The se­cond time around

Only when I stopped com­par­ing my mare to my “once-in-a-life­time” geld­ing did I re­al­ize just how spe­cial she is to me.

EQUUS - - Equus - By Hope El­lis-Ash­burn

Re­cently I popped over to the barn hop­ing to squeeze in an af­ter­noon ride. Storm clouds were gath­er­ing, but I thought I might have some fun be­fore the rain started. Or per­haps the fore­casted thun­der­storms might go around us, as they so of­ten do here in the val­ley where I live.

But as I was lead­ing my mare, Sally, into the barn for her pre-ride grooming, the first few rain­drops be­gan to fall. The storm blew up quickly. Within sec­onds, trees were sway­ing in the wind. Thun­der boomed and light­ning forked across the sky. I de­cided it was far safer to stay put than to try to make it to my car.

As the storm con­tin­ued to gather steam, the cracks of thun­der drew close. The trees swayed lower to the ground. I cringed as I watched a sapling break over the fence of my rid­ing arena. Rain pelted the tin barn roof, drown­ing out all other sounds. I had left my phone in the car. Only the two of us were in the barn, a point of calm in a rag­ing storm.

I un­clipped Sally from the cross ties and backed her deeper into the barn. To keep both of us calm I be­gan talk­ing to her of non­sen­si­cal things. I brushed her coat, braided her mane and fed her cook­ies. She sighed, low­ered her head and rested a hind leg. The storm con­tin­ued out­side the barn, but in­side a sort of spell had de­scended upon us---a con­nec­tion deeper than the day to day. Still bound by the spell I looked back up the aisle and saw the cross ties, and it brought back a bit­ter­sweet mem­ory.

Four years be­fore, a dif­fer­ent horse stood in those cross ties while I said my last good­byes. He had been my once-ina-life­time horse. Com­mon sense tells me that he must have had his faults, but if he did, I never saw them. He was ath­letic, with au­to­matic lead changes, and his joy in jump­ing was se­cond to none. I’d met him when I was 16, and he and I shared a bond for 25 years.

Sally, pur­chased to re­place him upon his re­tire­ment, was dif­fer­ent in so many ways. Al­though I have loved her for many years now, I sud­denly re­al­ized that nearly ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion I have ever had about her com­pared her to my geld­ing. My heart sank a lit­tle when I re­al­ized that the com­par­i­son was sel­dom fa­vor­able to her. Her lead changes had to come from cues, for ex­am­ple. She jumped be­cause I asked her to, not be­cause she es­pe­cially en­joyed it.

As I mulled over these thoughts, I re­al­ized that I had to let my old horse go, and that it was OK for Sally to be dif­fer­ent. In fact, she has spe­cial traits of her own, not the least of which is a sweet­ness and kind­ness fore­told in the depths of her large, dark eyes. A pa­tient mount for be­gin­ning rid­ers, she is also a trusted com­pan­ion on long trail rides and a for­giver of mis­takes. My heart swells as I re­al­ize that she doesn’t have to be like my old horse to be per­fect just the way she is.

As the storm sub­sided into a gen­tle rain, the spell was bro­ken. I hated to see the mo­ment end. We had been stand­ing to­gether for nearly an hour, and dusk was gath­er­ing. Our ride would have to wait un­til to­mor­row. I re­turned Sally to her lot, slipped off her hal­ter and gave her a quick pat on her neck. She whin­nied, anx­ious for her feed. As I wrapped up my evening chores and pre­pared to leave, I was not up­set by the change in plans. In­stead, I was grate­ful for the spe­cial time with the mare I now know is my se­cond once-in-al­ife­time horse.

NEW AP­PRE­CI­A­TION: Hope El­lis-Ash­burn de­scribes her mare, Sally, as “a trusted com­pan­ion on long trail rides and a for­giver of mis­takes.”

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