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The Day the Music Died This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     I have ridden horses for more than half the years I've spent on this planet. Racingthrough pastures at breakneck speed or blindly down trails, always bareback, leftme stuck on a horse as if with Velcro. I never imagined my skill could helpanyone, though, until a four-year-old boy turned my world upside down.

Itdidn't start with Connor; rather it began with a woman interested in giving backto the community. She had learned about riding facilities that use volunteers tohelp children with disabilities improve by riding horses. She thought the bestpeople to help would be teens, and because my friends and I were always at thebarn, that we might as well do some good. We were thrilled at the idea andeagerly signed up.

Since Kristen could keep horses calm, she was assignedto lead them. Rehannah and Gail were tall and were thus designated "sidewalkers," walking on either side of the horse to keep kids from falling.They were the team for the average participant, but every now and then a childwould sign up with disabilities so severe, he was unable to support himself onthe horse. Then a "back" rider would ride behind the child, perchedprecariously behind the saddle using their body to support and hold the child infront of them. This took someone crazy enough to attempt the difficult task ofstaying on while carrying a child for an hour and with a good enough seat thatthey wouldn't take a tumble even if the horse did something crazy. I was electedfor the position.

At the age of 14, I was nervously holding the life of akid in my hands while trying not to fall off. Dealing with children withhandicaps and their families was a difficult and emotionally challenging task.Suddenly, I needed to be an adult.

We were a babysitting service, combinedwith physical therapy and a little bit of animal therapy thrown in. Then we metConnor. He was small, even for four. He spoke articulately, however, and was aprecocious child who loved to serenade us. And he was going to die. He had aterminal illness, the precise details of which aren't important. Seeing him everyweek, talking with him, singing with him and enjoying his company, it was easy toforget he wouldn't be around for long. He wanted to ride horses, and we weregoing to fill that wish no matter what. Watching his family smile through theirtears and watching them raise their voices as we all sang while we rode for anextra hour, gave us all a love for life and a hope for tomorrow not possible fora 14-year-old under other circumstances.

Then one day, Connor didn't come.We waited. Three weeks after his last visit, we stopped waiting. We never heardfrom him or his family again.

Another life lesson Connor taught me was toknow when waiting is futile. For Connor, we all assumed our positions - Kristinin front, Rehannah and Gail to the sides, and me behind the empty saddle. Wewalked a lap around the arena, and I don't know who started singing first, but weall joined in. That was the last time we ever sang together. The lessons taughtto me by a dying boy and his family will never be forgotten, just like that lapwill stay with me forever, and I am grateful to Connor for all he taught me.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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