Excerpt: 'Animals in Translation'

Watching those cattle calm down, I knew I needed a squeeze chute of my own. When I got back to school that fall, my high school teacher helped me build my own squeeze chute, the size of a human being down on all fours. I bought my own air compressor, and I used plywood boards for the V. It worked beautifully. Whenever I put myself inside my squeeze machine, I felt calmer. I still use it today.

I got through my teenage years thanks to my squeeze machine and my horses. Animals kept me going. I spent every waking minute that I didn't have to be studying or going to school with those horses. I even rode Lady at a show. It's hard to imagine today, a school keeping a stable of emotionally disturbed and dangerous horses for its underaged students to ride. These days you can't even play dodgeball in gym class because somebody might get hurt. But that's the way it was. A lot of us got nipped or stepped on or thrown at that school, but no one was ever seriously hurt, at least not while I was there. So it worked out.

I wish more kids could ride horses today. People and animals are supposed to be together. We spent quite a long time evolving together, and we used to be partners. Now people are cut off from animals unless they have a dog or a cat.

Horses are especially good for teenagers. I have a psychiatrist friend in Massachusetts who has a lot of teenage patients, and he has a whole different set of expectations for the ones who ride horses. He says that if you take two kids who have the same problem to the same degree of severity, and one of them rides a horse regularly and the other one doesn't, the rider will end up doing better than the nonrider. For one thing, a horse is a huge responsibility, so any teenage kid who's looking after a horse is developing good character. But for another, riding a horse isn't what it looks like: it isn't a person sitting in a saddle telling the horse what to do by yanking on the reins. Real riding is a lot like ballroom dancing or maybe figure skating in pairs. It's a relationship.

I remember looking down to make sure my horse was on the right lead. When a horse is cantering around the ring one of his front hooves has to thrust out farther forward than the other one, and the rider has to help him do that. If I leaned my body just the right way, it helped my horse get on the right lead. My sense of balance was so bad I could never learn to parallel ski no matter how hard I tried, though I did reach the advanced snowplow stage. Yet there I was, moving my body in sync with the horse's body to help him run right.

Horseback riding was joyous for me. I can remember being on a horse sometimes and we'd gallop in the pasture and that was such a big thrill. Of course it's not good for horses to run them all the time, but once in a while we'd get to have a little run, and I'd feel exhilarated. Or we'd be out on a trail riding, and do a really fast gallop down the road. I remember what it looked like, the trees whizzing by; I remember that really well to this day.

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