Remembering the Gallop
|07/05/2016||Posted by Jane under bits and pieces|
I’d never ridden a horse by myself before. I’d ben led around by the reins by my cousins … on big horses like Nip, and Ike. Horses that both fascinated and terrified me. But never by myself.
Penny was a brown mare. An old girl, who belonged to my mother’s long-time friend, Thera Jean.
Thera Jean lit up the room, simply by stepping in. Her eyes smiled, her words were candid and kind, her wisdom, was of the earth. She was a dear friend of my mothers for as long as I can remember.
I knew Thera Jean when I was a little girl, and then knew her again as a young adult … when her daughter, Carolyn, and I worked together at Mr. Duis’s plant nursery.
I told Carolyn I’d love to come see the horses again. She kindly invited me out for a ride.
Carolyn pulled on her leather boots as we chatted on the back stoop. Her mother’s sweet smile shining, right there on her daughter’s face.
A single sunflower seedling reached for the sun from it’s small pot at the edge of the stoop. It’s what happens after a good seed-spitting session, sometimes, apparently. I wondered at the improbability of such a thing, then my thoughts whizzed back to the horses waiting nearby. That old feeling of terror and delight simmered under my surface, horseflies and all. But I wanted to ride, and once I make up my mind about something, there’s little to stop me.
In the shadow of the milky-white barn and towering silos, Penny resisted the tugs on her saddle, holding her breath to keep the leather straps from feeling tight on her belly. “Please exhale, Penny”, I prayed, fearing the saddle slipping around and dumping me onto the ground.
After a good exhale on both our parts, and double-checking all forms of saddlry on Carolyn’s part, she helped me into the stirrup and over the saddle. I was on, all by myself.
The horses carried us gently across the front lawn. The old farm stood proudly on the hillside, a familiar sight on the drive to the Bedford County Lake, where mom took us to swim on hot summer days. I’d surely played in that front yard as a child. Under the trees we lumbered. Penny, sweet old girl. I was riding, all by myself.
“They get excited when they see the gate”, Carolyn sang. “They love the pasture. They’ll start trotting toward the gate. Hold on with your knees. Use your legs to stay in the saddle.” Yep, that’s what she said.
Knees, legs, saddle. I’ve got this. The gate came into view. The lumber turned into a trot, and I was okay. Carolyn’s golden strawberry hair glistened in the sunshine as she dismounted and opened the gate, and apparently pushed the autopilot button, just out of my view.
Penny’s spirit surged with excitement. We trotted and galloped around the meadows … grasses and wildflowers rushing under her swift hooves. I held on for dear life … my legs were strong. My bottom half attached around Penny’s wide girth and my top half desperately hanging onto the saddle horn. Not knowing whether to laugh or scream, I likely did a fair amount of both. Probably simultaneously.
Carolyn called back, “Are you okay?” Yeah, I was okay. What other answer could I give at that point. I was. I really was. However ungraceful, I was riding a horse all by myself.
I was the last person to ride sweet Penny. She died not long after that. She was an old girl, who had given Thera Jean many years of riding love. Then some years later, Thera Jean’s smiling eyes closed for the last time, too, as she left this world for the next.
And once upon a time, I rode a galloping mare … there was Penny, and there was Thera Jean, and there were wildflowers in the sunshine.
Bedford County, Virginia
(work in progress)