From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Strips of Ribbon

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”


I lay alone in my king-size bed and couldn’t stop the tears. I’m just a stupid statistic, I thought. Thirty-one years old and getting divorced. I had no idea how to get on with being this new “me”—single and alone—after nearly eleven years of being a “we.” I had to stop torturing myself. After a quick shower and several layers of clothing, I was out the door and on my way to the ranch where I boarded my horse, a forty-five minute drive along the coast. There were just a few lone surfers battling the elements at Ocean Beach as I pulled over to Fredy’s Deli for some fortification.

Fredy called out a good morning as he quickly prepared a sandwich and an obscenely large coffee with the works. If he noticed that my eyes were red rimmed from the earlier tears, he never said a word.

“You stillwantme towrap half the sandwich?” he called out.

“Yeah, half for breakfast and half for dinner—it’s the best deal in town,” was my reply. And it really was. I was living on a limited budget and my horse, Kahluah, ate better than I did.

“So how is Kahluah doing?” asked Fredy as he handed me my order.

“Well, we’ve been working hard with Jo every week and I want to enter her in a local show that’s coming up, but Jo and well everyone, is going out of town, so . . .” I trailed off and took a big swig of coffee.

“Why can’t you go to the show by yourself?” Fredy the non-horseperson asked.

“There’s all kinds of reasons, Fredy, but mostly it would be really hard to sign up, get my number, warm up—you know a million things could go wrong and I really could use a hand and . . .”

“You don’t have a trailer.” Fredy finished my sentence for me.

“Actually, this show is right next door to our ranch. I could just ride over, I mean if I was going to show at all. Which I am not.”

Fredy came out from behind the counter and began restocking the napkins.

“You know, it seems to me that when you first started coming in here all you could do was talk about that horse and how you rescued her and all. You couldn’t wait for her to get healthy and fit so you could take her to a horse show. It was always ‘Kahluah did this and Kahluah did that.’ Now you got a chance to show her and you don’t want to? I don’t understand.” Fredy shook his head.

I had a hard time understanding myself. When I came across an ad for an eleven-year-old Trakehner mare advertised for only $1000, I couldn’t believe that a Trakehner would be so cheap. “You get what you pay for,” immediately came to mind as I drove several hours to see my dream horse.

What I got was an emaciated, worm-infested, dark bay, Trakehner mare. She was sick and lifeless. I took one look into her huge brown eyes and brought her home. It was that simple. I never stopped to think about why I was taking on such a huge, time-consuming project. I never questioned where I was going to get the extra money it would take to nurse her back to health. All I knew was that I instantly loved this horse and she needed me. I would do whatever it took to see life glowing in her again. I was bringing her home.

Home was a large boarding facility on the San Mateo coast. When she walked off that trailer, my vet gave her twenty-four hours to live. If she did live, he said I was in for a lot of work. She had to be wormed slowly and fed just as judiciously. In the beginning, she had only enough energy to eat. I brushed her thin body for hours and talked to her about all that was happening in my life. I traced my hands over her ribs and vertebrae, silently wondering if she would ever be able to trust in me to do right by her. Her dreadlocked mane and tail were combed out and she grew in a winter coat to battle the coastal chill.

I lived for her soft nickers.

Life evolved into a whole new routine that winter. My husband, Bryan, started to work the graveyard shift and our relationship was made up of notes and the occasional phone call. It was the beginning of the end. I tried to ignore the gnawing feeling that my marriage was in trouble and spent more and more time with Kahluah.

I made new friends at the ranch and we jokingly called ourselves “the night crew,” as darkness fell earlier and earlier. Kahluah blossomed under all the love and attention. I was in no hurry to get home to an empty apartment, so I devoted all my time to this wonderful creature in my life. I poured out my frustrations with my job and clipped a bridle path. I lamented that I never saw my husband and banged her tail. Then the winter rain came along with the need for flashlights and propane lamps. Kahluah seemed content to share her grain bucket while I drank hot chocolate from a thermos. Her body heat warmed us both as we shared her run-in and listened to the rain fall. I realized that for the first time in a long time I felt fulfilled even as my marriage was crumbling around me. The smell of the shavings and the sounds of her munching were therapy for my soul. I wondered who had rescued who on my long dark drives back into the city.

Now two years later, Kahluah was sound and fit. Her dark brown coat shone with a million strokes. She had filled out and my skinny, stick mare was no longer. I estimated that she had put on over 250 pounds. I had a whopping 16.1- hand energetic ball of fire. The lovely Trakehner floating trot was evident in her joyful laps around the arena. She snorted, squealed and blew huge breaths in her summer delight. We started training with a local trainer and I was thrilled in her responses. Kahluah was eager to please and was patient with my rusty aids. Our formal lessons were broken up with bareback trail rides up and down the coastal hills. She imparted such freedom, I never felt more alive than when we were galloping across the black soil of the farmer’s fields with the ocean sun casting our shadows like winged souls. I trusted her implicitly.

Fredy interrupted my reverie. “You know, Sam, I know you’ve been through a hard time with the whole divorce and all, but you can’t let the sadness inside you ruin everything in your life.”

I was shocked. Fredy had never spoken to me directly about my divorce. Our small talk had always been on safe ground. A customer banged into the deli and I was saved.

“Bye, Fredy. Thanks.” I bolted out of the door and into the safety of my truck.

The miles flashed by and my anger and sadness began to build. I felt so alone, so much like a loser for failing to keep my marriage together. But then I began to realize that perhaps Kahluah, in some instinctive way, had felt alone as well. She needed me and right now I needed her. Was I going to let one mistake suck all of the joy out of my life? And, as I pulled into the dirt driveway of the ranch, my partner stuck her head out of her run-in and whinnied. I guess I had my answer—I was going to show.

The day of the show I was up at 0’dark-hundred and was thankful for clear weather. Riding over to the neighboring ranch, I filled my mind with the sounds, smells and emotions that I experienced when riding as one with Kahluah. I heard the softest creak of leather, I smelled the salt air and I felt my heart grow lighter. I sat deeper, remembered to breathe and relaxed my body. Suddenly I was hungry for a taste of winning. I remembered that I had some talent, but more important, I had faith in my mare and myself. We were a winning combination and I wanted to prove it.

After tying Kahluah up, I signed up for my classes and had my number pinned on by the harried steward. I was able to find a spot on the rail in the warm-up arena and felt my horse move beneath me. I breathed in and out slowly and asked for simple changes in pace. Kahluah responded effortlessly.

The announcer called for the first class and we moved toward the huge arena. It was a Hunter under Saddle equitation class with fifteen riders. I saw only the space between my mare’s pricked ears as the judge called out for a working trot. I concentrated on my mare’s rhythmic breaths and before I knew it, the judging was over and the class was asked to line up. When the announcer called us out of the line up for the blue, I hesitated for just a tiny fraction. It was the last time I hesitated that day.

By day’s end, we had taken three firsts and two second place ribbons. We were on fire. The tightness in my chest came from the pride I felt. I wanted the whole world to see what a wondrous creature had ascended to take this show by storm. All too soon, the day was done.

I hand-walked Kahluah home and put her up for the night. She munched her grain bucket and nudged me for more scratches on her back. She was relaxed and peaceful and I was exhausted. The ranch was deserted except for the lone barn cat slumming down our way. It was time to go home.

As I drove along Highway One and entered the city limits, I waited for the familiar dread to invade my thoughts, but it never came. Instead, I looked down at the strips of blue and red ribbon lying on my truck’s seat and laughed out loud. I couldn’t wait to see Fredy the next day and show him my bounty.

Sandra Newell

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