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The young girl walks into the weathered barn under her own power, but it’s a slow process as her crutches sink into the soft, sandy soil of the path. The look of determination on her face shows that the girl is used to the struggle to move. Her mother follows a few steps behind, slowing her own pace to match her daughter’s, clasping her hands behind her back as if to force herself not to help if she is not truly needed. Once inside the dimly lit barn, a sort of light- ness and anticipation come over both the girl and her mother. Babe, a big gray mare, is waiting. The girl knows what to do with the brushes and combs packed neatly in a small box inside the tackroom. Babe stands still, her solid bulk half-supporting the girl’s small body. The little girl gently strokes the horse’s soft, white coat and inhales the special horse aroma that she has come to love. Before long, with help from her teacher and some volunteers, the girl is sitting way up high on a specially made saddle that has been fastened onto Babe’s broad back. She is taller than anyone now. She giggles with joy when Babe reaches around to nuzzle her foot. Then, after a quiet prompt from her teacher, she says in a small, clear voice, “Walk on, Babe!” Babe obeys. The girl was born with cerebral palsy. She has trouble walking, and her speech is sometimes hard to understand. But she loves horses more than just about anything now, and each week that she rides Babe, she grows stronger and her muscles get more relaxed. Her doctor is amazed at her progress, and says that he believes she may soon be able to walk without any crutches at all. She may even be able to go to a regular school one day, because talking to Babe has improved her speech so much. The girl doesn’t think about these things, though, during the long week between the days when she gets to ride Babe. What she thinks and dreams about is rocking along on the back of the big, gray horse. She feels strong when she rides, unlike most other times in her life, and she feels proud that she can control an animal as big as Babe. It’s something that not many people—not even her mother or her father or her big brother, who sometimes teases her for her slowness—can do. Her teacher gives her exercises to do on horseback. They play games, like riding backward and reaching way out to touch Babe’s tail. Sometimes, her teacher asks her to reach down and touch her own toes, or to stretch her stiff arms all the way up on Babe’s neck, to place a plastic ring over the horse’s ear. Babe sometimes flicks her ear as if the ring tickles, but she never seems to mind. When the riding is over, before the girl takes up her crutches again for the tough walk back to her mother’s car, she plants many kisses on the whiskery nose of the gray mare.

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