|Chance and Jasmine|
As a child I adored horses. I lived and breathed and played and dreamed about horses constantly. My sister and I collected horse figurines, books, and movies. Little plastic horse farms sprung up in the living room regularly. Sometimes the kitchen became a paddock and we pretended to be horses. In the summer the front yard collected buckets, blocks, brooms, and other materials we used to construct show jumps. Mounting our trusty stick horse steeds we galloped through the yard, soaring over the jumps as our parents (who we insisted must watch us) timed our performances and held up numbered score cards we made for them in order to judge us. Sometimes my mother drove us around the countryside in search of farms, slowing down as the car approached a field of horses. My sister and I looked longingly at the animals as they flicked their tails at pestering flies, shook their beautiful heads snorting, and rolled in the dirt. Every October we went to the Harrisburg National Horse Show, just to walk around the barns and admire the shiny coats of show horses, breathe in the barn smells, and pretend that we belonged to such a fascinating world that only existed in our dreams.
Then, shortly after I turned eleven, my parents announced that we were going to build a barn and buy horses—one for my mom, one for my sister, and one for me. We would fence in the few acres on which we lived for a pasture and use my grandparents’ fields just across the road for riding. My sister and I could not have been more excited.
When we went to look at a few foals on a farm somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, I remember how small I felt in the giant barn. We peered into each stall to see the calm mothers and each of their spindly-legged, large-eared babies. Each of the foals approached us curiously, except for one. When we arrived at the last stall we peered into it like all of the others. The broodmare was sleeping toward the back corner, breathing slowly. A velvety black foal, almost invisible in the shadows and smaller than the others, peeked around the mother shyly.
“I want him,” I declared. And a few weeks later we brought him home. His name was Chance.
We grew up together. I watched him morph into a gangly yearling, then a solid young horse with a big spirit. When I rode him, he arched his black neck and stiffened his tail, prancing like a carousel pony. For a horse, he was also incredibly intelligent. Just looking into his big brown eyes I could see his mind working, thinking about me standing there staring at him. He was mischievous too. He could easily open locked barn doors with his teeth, which he did often. These Houdini-like acts of mischief often resulted in binge oat-eating and nights of being walked so as not to develop a bad case of colic. They also resulted in double and triple locking all barn doors. When I entered the barn he always greeted me with a knicker and stomp on the ground. I would find a sugar cube, place it on the palm of my hand and lift it to his velvety nose. He took it clumsily in his lips and crunched hard, searching for more even before finishing the first.
I missed Chance when I went off to college. And now that I am married and living hours away, we are long-distance friends. He still lives in the barn my parents built and I still see him when I visit them. But it has been a long time since I sat in a saddle. I have been missing Chance lately. I long to wake early, slip into a pair of riding boots, brush Chance’s fuzzy wool of a winter coat and saddle him up, then go for a long ride in my grandparents’ field. I miss the joy that riding brought me. I miss the incredible blessing that a horse can be in life. Perhaps someday I will experience it again. Perhaps I can share that joy with my children someday. Until then, I have my visits with Chance. He still knickers when I come into the barn and I still present him with a sugar cube. I cherish the soft velvetiness of his nose and the way he still seems to remember me, an old friend he watched grow up.