I woke up at the soft knock on my door. Being a light sleeper, it was the only alarm I needed.
"Who is it?" I called out sleepily.
"Come on. Get dressed, I'll meet you at the stables," came the reply, followed by footsteps.
I smiled; that was all the encouragement I needed. I got dressed quickly, wearing clothes comfortable for riding. I tugged on my boots and raced downstairs.
My breakfast had already been prepared. I shoveled down the waffles at the table and rushed outside into the cool spring air. The flowers danced in the wind and the chirping of birds was relaxing. I could hear a dog barking in the distance.
I began to run towards the stables, past the numerous paddocks all around me. The horses raised their heads as I passed by and I laughed, loving the pure childlike joy of running.
I slowed down as I reached the stables. As I had expected, our Jack Russell Terrier was joyfully barking with his latest playmate, one of the recently born foals.
I opened the stable door and stepped inside. I followed the soft noise of Dad's whistling, petting the horses as I passed them.
I found him in Rocket's stall. Rocket was one of the most high strung horses we had but, being a Thoroughbred, that was to be expected.
For now, he was content with his grooming and his eyes were half closed. I leaned on the stall door.
"So, who am I riding today?" I asked. Dad straightened up from where he was picking out Rocket's hooves.
"I thought we could go on a leisurely rude today," He replied.
"A ride on Rocket? Leisurely? Never!" I laughed.
"Well, go ahead and tack up Faith," He said.
I nodded and headed towards the tack room. I pulled out a grooming kit and headed to Faith's stall. Faith was one of the most sweet natured horses I'd ever met. She was good with beginners and lovely at show jumping. But now, she'd gotten too old and enjoyed retirement. Still, she loved carrying a rider and was strong enough for it
I opened the stall door and stepped in. She barely raised her head, but flicked her ears to acknowledge my presence.
Smiling, I scratched behind her ears. She'd perk up when I brought the saddle.
I groomed her and picked out her hooves. I headed back to the tack room and exchanged my grooming kit for a saddle and bridle.
As expected, Faith perked up at the sight of her tack. She was willing as I slipped on the bitless bridle and tightened the girth.
I led her out and met Dad outside. Both of us mounted in perfect synchronicity.
"Where to?" I asked.
"I was thinking a canter at the field and a hack around the lake," He answered.
"Sounds good," I said, as I applied pressure with my heels. Faith began walking and, a second later, Rocket followed.
Our ride went well and we decided to stop at the lake. We tethered our horses and sat at the bank. The sun reflected off the smooth surface of the water. A line of thin trees surrounded the lake. Barely visible, tiny fish swam in the water.
Dad and I looked for the kingfishers usually at the lake.
"They must not be here right now," I said, when we'd been on the lookout for ten minutes. "And we need to get back."
We got up and headed to the horses. We mounted and began heading for home.
"He's tense for some reason right now," Dad said, warily eying Rocket.
"We're almost home. He's just like this all the time."
"I know," Dad said, getting a tighter hold of the reins.
We hadn't been riding long when, suddenly, a rabbit chased by a fox crossed our path. They passed dangerously close to Rocket's hooves and Dad lost control.
Rocket bucked and lunged forward, a wild, panicked look in his eyes. He spooked and bolted, strides lengthening.
"Come on, Faith,"I said, worry rising. I urged her forward and she gave it all she could. Faith galloped as fast as her legs would allow but she was no match for the run away Thoroughbred. I could see Dad struggling to hold on and I desperately tried to urge Faith faster. But I could feel the old horse tiring, feel her slowing down.
I fought back tears and fury and forced myself to think logically. Dad could hang on. He had to. On the other hand, Faith was old. She could damage her legs, running like this. I pulled on the reins. Faith didn't need more encouragement. She stopped, glad for the rest. I could see Rocket visibly slowing down. I smiled, thinking the worst was over.
I dismounted Faith and began leading her to Rocket. But suddenly, Rocket stopped abruptly. I saw my dad fly through the air over Rocket's head and land face first in the grass.