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December 28, 2011

Unique girl has away with horses — and children

Any teacher will tell you that out of the thousands they see, once in a while, a superstar comes along. Be it piano, gymnastics, singing, boxing, or, in my case, teaching horseback riding, a superstar is hard to come by. Classroom teachers will tell you that to be an academic standout, you must have the ability to sit for long hours and read voraciously as well as have special parenting.

I saw many outstanding students when I was an English teacher. Even when I taught elementary school, I could spot future students who had the potential to go very far academically. Not all outstanding students, however, become superstars.

It all has to do with something I think of as "stick-to-it-ive-ness.'' The ability to see an activity through to its completion is often missing with the demands put upon youth in a culture that emphasizes a quick fix.

Not so for Emily Sawtelle, a young girl who came to me when she was 10 with her parents, Terry and Alan, as well as her adorable little sister, Sophia. Like so many of the thousands who have come to me for horseback riding, Emily had the usual stars in her eyes regarding the world of horses. This is not unusual: I have seen far too many little girls who have seen far too many movies about horses and simply don't realize that movies are often make-believe.

Riding was not, for Emily, an easy fix and the first months were "tricky.'' Would she be able to withstand the rigors of what is perhaps one of the most physically difficult activities there is, as well as one of the most unpredictable not only for children but also for adults?

Emily is now 14 and well on her way. Most youngsters I see do not even manage to perform a competent trot (I liken a horse trotting to a fast walk) much less cantering (a slow run). It can takes some kids years to master the most basic of tasks. But we would see something far more special with Emily that had little to do with horseback riding and everything to do with humanity: Emily demonstrated early on an ability to work with various personalities of little girls and boys unlike most youngsters her age.

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