My mom and I came from Cuautitlan, Izcalli, a town in Mexico City. My earliest memories were of constantly moving to hide from my abusive father. Eventually we fled to the United States. I remember very little, just the overwhelming sense of fear.
Years later, we found a stable home in North Carolina. I began elementary school and a new chapter of my life. Even at five-years old, I realized that I wanted friends. It was hard because I did not know English. Initially I pushed others away. However, these children were welcoming; they befriended me. I learned English pretty quickly and began translating. I felt safe, felt loved, and began to flourish in this community without having to leave my comfort zone.
Middle school, the next chapter of my story, was very hard for me. In elementary school I felt joy from helping my teachers communicate with other Hispanic students. However, in middle school I was not needed. Everyone was part of a clique. I was isolated and scared, like before I found my home in North Carolina. To make things worse, I began to struggle in school. I panicked and stopped paying attention to my feelings and withdrew from my classmates. The fear was more than I could handle—I froze. By some miracle, my mom found CORRAL, a program that pairs girls who have had a tough life with rescued horses. It would eventually help me gain the skills I needed to create relationships, kicking off the next chapter in my life.
My first day at CORRAL, I was paired with a 16-hand, retired race horse named Chester. Chester had difficulty trusting others, was claustrophobic, and would zone out when faced with uncomfortable tasks. We were a perfect match. Full of anxiety, I managed to clamber up onto this massive horse, whose withers were more than a foot above my head. We were halfway through an exercise, when suddenly Chester felt my anxiety. The panic we were both feeling reached its peak. He took off in one direction, and I fell off in the other.
As I got up covered in mud, scratches, and a little bloody, I had a profound realization that my experience with Chester had parallels to my life. In elementary school I was in my comfort zone, but middle school was a hostile environment, which forced me out of my comfort zone. To make it in middle school I would need to initiate relationships with others, but I did not know how. I hit the ground and could not get back up. However, this time it was different because I had a supportive environment where I could learn how to make relationships. I brushed myself off and hopped back on Chester.
After the experience I had with Chester, I continued to grow. Working with him helped me acknowledge that I had to initiate a connection with the other girls at CORRAL. They were not going to begin a relationship with me. They were also afraid. I decided to take control and start a conversation with another girl who shared my same commitment to the program, creating a lasting relationship. From our friendship I learned how to deal with conflict appropriately, how to speak without being offensive, and how to listen. I learned how to guide her through the steps to accomplish a task without commands. Eventually, I was able to mentor all the new girls as they joined CORRAL, becoming the exemplar success story of the program.
My story of fear and loneliness that started in Mexico is now over. I am ready to move out into the world with the confidence and perseverance I showed when I hopped back on Chester. I will now be able to connect with others and be a part of their community with more ease, as well as create relationships that will last a lifetime.