I rode Aaruba today, for the first time in a year. He has wanted to go for so long, but I haven’t let him, for fear of his pain. But boredom is its own brand of anguish, and on unsettled days like this one his ire rises. And so we went.
I used my old Stonewall, the one in which I trained him. It felt right, somehow. Like it belonged between us. We walked along the irrigation canal above fields of hay and canola, into a thunderstorm whose lightning slashed a brooding sky. Beside us flowed the water, dark as memory, overhung by windswept grass.
He grazed a bit, so tall I had to lean forward to keep hold of the rein. Twitched when the first drops fell cold upon our shoulders. Pushed into the wind, drew himself full of its energy like a sail. There he was, the Aaruba I remember.
We went only a mile, then turned for home. He asked to hurry. Ah, this battle. We were working through it, back before he nearly died. But this was no day to fight. I let him go, and curse the pain. If he hurt, it was nothing to the joy of racing free again, to release that huge and bounding trot that carried us so many miles together.
He’s still in there, my Aaruba who loves motion more than life itself. I felt him in the coiled spring of pastern, hock, and loin. I felt him and I thought, perhaps this is how it is, to lose someone to Alzheimer’s. Missing things you never noticed properly. Grasping what you’ll never hold again.
We took the last hill at a canter. Reckless pleasure, worth the risk! We slid to stop on our gravel drive, hooves and hair and reins askew. I dismounted, breathless, looked up into his face. His forehead pressed against the clouds. His nostrils filled with wind, with life! And rain slid down my cheeks like tears.