The cocoon of deep dark warmness enveloped me underneath my covers. I felt snug and safe, wrapped up in them. Unwillingly I pried my eyes open to see what time it was.
6:00 starred back at him in big angry red numbers. Fifteen wonderful minutes until I had to get up. I grunted in contentment and closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of the pillow. Something niggled at the back of my mind. What was it?
That's when I remembered. When I remembered I was going to ride him. Challenger. Instantly I was the tiniest bit more awake with anticipation.
I was just starting to drift back into warm sleep when the alarm sounded out. Beep, beep, beep! I moaned and reached over, slapping it. It's incessant noise ceased and I sat up.
I reached over to my nightstand and grabbed my Bible for morning devotions. I had 45 minutes to get ready before going out to feed horses and muck stalls.
Many minutes and a shower later...
I tied the hair band around the end of a wet braid and hurried into the kitchen. Mother was already there. "Want toast?" she asked as I grabbed the half 'n' half out of the fridge.
"Yeah sure," I replied as I grabbed a mug and filled it nearly full with the half 'n' half. Then I grabbed the coffee pot and filled it up the rest of the way. For me, coffee was just flavoring for half 'n' half or cream.
I sipped on my coffee and chatted with mother about the day ahead as we waited for the toast to pop up. "How many horses do you have to work today?" mother said as she grabbed the butter out of the fridge.
"Let's see... I've got Rayna, Big Boy, and I think Moonbeam needs exercised, plus Challenger so that's four," I replied. I took a sip of coffee and rolled it around in my mouth, savoring the half 'n' half's richness.
"When are you going to ride Challenger?" mother asked.
"I think I'll ride him after I've rode all the others. That way it'll be warmer and maybe he won't be as spunky," I said just as the toast popped up. Mother fished it out and tossed it on my plate.
"Morning," said Father as he walked in and reached for the coffee pot. "What's going on?"
"Oh, not much," replied as I reached for the butter.
"Your mother tells me you're going to ride Challenger today," he remarked as he poured the black goodness into his cup.
"Yeah, I am. I'm excited. He's so spirited, so powerful." I hesitated, then confessed. "He reminds me of Jigsaw."
Father nodded as he raised his cup up to his lips. "Yeah, he reminds me of him too."
I felt tears a clogging in my throat. I took another sip of coffee and tried to change the subject. "So, how many lessons are you giving today?"
After breakfast I grabbed my thick puffy winter jacket and pulled it on. I grabbed winter gloves and tugged them on, along with thick stocking cap. In case you couldn't tell, I'm a wimp about the cold.
Mother and Father also bundled up. "Ready to brave it?" joked Mother when we were all finally ready.
"Ready when you are," replied Father.
My mind was so on riding Challenger that I didn't ride my best. Horses behavior is often a reflection of you, and Big Boy was clearly not focused on his work.
I squeezed with my legs to ask for more from him, but he didn't give much more. I raised my whip to give him a smack, but stopped just in time, finally realizing he was tired. He'd been going on the same trot circle for a long time now.
I immediately slowed him down to a walk and patted him, apologizing. "I'm sorry, that was my fault," I said quietly.
As I sat up, I vowed not to think about Challenger and riding him while on another horse's back. I needed to focus on them. The time to focus on him would come when I rode him.
Finally it was time. All the other horses were done. Moonbeam had been exercised, Big Boy worked with, and Rayna had only knocked three jumps in her lesson.
"Hey mom, where's Challenger's halter?" I called out.
She looked up from untacking a lesson pony. "Oh, I think it's hanging on the fence of the field he's in. Didn't have a chance to put it up."
Quickly I walked out from stable into the January sunshine. The clouds had finally gone away, and the wind had died down somewhat. But it was still cold.
Sure enough, Challengers mismatched green halter and orange lead rope were hanging on the fence. He was at the far end of the small paddock. He yanked his head when he saw me coming and watched me intently.
I picked up his halter and opened the gate to let myself into the pen. Challenger watched me as I came up to him. His blue eye looked quite wild as I slowly slid the rope over his neck.
I put his halter on and started to lead him. He followed quite willingly, ready for a change from a day in a cold winter paddock. Again, I had to keep myself from pulling on the lead.
I wasn't sure how he'd do in cross-ties, so I took him into an empty stall and tied him up there. Other horses nickered at him as I grabbed a brush and got to work on his muddy winter coat.
After I had finished grooming him, I went to find mother. "Hey mother!"
"Yes? I'm in Coco's stall!" she called back.
Sure enough, she was bent over the brown pony's hoof, picking out chucks of thick mud with a hoof pick. Her long braid nearly touched the straw floor.
"Hey, what saddle should I use for Challenger?" I asked.
She stood up. "Let's see... I think his saddle is on Rack 7, along with his girth. His bridle will be the newer one, with the french link bit."
"Alright," I said. "Thanks."
"I'll be ready to watch you in fifteen minutes," replied Mother as she bent over another hoof.
I walked into our large tack and feed room. We were quite proud of it. Everything was very organized, so you could find whatever you needed.
I walked over to the stack of freshly washed saddle pads and thought dark green would look good on him. I grabbed it and Challenger's tack.
Twenty minutes later I was sitting on his back.