I grew up on a cattle ranch in Nebraska, and started riding to help my dad and siblings with the cattle when I was five. I learned a lot of lessons through the school of hard knocks. Chigger was my "learner" horse, and I remember on a long hot day of driving a herd to summer pasture, I got tired and wanted to get down and walk. I should have stopped him to get off, but I just swung a leg over and dropped...only my foot caught in the stirrup and I hung upside down, dragging. Chigger was so tall, I hardly touched the ground, and he just kept walking sleepily behind the cows, not even noticing me. I must have yelled, my dad rushed over, stopped the horse, and helped me down. I don't remember the lecture I got, but I remember the lesson. Ever since then, I remove BOTH feet from the stirrups and swing one leg over and drop down. None of that showy dismount you see in the movies! What if your foot catches or your horse spooks? I learned it the hard way.
Another lesson I learned on Chigger was to check (and re-check) your cinch when you go to mount up. My sister had saddled for me that day, since I was about five years old at the time, and we all just climbed on and headed out across the pasture for the day's round-up. I noticed suddenly that I was riding on the side of my horse rather than on his back. I let go and fell, because my brother had told me about a boy that had hung on when his saddle turned under a horse's belly, and he was badly hurt and trampled. I wasn't hurt, and my sister received the lecture that day, but I learned to ALWAYS tighten/check the cinch before you get on, no matter who put the saddle on.
We played a lot of silly games as kids, and got in quite a bit of trouble. We were goofing around in the horse's corral one day. We had fed the horses, and they were all standing around their feed pans, munching. We kids were throwing horse manure at each other, and being about as crazy as farm kids get. My brother Kevin got an old car tire that was laying by the fence and started it rolling. It rolled right up behind his horse Gunner, who didn't see it, until it bumped into his hind legs. Gunner kicked with both feet, and that tire flew fifty feet or so through the air, bounced, and rolled another fifty feet! We were shocked, and resolved to never walk up behind Gunner unannounced!
Another lesson I learned when I was a teenager was to not wait until it's too late to call the vet. My dad bought me a beautiful black Quarter Horse gelding when I was sixteen. The plan was for me to train him and sell him to make money for college, or else keep him and sell my older gelding I had already trained well. This colt was two years old and as wild as a deer! He tried jumping a fence and was badly injured, and over a period of four months, I doctored him and worked with him, hoping he would get well. My dad was giving him penicillin, and we also gave him Butte. I washed the wound out daily and packed it with Nitrofurazone dressing. He grew more gentle every day, and I had high hopes. But one morning I went out to feed him and found him lying in his stall. He didn't even try to get up, so I knew immediately that he couldn't. I ran crying to tell Dad, and Dad came and looked at him, and told me I had better say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I had ever gone through in my life, and I learned so much about guilt, what-ifs, loss, and the unfairness life can hand you. I had to go to school that day knowing that Dad was going to put the colt down and I'd never see him again. I still cry about that horse sometimes, but I've learned not to blame myself (God didn't make him die because of anything wrong that I had done), I've learned to live through loss (tears and grief sometimes make you feel better, but they never bring back what you lost), and I've learned to treasure and protect the horses I have now (call a vet if there is any sign of injury, and keep fences safe and reliable).
Of course, the best part is that I still have horses and am still learning from them every day. I was a horse-crazy girl then, and I don't think I'll ever change!