I sat on my bed. The event was over, the sun had set, and I was tired. In my hand I held the green ribbon we’d won together. I still couldn’t believe it.
I got up and walked to my wall that had all my ribbons hanging on it. I picked a yellow one off the wall and went back to my bed. I flipped the yellow ribbon over.
“Jigsaw and I win third at our first event, 5/10/2012, Cottage Grove. I’m so proud of him,” I read off the back. I closed my eyes and clutched my hand around the ribbon. “I miss you so much Jigsaw.”
After a few minutes, I brushed my tears away and reached for a pen on my desk. I turned Challenger’s green fifth place over. The pen carved a thousand memories on the back of it in a few short words:
Challenger and I win fifth at our first event, 7/18/2018, Cottage Grove. He trusted me.
I gazed at them for moment, then satisfied, I walked back to my ribbon wall. I pinned Jigsaw’s yellow back up where it belonged.
Then, down below, on a whole new line, I pinned Challenger’s green. My father had put up this new line two months ago. At the time, Challenger and I were still stuck on canter circles. There had seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
“Challenger hasn’t won any rosettes yet,” I’d protested.
“He will,” my dad had replied confidently.
I touched the green ribbon. “You were right dad.”
On Tuesday it was back to work. I was confident in our success, but, after having worked with Challenger for so long, I knew I had to put that out of my mind and dismiss it. Too often, after the excitement of something, I’d had a bad ride afterward because I expected him to be the same the next day.
I started out with light flat work and used trot to walk transitions to get him to focus. After a few of them he was tuned into me. It was a lovely feeling, a gift he gave to me. I was careful not to abuse it.
The feeling carried over into the canter work. After a tricky start we managed to get some good clean canter circles. As a reward I let him walk and patted his neck. If I was careful, I had a feeling canter circles were no longer going to be a problem for us.
After a few more canter circles I decided to try something new. I put him on a trot circle, and asked him to make the circle smaller. He hesitated in confusion, so I put my outside rein on a little stronger and made my inside leg deeper.
He complied with a bit of effort. I let him work on the smaller circle, then asked him to step out to a bigger circle. He was more agreeable to that, the bigger circle was easier for him.
On his right side he was stiffer and fought me on it harder. I was quiet, making sure I didn’t not pull with my hands but sent him forward. After tossing his head and letting me know this was not his favorite thing, he spiraled inward for me.
I brought him back out and let him walk. His neck was sweaty in the afternoon sun. I let my feet out of my stirrups.
The journey ahead would never be easy, because Challenger was not an easy horse. Today had been good, who could say about tomorrow? But I was certain of one thing.
It would be worth it.
“There you go big boy,” I murmured as I slid the halter off Challenger’s nose.
He shook his head and trotted off. I exited the paddock and leaned against the fence to watch him. He picked a spot and pawed at it, turning round and round until he finally fell down.
I chuckled as he rolled in the dirt. He wiggled and squirmed with delight, flipping over three times. A record. With a grunt he heaved himself. He shook the dust off, creating a cloud that floated away with the breeze.
He snorted as he walked up to me. “You did good today,” I whispered to him. I kissed his forehead. After living with us for a couple of months, he’d grown used to my frequent kissing.
I reached into my breeches pocket and pulled out a treat. His ears immediately perked up. He gently nuzzled it from my hand, being careful as he always was.
I closed my eyes as he crunched it. I thanked God for this moment, and wondered if it was possible to come any closer to paradise right now.