Through a Photo, Feeling Newtown's Pain

She was 6 years old and she rode a pony named Peanut.

Catherine Hubbard died with 19 other children in the senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. When their names were released Saturday, next to their ages, we were shaken. Some of us sobbed. We knew they were first-graders, but seeing it in print made it all the more real.

In the pictures released later, they sported gap-toothed smiles and bashful grins and looked at us with those innocent eyes. It was all heartbreaking.

President Barack Obama told us, "They are all our children," at Sunday night's interfaith vigil in Newtown and it was so true.

But when I saw, posted on Facebook, pictures of Catherine's sixth birthday party at The Ridge Equestrian Center in Newtown, of Catherine riding a chestnut pony in an indoor ring (one that looks so much like the one where my daughter and I ride), of her sitting bareback on a gray pony named Peanut, my heart broke all over again and she truly became "our" child — one of our "horse kids."

Because we, the other moms and dads at our horse barn in Hebron, have those same pictures of our daughters when they were younger, smiling shyly at us from underneath their riding helmets, a look of pride and accomplishment shining in their faces. Look, I'm riding a horse! Isn't that cool?

The day after the tragedy in Sandy Hook, I went to Newtown to help with the coverage. I left my 12-year-old daughter, Kate, at an interscholastic horse show in Mystic, surrounded by the other girls from our barn. She told me later that night when I picked her up how much fun she had. She had won one class and finished second in another, but even better than that, they had really silly prizes at the horse show, like scented Magic Markers and cans of "Noise Putty," which made gross, better-left-to-the-imagination noises when you pressed the putty back into the can. The kids, naturally, thought it was hysterical. There was much giggling, and Kate, the recipient of one of the coveted Noise Putty cans, was much envied.

That kind of everyday stuff — that's where the deadly, destructive rampage hits us most. What parent of a 6-year-old sports fan can begin to grasp the unimaginable pain of the parents of Jack Pinto, who will never again get to don the shirt of his favorite player, Victor Cruz, before a Giants game? How can we horse moms and dads begin to understand the sickening loss suffered by the parents of Catherine Hubbard, who will never get to go to a horse show, hang out with her friends, get silly prizes and giggle hysterically?

There is a yawning void for all of us because of this. There is some survivor guilt; it could have been any of us that this happened to. There is an urgent sense of needing to do something to prevent this from happening again.

Riding horses, for the most part, gives kids confidence. If they can control a thousand-pound animal, they can do anything. If you look at her picture, in Catherine's 6-year-old eyes, there is a certain fearlessness. I would like to think that if her pony started being a brat, or stopped in the middle of the ring and didn't feel like moving, Catherine would make darn sure that pony did what she wanted it to do.

I am certain she was brave in her final moments.

The Ridge Equestrian Center posted this on its Facebook page last Sunday:

"As a farm, all the kids become family. Please keep her parents and family in your prayers. Catherine was a MIGHTY child, with a soft spirit and loved riding so very much. Just a few short weeks ago, her grandparents came to watch her lesson … and each time she would kick ole' Whisper into a canter, she would look out of the corner of her eye to see if Grandpa was watching and then get a huge smile on her face … just so excited to share her joy. Your time on earth was far [too] short."

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