback riding lessons that I had begged for, we took a trail ride on the property that is now the Tysons Corner shopping mall. Back then, the area was all farm and forest. It was beautiful. Most of the leaves had fallen making a swish-swish crunch sound as the sure-footed horses trod patiently along. The sky was gray, so characteristic of a November sky in Virginia. We started out from Storm Farm and headed south toward Route 7. Birds flitted through the trees. Squirrels busied themselves with the gathering of nuts. There I was, in the place I loved best, riding a beautiful horse.
The teacher led the way. We guided our horses into a line and I enjoyed the rhythmic walking of Filly, the young, strong bay that was my horse for the morning. Filly was a little more spirited than other horses I had ridden, certainly more robust than the gentle little pony, Bandara, that I rode on my first lesson. Filly shook her head and was acting a little feisty; I fought to control the reins. She kept trying to stop for a snack along the way. The teacher called back to me, “Don’t let her eat. Pull up on the reins!”
We spread out a bit on the trail. I was surprised when we jumped over a fallen log. I had never jumped before. I felt so happy. I was really riding! My heart beat faster and I giggled. Another log. Jump! Soon the trees opened up into a big meadow with rolling hills. What could be better? It was like all my dreams were coming true.
Then, thunder clapped. Suddenly, Filly took off at full gallop. I had never galloped before. I was sure I was going to fall off, break my neck, and die. I screamed for help. Filly was going full-speed up a hill to territory unfamiliar to me. Near panic, I called for help again. My teacher finally caught up to me, grabbed the reins, and brought Filly back to a walk.
“Don’t ever do that again! Your yelling scared Filly to death! What were you thinking? The more you screamed, the more she ran.” I was speechless, embarrassed, and ashamed. I had expected consolation from my terrifying experience. Instead, I got a lasting lesson on animal rights.