by Darlene Blasing
Shreds of ragged cloud hung dripping over the new day as she rose dreamily from her bed into the damp, cool air. Soft breezes brought the smells of moist earth and green growing things. We walked side by side to the stable, Don and I, our boots sinking into the soft, loamy earth, forming hollows that would soon be filled by spring rains. I hugged the saddle blanket close against the morning’s chill. The butter-soft leather saddle was couched in Don’s arms. It had spent the winter in the cabin, protected from the damp.
Stepping into the musty darkness of the stable, I cautiously breathed in its familiar smells; the sweet scent of hay and the earthy smell of the mare cut by the biting aroma of ammonia and the moldy odor of old wood that has weathered another northern winter. Daylight slipped like quicksilver between cracks in the stable walls and our eyes slowly adjusted to the shadows. Dusty whinnied softly and stomped her hooves. Her nostrils flared at the familiar scent of the leather saddle. She tossed her head in anticipation, her eyes open wide. It had been a long winter.
I lifted the latch on the stall’s gate and slipped in beside her, stroking her nose and speaking softly to steady her. Pulling a sugar cube from my jacket pocket, I held it in the palm of my hand. She reached for it and her silky soft lips tickled my palm as she accepted her favorite treat. I slid the well-worn blanket over her and stepped out of the narrow space so Don could place the saddle on her back. Restless, Dusty stepped back and forth as Don settled the saddle into place. He fastened the cinch and tightened it, then checked the saddle to be certain it wouldn’t shift. I returned from the tack room with a bridle and carefully slipped the bit into Dusty’s mouth, pulled the headstall over her ears, then wrapped the reins around the saddle horn. Sensing all was ready, she strained toward the light beyond the stable door and the freedom that had haunted her dreams throughout the long cold winter.
Already the sun was starting to burn off some of the morning mist. A brilliant gleam at the end of the pasture stung my eyes. Blinking, I placed my left foot in the stirrup and pulled myself up and over the saddle. The mare sidled impatiently, tossing her head and, before I was much settled, she bolted out of the yard and into the pasture. A tight grip on the saddle horn was all that kept me from being left behind.
I leaned into the wind and pressed my knees into Dusty’s sides. The ends of the reins whipped around in the breeze like two frantic earthworms dodging a robin’s beak. Swiftly we raced toward the rising sun as I let her have her way.
We had been through this routine many first days of spring. Dusty always raced around the pasture until she got the winter wildness out of her and then headed for the stable and a meal of fragrant oats. Don currycombed her steaming coat while I coaxed the tangles out of her mane and that would be that. The devil must have gotten a hold of her that particular spring morning, though, because she headed straight for the split rail fence and took it like a grand champion. I held my breath as we sailed through the brisk morning air, my heart beating like a redheaded woodpecker on a rotten stump.
I don’t remember what happened after that. They told me she landed pretty as you please as I went sailing over her head like a dad-blamed idiot. I came to thirty minutes later.
I’ve let Don take the first ride of spring ever since.
© Darlene Blasing 2002.