I had four horses to ride today, as it was Friday, the last day before the weekend. Challenger was included in those four horses.
I put him off for last.
I was still very torn about riding him. Every time I thought something endearing about him, or what I like about him, I felt guilty. I thought it was too early to love another horse.
But, at the same time, I couldn’t very well stop loving him. So what was I supposed to do? Stop riding altogether? That definitely wasn’t an option.
As I swung myself up onto Challengers back he sidestepped a little and as soon as I was in the saddle he marched off at an energetic walk. I swung his head around into a one-rein stop, making him move his hind-quarters. I had to make sure he would listen to me.
I leaned back and let the rein go forward, rewarding him but trying to make sure that he knew he needed to stay put. He didn’t want to stay put, he walked forward. So I pulled him around into another one-rein stop.
After a while he finally got the message and waited for me until I asked him to walk. After that I went to transitions. His head was high in the air like a giraffe and I had to resist the urge to coax him to put it down. That’s not what he needed right now.
I let him have his head and balance himself as he needed, putting my arms up high to make a straight line of elbow to bit. I let my weight down and leaned back slightly, then resisted on the reins to let him know I wanted him to stop.
He stopped easily enough, proving once again he was a sensitive horse and would need to be ridden as one. That suited me just fine, so long as I had a grip on myself. I gave with my fingers as a reward for his stopping, waited a moment, and then nudged him forward.
We practiced this transitions for several laps. Gradually he stopped being so much of a giraffe, trusting himself more to my hands. His hind legs pushed under him more.
Making sure I was soft through the rein I asked him to trot. He sprung out, turning more into a giraffe again. I lifted my hands to be in line with his head and waited, posting quickly to his trot. He needed to get his freshness out before I could ask him for anything.
After a good two laps of solid fast trotting, I asked him to come down to the walk. He obeyed in a smooth transition that pleased me. I kept making sure my hands were soft, so that he’d be more willing to trust himself to me.
And so it went on. I made sure to try to keep the ride calm and to not abuse his sensitivity. I lost myself in him, as I did in every horse I rode.
But every victory meant more, and every problem was not as much a problem as it was with other horses. I forgot about being conflicted about loving him versus Jigsaw. I forgot about everything else but the horse beneath me, being totally wrapped up in him.
By the end of the ride he was less fresh and listening better. His hind end was engaged more, and his head, though not on the bit, was no longer a giraffe. I was happy with our results, and, after a nice clean halt, I swung off him.
I patted his neck. “You’re were good today bud.” He shook his head, sending the reins flopping. I giggled. “Yes you did.”
That’s when I knew. When I knew that it would be unfair to him, to me, and to Jigsaw for me to walk away from Challenger because of my guilt. It’s was also when I knew that I didn’t need another horse. I had one right here.
As I pulled the reins over Challenger’s head mother opened the arena gate to let a young woman leading a lesson horse, Colorful, in. Colorful was so named because his paint coat carried quite an array of colors: black, brown, and white, all mixed in varied patterns.
I looked at my watch. Huh, it was already 3:30, time for this woman’s lesson. Time had flown by on Challenger. Another sign I loved him.
“How’d he do Tessa?” called out my mother.
“Pretty good,” I replied, patting his neck again for turning to run up the stirrup on that side.
“Do you think-”
“No,” I cut her off forcefully, my harsh tone causing Challenger to flinch slightly. I patted him in apology. I knew what she was about to say. As I came to other side of Challenger I softened my voice.
“He’s not ready for someone else to ride him yet.” I cut my eyes apologetically towards the woman, who’d already mounted Colorful. She smiled, acknowledging that I had nothing against her.
“It’s alright Mrs. Wellen, I’ll just stick with Colorful today,” she said, patting the paint’s neck.
Mother nodded. “Alright then.”
As I led Challenger towards his paddock he seemed more relaxed, less eager to go. I unlatched the gate and he came through willing. He waited patiently while I latched and then led him over to the middle of the paddock.
I wrapped the lead rope around his neck and unbuckled the halter, letting it slid off him. He waited for me to let him go instead of trying to bolt off. I rewarded him and let the rope slide off him.
I reached into my back pocket and pulled out an apple flavored treat. He snarfed it down. I hesitated, my emotions warring. Then I leaned over and kissed him.
I fled. Tears were racing each other down my cheeks. I let them, not brushing them away as I unlatched the gate.
The last horse I had kissed had been Jigsaw, the night before he died.
I spent the rest of the day in my room, crying as I went through my collection of Jigsaw photos. In a way it felt good to remember him. My parents somehow sensed I needed my space and left me alone.
As I closed the photo album I heard a Ding! from my phone. I picked it up. It was Lacy.
Lacy: Hey, h r u?
Lacy: Come on, what’s up?
Tessa: I just spent a few hours crying of Jigsaw pics.
Lacy: Oof, that’s rough.
Tessa: Yeah. I think I got a new horse though.
Lacy: Really? Let me guess. It’s Challenger.
Tessa: How’d you know? 😒
Lacy: You’re that predictable 😜
Tessa: Oh whatever! 😠
With that a emoji texting war ensued, which lasted for about fifteen minutes. Then I told her I needed to go get some dinner and shut my phone off, leaving it upstairs.