Dreams of a Barrel Racer

I hadn’t always been a country girl. I’d grown up in Boston; running away to Virginia at the age of 19 with the dreams of becoming a famous barrel racer. Ever since I was little, I’d lived and breathed for horses. Although I felt bad for leaving my family, I was loving life south of the Mason Dixon. Unfortunately, two years later my dream was cut short after a collision with a fence almost left me paralyzed from the waist down.

I remember falling asleep in a hospital bed for months, each time dreaming of Pippa, my little brown American Quarter Horse with a big star right in the middle of her forehead. I had finally bought Pippa after many long hours at the farm, and had been training with her when the accident happened.

In each dream, I see myself holding an apple for her in one hand and bridle in the other as I walk to the pasture to bring her in for the night. Strangely, with each step I take the ground gets softer until it feels like sand. The wind blowing through the trees subtly changes to soft, quiet waves lapping against a distant seashore. By the time I reach my hand out to open the paddock gate, there is nothing left for me to release. Shaking my head in disbelief, I know this is just a dream, but I can’t seem to wake up.

Confused, I begin calling for Pippa, hoping that she can save me from this unfamiliar landscape that I’m stuck in. Suddenly, I hear a high pitch squeak coming from what used to be the water trough; and I watch in disbelief as it expands out in front of me into a massive pool. Looking down to try and find the source of the squeaking, I suddenly see a mass of grey racing towards me.

SHARK!!! I think frantically as I turn and start to run in the opposite direction. Before I can get very far, splashes of water begin to hit me as I hear the squeaking sound again.

I muster up the courage to walk back to the edge of the pool, and much to my surprise, I see two playful dolphin eyes staring back at me. Oddly, I notice that I am still clutching an apple and bridle in my hand. Again, I get splashed with water, and I involuntary laugh, forgetting how strange all of this is.

As I sit on the edge of the pool and watch my new dolphin friend play in the water, I sense a familiar feeling growing inside of me. Every time she swims in front of me, she turns on her side and looks up at me- almost like she is waiting for something. Just the way Pippa would turn her head sideways whenever she wanted the apple out of my hand.

She seems so familiar- but no, it couldn’t be! I think to myself as I begin to toss the apple up and down in my hand. I stand up to toss the apple at her as she eagerly bobs her head.

That’s exactly what Pippa used to do when she knew I had treats for her!

I toss her the apple and watch as she catches it in her mouth; I swear she is smiling at me. “It’s you Pippa, isn’t it” I whisper, looking at her as she nods her head in agreement.

Without further ado, I jump into the water, and Pippa comes right up to me as if she was saying “what took you so long to get in, mom”. Looking around the pool, I realize why my crazy surroundings seem so familiar to me. Four floating barrels and a finish line at the other side of the pool… if I substituted the water for dirt and it would be a barrel racing arena.

As I tread water near the side of the pool, Pippa graceful swims out to the farthest barrel, makes a sharp turn around it and races back to me. She splashes me again as if she was saying “I know what I’m doing, it’s time to go for a ride!” I suddenly understand why I am still holding onto Pippa’s old bridle. I make my way over to her side and she floats patiently as I put the bridle around her.

I have a feeling this is going to be a wild round of slip and slide I think to myself as I fasten the last strap of the bridle and begin to climb onto her glistening back. Before I could even get a good grip on the reins, she took off like lightning. Holding on for dear life, I instantly knew I wasn’t going to be able to stay on for long. At least with a horse there is a saddle to keep you in place, and a bushy mane to hold onto if absolutely necessary.

As fast as Pippa had sprung into action, I was again treading water, watching as she swam loops around the other barrels without me. Not bad for a …dolphin I thought as I clapped my hands to cheer her on. As she came back over I gave her a giant hug and kiss on the nose, laughing to myself and forgetting about how crazy all of this was.

As I was getting ready to try again a voice came out of nowhere… “Melissa, time to wake up dear!” I slowly opened my eyes and loosened my white-knuckled grip on the bed. I saw my physical therapist looking down at me with a smile. “You must have been dreaming about Pippa again, you were holding onto those railings for dear life. Was she taking you on a wild ride again?”

“Kind of” I said with a hint of a laugh in my reply. “This time was pretty crazy.”

“Anything’s possible” she replied as she began our exercises. “We’ll have you back in the saddle in no time.”

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