The dim clouds hang in the sodden sky like filthy cotton wool. The wind is biting, and chills me to my core.
I wipe what remains of the sandman’s apparatus from my eye and quake in the cold. My riding boots are sucked down into the mud. I’m sinking. With considerable force I pull my footwear out, making a strident slurping noise as I do so.
My jodhpurs cling as the rain saturates my clothing. I feel naked.
I survey the scene. Obnoxious brats with riding crops and spurs before me; ponies lustrous from hours of grooming nudging their adolescent owner’s pockets for sugar lumps and mint imperials. Excitable murmurs circulate about the forthcoming trial.
Occasionally they take a fleeting look my way, disapproval apparent on their plump little faces. No use looking at me like that, I think, I’m going to beat you anyway.
I squelch around to the stable door and there he is; the most stunning beast I have ever laid eyes on. The pattern of a blue stars on his graceful neck, and a cloudy dawn on the hindquarters, mane and tail the colour of a summer sky. He turns his grey eyed, gentle gaze toward me.
‘Are you ready boy?’ I ask him. His gentle grey eyes connect with mine and he nudges me hard. I pat and stroke his neck; this is our embrace. I breathe in is his aroma, it’s wonderful, like rain-soaked pavement steaming in the hot sun.
I tack him up effortlessly. A connoisseur, he guides his head into the bridle, taking the bit with ease.
‘It’s your favourite event today,’ I tell him as I put on his saddle. A wonderful smell of leather fills the stable. I don’t think he understands but he will, very shortly.
Leading him out, he jumps the gun and begins to heave me along.
“Wait boy!” I tell him understanding that he had heard the hustle and bustle of people, and is responsive to it. The stables are usually hushed, but not today because an event is taking place. My equine companion knows what is to come.
I steady his eagerness. Putting my foot into the stirrup I mount him, and now we are one. I’m honoured that this wonderful creature permits me to share in the remarkable power and elegance he possesses.
His ears position themselves toward his purpose as we move toward the cross country course. I hold him steady; he wants to bolt. We are mutually impatient but the time has not yet come.
The course is colossal. In my field of vision there are olive fields spotted with coffee coloured mud stains. Ancient trees interweave with one another; part of the landscape, steadfast and timeless. The fences are contained here on this gusty terrain.
The wind is ruthlessly thrashing my ashen features, tears flow; I feel as if my eyes will ice over. The driving rain is just an irrelevant detail.
It’s that moment; we’re at the first marker of the course, waiting restless and desperate for the whistle to blow. Hearing my companion grunting feverishly with anticipation I look to the fore and pin my ears back.
The whistle blows.
We charge forward without hesitation at a gallop. The first fence ahead of us, I know it’s an undemanding obstacle. I leave him to his passion. Launching into the air he effortlessly conquers the jump. Now I begin to fret. The second jump on the course is a five foot fence with a ditch of three feet on the landing.
I draw on the reins. He’s too fast; if we don’t slow down we’ll trip on the fence and plummet and be killed oh God.
Understanding my command he slows to a safer pace. I feel the tempo of his hooves adjust and we soar across the challenge. We land haphazardly and stumble. My heart skips a beat, an alarming moment; but we recoup and gallop on.
I feel the blood rushing through my veins; circulating so rapidly I no longer feel the cold. My steed’s neck is covered with a yellow lather made by sweat and saddle soap foaming on the reins, his gallop rhythm reassuring me constantly.
We ascend and descend at an astonishing swiftness. The fearlessness of youth is on my side, and we are a flawless twosome in our objective.
The last barrier lies further on. A mammoth adversary to our quest, this monster; a jump built from six jagged horizontal tree trunks secured between two gargantuan oaks.
Can we do this? I ask myself. I’m fatigued beyond the telling of it, and my faithful friend is waning too, I feel it.
I put my trust in him and surrender the rein. He has freedom to do now as he wishes; it’s his judgement from this time forth.
I observe his vigilance and his rhythm beneath me change and as I question the outcome of my actions my heart leaps in unreserved panic. Will he refuse? Am I going to be sent soaring through the air and come to rest a muddle of broken bones?
Charging at the malevolent structure that would be a disaster, he takes flight as if he were some fabled creature. He is genuinely an unparalleled miracle for me only.
We land steadily and sprint toward the ultimate goal.
I’m smiling overjoyed, and awash with relief. I am exhilarated and glowing with pride.
As an adult now, I appreciate life is a course just like the one my pony companion and I vanquished. Fear is commonplace and adversity time and time again an impediment we must overcome. I harness the courage I found that day with every breath. I know the overwhelming elation that life can award as I have seen it repeatedly and ubiquitously. I see dark clouds gather from my window as I conclude this piece. I’m smiling again, for I know the sun will without doubt return.