No Memories Without Horses
by Samantha Reinbold
The check is heavy in my back pocket. My heart aches and my stomach churns like Iíve been riding a roller coaster all day. Itís time. As I walk down the barn aisle for the final time, I realize Iím walking to his stall for our last moment alone. He hears me coming, hears the shuffling of my beater-up Birkenstocks. And I hear his response, his sweet, soft knicker that could always turn my day around in a second. He greets me with, ďHey mom, letís go for a ride...and give me those carrots!Ē The cold metal stings my hand, and one lift-up and a slide-over of the handle has the stall door open. Of course, JB is standing right there waiting for no one but me.
For almost four years itís been me, every day, opening that stall door. He immediately turns his nose into my left pocket for his carrot, where I always keep it. Today, however, also in one of my pockets, there is something new, something life changing. The check is in my back pocket. I fish it out. Boy would Dad be mad if my horse ate $20,000 worth of paper! As I stare down at it, I realize that he is no longer my horse. I fold the check in half and stick it back into my well worn jeans. I walk to the corner of his stall and slide down into a bed of sawdust. I close my eyes, and the tears begin to come again. Slow and soft, I feel them stinging my checks like a hundred bees. Responding to soft nuzzles from my partner, I remember that Iím not alone. I look up to see JB standing over me, all 16 hands and 1,300 pounds of him. He keeps his head down low in my lap, allowing me to kiss my favorite spot, right behind his sweet ears. The hair there is as soft as a new born coltís fur. As I gaze up at him, I begin to reminisce about our first day together. Skinny little me, freshman year, and skinny little him, at the awkward horse age of three and at first knowing nothing about each other. JB not even knowing what having a saddle and a rider on him felt like, and now, many ribbons and life lessons later, here we stand. And here it ends.
I have no memory of life without horses. I was only four years old when I got on my first pony, a sweet old school horse that changed my life. Since the moment I sat on her, my life began to revolve around horses. I have always been able to define who I was by what horses I was riding at the time. There was Peanut, my sweet, brown and white spotted pony who allowed me to bounce all over her with Olympic dreams in my heart. Then there was Cheerio, for my elementary school years. A rebel, Cheerio would throw me into the dirt every time I sat on top of him. But with each buck and rear he would throw at me, I replied with a tougher will and a stronger desire to make both him and myself better. Then came middle school and my very first horse, Spruce, a stunningly tall, bay thoroughbred. He was a beauty. Spruce taught me more responsibility because, unlike the other ponies that I had only leased, Spruce was completely and utterly my own. While the other girls in school were worrying about the middle school boys, I was worrying about my four legged boy.
Along with the love, however, came the pain. Spruce gave me my first trip to the hospital in an ambulance and my first broken bone. But because I had fallen off good-ole Cheerio so many times when I was younger, nothing fazed me. My first question to the doctor who put my cast on was always, ďWhen can I ride again?Ē I found it amusing to watch the expression on the doctorís face, as he looked at my mom as if to ask, ďIs this girl crazy?Ē My motherís response was always a wry, knowing smile as if to say, ďNo, she is just in love.Ē And that was exactly what it was. I was in love. Riding was my passion. Itís the only thing I can remember. I couldnít imagine life without it. My memories begin with riding. Iíve only know life with horses.
Reality begins to set in again, and slowly I realize Iím still sitting in JBís stall. Like a good partner, he is still standing right next to me, as if waiting for our next big adventure. I quickly wipe the tears from my eyes, stand up and notice the door to JBís stall door is still open. Good thing he didnít run away. JB has always been such a good horse. He always took such good care of me.
JB was a young baby when I bought him. Unlike the other young race horses off the track, who were supposed to be crazy and dangerous, JB was laid back and loving. He always did his best, always wanted to please me, and he always did. After riding, I always went home with a smile on my face. Itís a joke in my family that people should stay away from me if I hadnít made it out to the barn that day. Letís just say I get a little angry and anxious, and, quite frankly, Iím probably not very pleasant to be around when I am not riding.
I stand up from the bed of sawdust. JB begins to follow me out of his stall door. I press my hand up against his muscular chest and he takes a step back. I can tell he is ready to go. Unfortunately, he doesnít know where he is going. What hurts the most is that I could easily take JB to college with me. My mom and dad expected it. They figured I would join the equestrian team and keep JB. They understand how much he means to me. They also understand how much I mean to him. JB is very much a ďmamaís boy.Ē Last year, I got very sick and was unable to get out of bed, let alone ride for a few weeks. Because I couldnít come out to the barn, I asked some of the other girls to ride him for me. They lasted about a week and finally called me and said that he was just going to have to stand in his stall. Apparently, JB wasnít too keen about the idea of someone else riding him. The horse that wouldnít hurt a fly bucked three girls off in two days. He wanted no one but me, the same girl who had opened that stall door everyday.
My tears come again. I have no recollection of how much time has passed. I stare down the barn aisle and can see the trailer. Outside there is a group of people talking. It looks so peaceful, so nonchalant. And then I stare back up at the stall door, through the rusted metal bars at my boy. I reach for his halter and lead rope, which hang undisturbed on the hook. Then I notice his stall plate. Slowly, I begin to trace my hands over the engraved lettering, ďJust Breezing By.Ē I slide the old plate out of its holder and stick it into my back pocket. I wonít need this anymore.
A quick slide up and over his head and ears has the halter on. I clip the tattered lead rope to his halter. Finally, itís time. With one good last good-bye kiss on his stubby nuzzle, I begin to lead him out of his stall. What should have taken a minute seemed to take a century. The barn aisle seemed deathly quite, as if the other horses who were usually obnoxious were trying to keep the moment special. It felt as if JB and I were alone in the world.
He happily walks alongside me. Iím beginning to have one of those moments where I wish I could speak horse. I wish I could tell him how much I love him, how thankful I am for learning so many good life lessons on his back. I wish I could tell him I was sorry for selling him, but that it was time for a change. I had been riding for thirteen years, and I was burned out. I needed a break, time to experience new things. Iím sure that Iíll regret selling JB, but I truly think that I needed to feel that sadness to know how much I appreciated the bond between horse and rider and how blessed I have been in my life to be able to feel that. There is nothing better than walking down a barn aisle and hearing your best friend, your partner, knicker his sweet, joyous sounds of your presence.
JB loads perfectly and stands alone in the trailer meant for two. I walk to the side of trailer where there is a little window where he can look out. One last good by kiss wouldnít hurt, but it did. My mom slowly comes up to me and motions for me to get out of the way of trailer. She softly touches her hand to my shoulder, and slowly I take a step back in the same manner JB had taken a step back in his stall just moments earlier when I had been the one pushing him away. Now, I felt pushed away.
The roar from the truck ignites my tears as I watch the truck and trailer slowly pull down the gravel driveway, crushing the rocks along the way. I feel alone, like JB alone in his trailer meant for two. I have never imagined life without horses, life without riding. I feel unsure and sad, alone and empty without my partner. Even though JB is gone, he will always hold a special place in my heart, and because of that I will never, truly be alone. I have no memories before horses, but I have enough horse memories to keep me company until itís time for me to saddle up again.