A dina, 16, was referred to me by her social worker, who felt therapeutic horseback riding would be a helpful boost to her treatment. She came to me with addictive tendencies, multiple traumas, a difficult family situation, and a great many fears. She was short and round, with stringy blond hair, and glasses that were in style ten years ago.

The first thing she said to me was, “I’m not touching a horse. I’m never touching it.” We made a deal: During every session, I’d push her a little, but not too much, and she’d do at least one thing out of her comfort zone.

During our first session, I taught her how to saddle the horse and lead it. I didn’t ask her to mount, nor did I ask her to touch the horse directly.

With plenty of time left, we sat down in one of my favorite post-lesson spots overlooking the wheat field and the pond. She discussed her fears, and I talked about understanding and accepting them, and how horses can help us do that.

I fell silent. Adina kept checking her watch.

I waited.

Finally, she blurted out, “Aren’t you going to tell me to get on the horse?”

“Nah,” I said, “what for?”

“Because, um, aren’t I supposed to be getting lessons?”

“You are. Saddling is a very important part of riding. Besides, if you do more, you might accidentally touch the horse.”

“I can be careful.”

I shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to chance it. I know it grosses you out.”

“Right,” Adina said. “Right.”

“It’s only your first day. We had a deal, right?” I sat back on the boulder and let the sun warm my face.

“Yeah. Um, still,” she said, “I didn’t really do anything out of my comfort zone.”

“You did enough. You spent all that time near the horse, and you touched the saddle and everything.”

Adina bit off a piece of fingernail.

“Maybe in a week or two,” I said. “If you’re ready, that is. Will you let me know when you’re ready?”

She stood up so quickly I thought she’d been stung by a bee. “I’m ready now.”

I stayed seated. “Really? You think so?”

“Yes. I want to try. Please can I just try?”

I stood up slowly. “I guess so, if you’re sure.”

I smiled to myself as she bounded toward the stables.

Her momentary confidence vanished the second she was actually on the horse. She held the saddle horn so hard her arms shook. And that was before we moved.

I gently nudged the horse forward, and Adina screamed for me to stop.

“You want to get off?” I asked.

“Soon,” she said.

“You want to move again?”

“A little.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 555)