“Do you think that’s wise, Dakota?”

I frowned and tightened the cinch on Ruby’s saddle. I glanced at my Ella, my older sister. In the yellow light of our barn, the lines of anxiety on her face stood out even more. “You shouldn’t worry so much,” I told her coldly. “The effects of it don’t become you.”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Well, I have good reason to be worried.”

I stabbed my left foot into the stirrup. Pain rippled up my back. Ella winced with me.

“See?” She cried. “Your accident was only yesterday. Get down and give yourself a rest.”

“I can’t.”

“Are you stuck?” She lunched towards me to help, but I put a hand out.

“I mean I can’t because I told myself I’d ride today. I need to keep my promises. I have to get back into the saddle.” Otherwise I might not ever. I tried to mount in one fell sweep, but it took me a record five tries today. My back throbbed as if it was bleeding out from being stabbed.

“I know you think you have something to prove to yourself,” Ella continued.

Ruby and I trotted out of the barn.

“But you’re not being brave,” Ella yelled after me, “you’re being foolish.”

We trotted away from our farm and towards the countryside. Away from my sister, I could breathe a little easier. She meant well – she always had. Our mother passed away in a riding accident when I was four. My aunt was supposed to raise us, but it was mainly Ella who raised me. She’d always been the worrying mother neither of us had. I was grateful for her as a child, but now my sister had echoed every fear that I had. It wasn’t helping.

I knew I needed to ride again. I had vowed to always get back on after I’d fallen off, regardless of the pain that would follow. Last night, Ruby had spooked at something I never saw. As quick as a bolt of lightning, Ruby scampered to the side of the trail we’d been riding. I fell off, tumbled down the side of the steep bluff, and landed at the bottom with a rock underneath me.

Of course, I’ve fallen off countless times before. I’ve been bucked off and I’ve slid off with the saddle and I’ve been knocked off by tree branches. I grew up in the saddle, and so falling off is natural risk to be aware of. It’s no different than knowing as humans, we will inevitably trip and fall down at some point, no matter how skilled we are at walking. After other accidents I’ve had, I questioned myself, but the consensus remained the same – the bond I had with my horse and the freedom I felt while riding always made it worth it. I winced and massaged my back with one hand. Was it worth it now?

I slowed Ruby down to a gentle walk. The jolting of trotting still sent tingles of sickening pain up and down my body. We plodded along a forest trail and suddenly I lost the choice I had. To succumb to tears or not. The choice was made for me and tears trailed down my dusty cheek.

I knew that if I were to fall off now, I could do serious damage to my back. I also knew that if I were to get off now, I would do serious damage to my mind. If I didn’t ride now, I would be telling myself that fear was stronger than me. That thought would consume me. Fear would consume me – it would have learned that it could control me, and from that point on it would take every liberty it could.

I sniffed and swiped at the tears with my dirty hands. I patted Ruby’s neck and I urged her into a trot. The afternoon faded into evening and Ruby and I turned to go home. My back throbbed worse than it’d ever had, but my heart soared. I’d done it. Perhaps I was both brave and foolish. Perhaps bravery is being foolish for a worthy cause.

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