Lizzy Traband (the One-Handed Horse Rider) Teaches Me Her Method

I’m driving way out into the country to a farm.  It’s a nice afternoon to see some horses, and in Central Pennsylvania, you don’t have to go far.  You leave a complex life and find quiet beauty out here. 

And this isn’t just any farm.  

Lizzy Traband, a young girl born with one hand, lives at the farm we’re visiting. One of my students (who rides at this barn) invites and escorts us. 

Lizzy Traband Teaching My Daughter to Ride

My daughters are nervous to meet her.  Lizzy was featured in American Girl magazine, and it feels like we’re meeting a celebrity.  Once they meet her, there’s nothing to worry about.  She’s offering treats and friendship at the first encounter. 

For a whole afternoon, the girls follow Lizzy around.  You don’t notice that she has one hand:  she’s cleaning out stalls, feeding her horses, and performing tricks with her pony, Puddles.  The whole time, Lizzy’s teaching me all about her technique called Taiji Horsemanship.  It’s a method.  Her principles are simple:  kindness, stillness, communication, simplicity.  She teaches that “failure is a requirement of success” and that “you need a plan so you can ride with purpose.”

Lizzy takes her time, steps back, and revisits simple rules.  She lives out her own method. 

As we drink lemonade together in the barn, I think more about what I’ve observed here:  Kindness, stillness, communication, and simplicity between horse and rider.  It’s not just about horses; I realize the power of these principles in mothering and friendship.  I think about a writer’s relationship to her own words or a photographer’s interaction with the natural world.

I move out across the landscape more quietly, more kindly.  With this kind of stillness and simplicity, the colors do indeed seem all the more vibrant.

Lily at Carousel Fam

Journal:  If you approached your tasks and relationships like a taiji horseman, what would change? 


Small Town, Big World (in Pictures)

I live in a town where you can take pictures of things like newborn foals.  Skipped Emotion had her little one almost a week late, and here she is just 4 days old.  Today, both horses were released to the meadow.

I live in a town where you can take your little girls strawberry picking (just down the road) from a local fruit farm.  We picked 9 pounds and ate maybe 2 pounds along the way.  The owners don’t care; we go to church together, and they told me they care more about us coming back year after year than whether we eat strawberries.

I live in a little town where you run around huge trees in the twilight.   But lest you worry about the scope of what my children do in this little town, I offer this:

Yesterday I went to the elementary school assembly.  Children reported, not so much on local news, but on international concerns.  They celebrated how much money they’d all raised for oil spill clean up efforts.  They recalled their collective attempts to sell “Hearts for Haiti” and donate money for hurricane victims.  And then, as a group, they sang their anthem for the year:  “We Are the World” (complete with the modern version’s rap sequence–thank you 5th graders!)

They sang so loud the walls seemed to shake.

  You can be small town and big world. 


Seeing a Newborn Foal

Last night, I heard a rumor that newborn foals were in the campus barn. Campus barn? Where was that?

“Honey! Baby horses at some barn! Let’s go.” He got in the minivan without even thinking this might be a strange activity so close to bedtime. But if we are going to live with flair, we want to embrace some adventure.

We drove to campus and found the right road. “This doesn’t look right,” I kept saying (I’d never been before, but it just didn’t feel like it could be a magical place with newborn horses. It was too urban, too busy). My husband encouraged me to “just keep going” and that we’d find something eventually. I took a sharp right and then a left down an unmarked dirt road.

“Just keep going,” he said.

I did.  In silence, we drove.  We should have turned around and gone straight home.  It was bedtime, and besides, the sky was threatening some thunderstorm.   We’d never find the place anyway.

Then, like we’d entered Narnia through the wardrobe, an enormous expanse of rich green meadow opened before us. To the left, a single white barn.  The surrounding campus evaporated; there were no other buildings in sight.

We had entered a hidden pocket of paradise right in the middle of a town.

The setting sun made the meadow golden and deeply green with light and long shadows. The brewing storm made the air heavy and electric.  The barn was quiet. Was this the right barn? We left the minivan, not even bothering to close the doors.

In the cool of the barn, we walked by each stall, one by one. All empty, except for two stalls near the end. We peered in, straining our necks. We held the girls up so they could see. There were real live horses in there.

Two chocolaty brown mares and caramel one-month old foals snuggled into one another in separate stalls.

I’m a city girl. I grew up outside of DC, and I’ve never seen a real foal before (except on TV or in picture books). Amazed at the tiny legs, so unsteady, I held my breath. He was. . . tiny.  I couldn’t believe that just a moment before, I was driving through suburbia, and now this.  What could be more beautiful on this evening?

A few minutes later, we left the barn from the opposite entrance. As I turned the corner, I froze. Six enormous mares, their coats shining with light, hovered over six separate foals—right in front of me. Each foal mirrored the mother’s movements exactly as she roamed the meadow. That fragile creature was not only guarded by the mother, but by all the mothers.

Here, in this place, all is well as a mare protects a newborn foal.

We discovered a young woman who rents a room by the barn to care for these horses night and day. Her face shines and her heart seems at peace. Nations battle, people suffer, but here, in this barn, a girl cares for horses and instructs visitors when they can come back to see a new foal due in just a week. The pregnant mare, Skipped Emotion, stood proud and tall in her stall.

We’ll be back in a week to see the newcomer. We’ll be back to congratulate the mother, whose presence brings forth everything but skipped emotion. In fact, for once, we are fully in our emotions—awe, wonder, joy. We are coming back for more.

Living with flair means marveling at foals. It means leaving your home, even though it’s bedtime, to find a secret barn cloaked by campus all around. It means you “just keep going” until you find the right road. You’ll find it if you just travel in far enough.