A girl who can handle a horse strikes me as fearless.

If she also knows how to lead a horse, brush a horse, read a horse’s moves, she knows a lot of things her friends don’t know. Those friends who are taking care of cats and walking dogs around the block, they don’t have to learn how to watch out for hooves.

Being around horses is an empowering thing.

I want that for my granddaughter, well, both granddaughters, but there’s only one I can get my hands on regularly because the other one lives across the country. The here granddaughter is eight years old, a third grader, weighs less than many toddlers, and has a head of long, unruly hair that is often covering her face like a veil of macramé. She is strong and can be fearless on the monkey bars but will hang back if a stronger or bigger kid shows up. One year in school, she went almost the entire year without every talking to her teacher, according to her, and I believe her. It’s weird enough to fit her personality.

On Saturday, we took our macramé girl to Steppingstone Farms where she’d attended a three-day camp last summer. At the end of the camp, she was all about the farm, knew the names of all the creatures and was on and off her favorite horse, Mist, like a pro. Saturday, she took a look at Mist and froze. Looked at us, looked at Mist, looked at Steppingstone’s director, Lia Sader, who said, “You remember Mist. Come here, let’s brush her.” And still she froze.

I nudged my husband. We’re leaving, I told him. The longer we’re here, the longer she’ll stay scared. And we waved and left.

While other parents stayed and watched, we took off in what ended up being a long search through the countryside looking for a cup of coffee. Better we should be driving around for an hour than sitting in the barn being a drip pan for our granddaughter’s anxiety. It just has always seemed to me that fear grows horns and extra claws when fed with sympathy or reassurance. Any nod from me would indicate that reassurance was warranted. I wanted to deny her feelings of fear. So we split.

Later that afternoon, she drew a picture of how she’d practiced balance on Mist by catching a ball thrown to her by Lia.

“You caught the ball with both hands?”

“Yes, with both hands. That’s how she said to do it.”

Little girl with her macramé hair, her too short 6X skinny jeans, and her cowboy boots from Kohl’s rides on a horse and catches a ball with two hands.

Maybe that’s how it starts. This fearlessness thing.