Courage (End of Act I)
"You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor."
Brother Kyle and I, Ft. Riley 2014
Forgiveness is a tall order for the warrior class. We’re accustomed to justice by fire, and the tormenting blaze in which that justice is forged is explosive enough to destroy tanks and hardened bunkers. A steady intravenous drip of realized justice makes an addict of the fighter. He craves justice as it is all he understands; moreover, delinquent injustices render extreme withdraw symptoms – painful symptoms. Forgiving alone is a candid venture for all humans; it’s simply part of the human experience. Yet, forgiving for a fighter creates a cognitive dissonance nearly impossible to reconcile. Instead, warriors often times ironically choose what appears to be the path of least resistance and carry the burden with us until it festers into something grotesque. Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” It’s unfortunate how bravery and courage are not necessarily one in the same. Bravery is easy for a fighter. It’s flashy, action-packed, sexy, and masculine. It’s broad-chested and wields a massive two-handed blade against the might of dragons. It’s a noun that sounds verb-ish. The quiet, humble courage to simply let go – and choose happiness, to forgive both outwardly… and inwardly – therein lies the impossible. But honor is a virtue of silent strength, a virtue based on courage, not bravery – and honor always chooses to forgive.
* * *
“I need your help with Honor today,” Missi announced loudly as she was leaving for work. I opened my left eye reluctantly, loosely conscious of what she was saying. I assessed my surroundings as cold reality came trickling back. I sprawled prone on the bed. My left leg was still covered under the blanket on her side of the bed, searching for her to no avail – the other dangled as a thermostat off my side of the bed. I craned my foggy head up, looking through puffy squints in the direction of the window. I didn’t see her through my one slightly lifted eye lid. She was behind me, on the other side of the bed. I assessed that repositioning to face her was far more effort than was worth exerting. My head collapsed unceremoniously back into the welcome comfort of the pillow. No one understands me like my pillow.
“Hey! Pay attention.” She snipped.
“Mnugh.” It was the best I could do.
“That’s not even English. Come on, roll over. Eye contact, caveman.” She climbed onto the bed, and grappling my left shoulder firmly, wrenched my entire body towards her. I would have protested, but I understood the necessity of this ritual. If she didn’t, the distinct probability existed I would verbally acknowledge whatever she was about to say and wake up with absolutely no recollection of the conversation. Mornings are my kryptonite.
“Are you with me?” She made the cliché motion of two fingers flipping back and forth between her eyes and mine. I’ll be damned if this woman isn’t persistent.
“Nnnnn uh huh.” I squinted through heavily blinking eyes, the right one clenched closed tightly. She was rushed, she always acts and speaks pragmatically when rushed; I sort of admired it in a way. Unfortunately (for both of us), she speaks with confusing rapidity when rushed.
She took a deep breath. I knew it would be her last for a while.
Oh shit, pay attention! I scrambled to hoist all my cumbersome mental faculties with the split-second agility of a drunken elephant. Too late.
“I’m running behind and didn’t have time to feed the animals I need you to do that for me the feeding instructions are listed on a sheet of paper over the top of the grain bins don’t forget the dogs this time also the water trough needs to be cleaned out today it’s repulsive make sure you dump it out and thoroughly scrub it kill all the Black Widows with a stick not spray because I don’t want the horses accidentally ingesting any of it check to make sure Honor’s fly mask is on he ripped it off scratching his head on the tree yesterday and it was dangling around his neck like a doofus Honor also has two new cuts on his chest and his side from the fence those need to have ointment put on them and please be available this afternoon I want to work him with tack today the trash needs to go out the truck comes today and don’t forget to get the trash out of the kitchen first and make sure you replace the bag this time grab the mail when you take the trash out if you mow the lawn today don’t spray the clippings into the paddock Hottie will gorge herself on it and she’s already getting obese the electric bill and the cable bill are on the kitchen counter write the checks SIGN THEM and put them into the envelope so I can mail them tomorrow and when you wake up brush your teeth Baby your breath stinks. Do NOT forget the trash. Now say it back to me.”
“Huh? You don’t even speak with punctuation.” Her expression remained focused, not even blinking.
“Seriously, I have to go, tell me what I told you.”
I rubbed my eyes with my thumb and index finger – it was a stall tactic. “Horses. Dogs. Water. Uh, Honor stuff, mail, bills…”
She quickly interjected – “TRASH!”
“Kay, I gotta go, I love you.” She aggressively kissed my forehead and in a spectral wisp of air, she was gone. The bedroom door clicked shut.
“I love you!” I couldn’t tell if I was late on the draw. Experience told me I probably was. A diesel engine roared to life through the muffling of walls and faded into distant silence.
I slugged out of bed, and donned old ratty gym clothes. After neglecting to brush my teeth, I meandered directly to the grain bins to begin the feeding script. I was about to be wide awake.
14,440 ft. Summer, 2011
14,440 ft. Summer, 2011
Missi and I had just returned from vacationing in Colorado where we ascended Mount Elbert, the highest point in the state. Missi had embarrassed the three men, including myself, in the group by proving absolutely immune to the altitude. A toothy, girlish grin had panned across her face when she playfully noted how much fun mountaineering was. Meanwhile, three hardened military men gasped for breath, doubled over in exasperating hypoxia, lamenting how Mount Elbert was where oxygen went to die. I chalked it up to beginner’s luck. She got to sleep on the way home – I was supposed to get to sleep in. Se lavi.
Honor was all ears, gangly legs quivering in anticipation, head hovering over the feed bucket. He nickered. His fly mask drooped over his face diagonally, one ear in, one ear out, with his right eye almost exposed. Standard. I sleepily set the buckets down (gently this time) and stepped through the fence to fix the mask.
“You don’t even care, do you?” He nipped at my hands hopefully that one might bear treats. In accordance to the feeding regulations of the Finley house, I proceeded to feed all three equines to the letter, then moved back to the water trough for cleaning duties.
It wasn’t even eight o’clock and the ninety-degree sun was brutalizing the already yellow Bermuda. The summer was becoming unbearable and thus the water trough – and water for that matter – was of prime concern for Missi. Like clockwork, I kicked over the trough, stabbed three Black Widows, and set to scrubbing. Honor munched his cud in sated serenity, gluttonously spilling gobs of grain, much to Millie’s scavenging delight. He watched my cleaning efforts between recharging his mouth with grain.
After several minutes of diligence and one more skewered Widow, I righted the trough and grabbed the hose. By this time, Honor was perusing the ground, vacuuming up his sloppiness, competing with Millie for scraps. I draped the hose through the fence and into the trough, lifted the lever and cold, fresh water sprang from the nozzle with a vibrant splash. The noise caught Honor’s attention, and in his now trademark curiosity, he inched towards the trough – ears, nose, and neck fixed forward
Small ricocheting droplets danced IMG_0210across his nose and the stark contrast of temperature caught him off-guard. He whipped his head back in startled confusion, but immediately regained confidence, though now emboldened by an even sterner curiosity. The loud splashing and cold spray would momentarily draw a flinch from Honor, but the net gain in movement was closer and closer to the hose. The water was beginning to accumulate at the bottom of the large trough and Honor took several pulls from the algae-free coolness. His head still hung inside the trough as heIMG_0211 examined the nozzle of the hose, calculating, evaluating the strange string of flow being ejected from it. Honor cocked his muzzle to the left, tilting his head awkwardly to the side as the tip of his snout wriggled towards the stream.
In the slightest bit of touch, the robust flow blasted across his face, drenching his entire snout, shooting jets of cold water up his nostril. Honor jerked back in a shocked reflex, shaking his head like a boxer having just met the business end of a right hook. The wet colt re-caged his bearings and focused his attention IMG_0212on the hose with sneering vengeance. Sans any sort of hesitation, Honor lurched for the hose; his mouth unhinged like a roaring lion, teeth angrily exposed, and cinched an oral grip down on the hose. With equal speed, his head jumped up from the trough, hose in-tow, as water was now dousing the ground – and everything else in a fifteen foot radius – in an ambient, un-aimed blissful waste of water.
Honor stood there like a bump on a log.
Water cascaded off his face, his ears, his nose, and his fly mask. His entire body was beginning to twinkle in the morning sun. He remained motionless, utterly indifferent, hose hanging lifeless from the side of his mouth.
I fell to the ground in an uncontrollable eruption of hysterical laugher.
Reluctantly, I climbed through the fence and gently coaxed the hose from his grip. I reset its position and continued on with filling the trough. Hippies don’t protest with Honor’s tenacity.
The next twenty minutes evolved into an escalating game of cat and mouse with the hose. I would shoo him in fits of futility and he would abruptly snatch the hose and pull it away. I’d repeat the process of reacquiring the hose and returning to the trough only to find myself thrust back into the throes of battling a half-ton animal for water rights. He gripped the hose off the ground and pulled it out of the trough – I pulled the slack back through the fence. Honor splashed his muzzle in the rising water line, chasing me off, then quickly snatched the nozzle and walked away. It was a cut-throat game of aquatic-brinksmanship. In a final attempt to keep him at bay, I slewed the hose’s aim at his face as he approached and pelted him directly with as much pressure as my thumb could produce. VICTORY! Honor darted off in a frantic circle, tail now a flagpole, head tossing, back end flailing with clumsy bucks.
Some victories are short-lived.
Honor turned and ignited towards the fence – towards me.
This crazy bastard is charging me!
Swiftly, I pulled the hose out of the trough like a six-shooter from a holster and with skilled dexterity used my thumb to transform it back into a water cannon. The high-pressure jet plastered the fly mask against his face, whereupon it shattered into billions of exploding droplets. Headshot! Honor slammed his weight to his hind quarters with slightly less grace than a jumbo jet cartwheeling. Dirt sprayed forward from his hooves, like a crashing snow skier. Honor’s entire presentation flipped as he came to his feet. His nose lifted to the air while his upper lip began an Irish jig on the stream of water.
“Are you taunting me?”
I lowered the stream to beat against his chest. He wiggled his hind quarters back and forth like a bear on a tree. The son of a bitch was enjoying it. Then, without warning, Honor’s tail tightened, he squealed, and in a shockwave of thundering hooves, he childishly sprinted away. He dashed wildly around the paddock in his standard full loop. Bucking spasmodically, he charged back toward the paddock corner that was now beginning to resemble a hog sty with all the mud. Again he slammed on insufficient brakes and flung mud everywhere. He ears stood erect, as did the rest of his posture as he focused on my every movement, water and mud dripping hilariously from every facial feature. I snapped the hose toward him. Water again exploded against his face. Again, Honor went through the entire process of trying to “drink” from the spray, soaking his body, and then summarily darting away in boyish celebration. My abs ached from laugher.
Eventually, Honor’s frenzy subsided but his insistence on playing and drinking from the hose continued without abatement. I captured several pictures and a video which I forwarded to Missi at work. “LOOK WHAT I TOUGHT HONOR!” I paired with the video. Luckily, I got the videos early on, so she didn’t see the mire the yard had become.
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“I love your laugh.” She responded.
I paused, caught in a moment of introspection. So do I... like a cold hose on a hot day.
I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but after feeding the horses and the dogs, I returned to the chores Missi had assigned. Somehow, and I can’t pinpoint where things derailed, I mysteriously found myself back in Honor’s paddock, where with equal mystery, several hours went unaccounted for.
“What are you doing?”
I jumped, startled. My head snapped with instinct to the left, Honor followed suit, to the right. “I uh… I’m putting this other halter on.”
“Because the other one was grimy and falling apart.” I was perplexed; I hadn’t heard or seen her pull into the drive. Confused, I checked the shadows on the ground – it was indeed far later than I had realized. Uh oh.
“Babe.” Her tone of voice said she was burying her face in her palm.
“The halter isn’t just backwards, it’s inside out and backwards.”
I had yet to actually fasten it – mostly because it was incorrect, and I had been baffled by the contraption for who knew how long. The webbing draped across Honor’s face and fly mask like a cat tangled in loose yarn. It was an obscenity of horsemanship. I hung my gaze on the ground. I wasn’t even remotely close. Honor calmly and happily greeted Missi with clear indifference to my ignorance, as if he were either just as clueless as I or simply enjoying the attention.
“Well he doesn’t seem to mind.” I nodded at the dopey colt who stood patiently, oak roots growing down from his hooves.
She began to examine the area. I watched her eyes scour the ground and the paddock. She glanced at the water trough, then at the hose, then the surrounding ground. She inspected my mud-caked shoes and brown splatter-painted shirt and face. She cocked her head. Her line of sight slewed to Honor and down his legs which were solid matte-brown, entirely concealing his rear sock. The ground sopped with small pools of water and saturated mud. It hadn’t rained in over a month. She moved towards Honor and with a fit of confusion twisting her face, asked, “What the hell happened here? Are you two drunk?”
“This asshole started it.” I shoved his snout away which garnered a subtle but quick nip at my hand.
In what appeared to be a lightning-fast single motion, Missi pulled the halter from around Honor’s face and, I swear to God, with one hand, flipped it inside out, replaced it correctly and cinched it into the latch. Of course, more motions and movements were probably involved but based on my previous futility, her deft application was mesmerizing. Missi, however, was back to business.
“You forgot the trash.”
“I didn’t forget it, I… had to put ointment on Honor, and it just took longer than expected, and then I noticed his old halter was kind of falling apart, so I…” I was rambling and she knew it. I was still lost in amazement of how she reapplied the halter.
She looked at Honor’s feet again, my feet again, and then looked up at me. Her eyes finally found mine and I melted into another puddle on the ground. She spoke business, but the blue in her eyes betrayed her. She was happy – she was in love. I couldn’t control my grin or the color in my face.
“I forgot the trash.”
“Yeah. You did.” She leaned over and kissed me. She pulled back and raised an eyebrow. “And you forgot to brush your teeth. I’m going to get my things. Please take him out to the barn; I’m going to work with him.”
* * *
The oddity that Honor had become pronounced itself even louder when Missi started him in on the basics. From the get-go every session was an adventure in Honor-isms riddled with quirks, surprises, and frankly, the unfathomable. Honor wasn’t merely receptive. In some respects, he was veteran in his temperament, and bewilderingly so. Moreover, his fearlessness and willingness to trust astonished Missi day after day. She openly questioned her experienced and conventional methods as Honor invariably defied every damn horse training paradigm known to man. She worried openly she was putting too much in front of him. Yet, after every session, her objective evaluation, as it would be with any other horse, would lead her to the “next step,” whatever that step might be. Honor didn’t do steps, though. Honor was a fucking elevator.
Day one, Missi tied him and introduced him to the saddle pad. He snorted at it and went about his lethargic mental way. She tossed it on his back, rubbed it, and let him feel it. Like a giraffe, Honor craned his neck back, snatched the blanket, ripped it off his back and bobbed it like his Jolly Ball – everything’s a damn toy to this horse. The first time it was funny. The tenth time, Missi instructed me to hold it in place while she got the saddle. I was still laughing – her… not so much.
The saddle garnered equal indifference and the green colt stood as calm as he had been the day I leaned across his back. Missi shook the un-fastened saddle on his back. Honor scratched his leg casually with his snout. Missi then jumped up and down next to him while shimmying the saddle. Honor yawned. “Well, okay then.” She sounded almost disappointed in a way.
Missi refused to cut corners though, to be sure. She was meticulous in her approach to Honor’s training, and kept reiterating, lest I had forgotten the previous forty times, “Horses don’t usually start like this.” I began to understand she was saying this aloud as an affirmation. She was deliberately paying closer attention to the scruples of his regimen because his advancement was so baffling. She complained, ironically, about his training. She insisted every step be respected, but lamented how bored Honor was with repetition and how frustrating he was at times with his laziness.
“He’s genius. I mean, he learns almost everything I put in front of him instantly. He has absolutely no flighty fear about him, but he’s so Goddamn lazy!” It was true. If Honor were human, he’d live in his mother’s basement eating Cheetos and growing a scraggly neck-beard. You could light a howitzer fuse next to Honor, and with heavy eyes, he’d chew on the bit. He would excite for something new, but once accomplished, the ripples subsided and Honor grew moss on his back. That was my job. I was the muse. Of course, by that, I mean I had a bucket of grain everywhere we went to train.
The first several times on the lunge line, Honor wouldn’t even walk. Missi had to stand in the middle, while I was a carrot on a stick. She offered vocal commands that sounded funny the first few times. “Honor. Walk on.” Then in a whisper, “Hold the bucket out.”
“Why are you whispering? He doesn’t speak English.”
She glared. “He will. Honor! Walk on!” She scowled and nodded in an angry motion. I extended a handful of grain as the dopey kid drug one hoof after the next across the ground. Honor would invariably stop walking after ten or so steps, before Missi’s trademark halt command that sounds like a drawn-out “brrrrr” sound from a very cold little girl. Missi grew irritated. “How am I supposed to install brakes on this thing if I can’t get forward motion out of him?”
“Maybe he doesn’t need brakes. Maybe he needs a nap.”
“He slept all day. It’s his greatest talent.”
“Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Whatever you are, be a good one.’”
“Sleepers don’t jump fences.” She stared at me with contempt for defending him.
“No, but they come out of nowhere to win.” I cheesed.
Battles like this raged on for weeks with Honor – five minutes of excitement, one hour of utter boredom. But Missi continued the slow trudge through every painstaking procedural step. She had to be certain. I just enjoyed the show. I watched from the back porch as she began to long-line him, which in layman’s terms is putting all his crap on and driving him around the yard like a carriage-less horse. Moreover, in Honor’s terms, it’s putting all his crap on and walking a few steps and then auto-stopping until Missi yells for a third time in frustration. On his third or fourth day of doing long-lining, Honor had apparently soaked as much from his education as he was willing to stomach. Amidst a lullaby of gradual lefts and gentle halts, Honor brought the session to a slumbering stop. He didn’t hesitate, he didn’t protest, he didn’t give two shits. Like toothpick pillars holding up the Parthenon, Honor’s legs buckled in half, his head sank to the ground, and his posterior followed suit. I fell out of my porch chair, crying. Professor Missi took to Honor’s dereliction less fondly.
“Holy crap! Are you seeing this? GET UP YOU BUM!” She was snapping the lead lines up and down against his side with angry slaps. “GET UP!” Honor’s indifference was not only inexorable, it was glorious. He lofted his head in the air and casually took in the scents of the afternoon, ignoring to the commands of a certain irked young lady. Missi vented a furious, frustrated-girl growl and threw the lines down in a puff of dust. She folded her arms in her trademark defiance. Missi instantly morphed into a ten year-old girl whose pony wouldn’t go when kicked. She looked to me on the porch, chin tucked angst-fully against her chest. “Look at your horse! See this? He gets it from you!” She extended one hand out like an angry Price is Right girl showcasing an indolent horse.
I couldn’t respond. I was preoccupied lying on the concrete porch, gasping for breath.
* * *
“I need your help with Honor.” It was September. The hottest, cruelest summer on record was beginning to bend mercifully to the compulsion of the season, and I was more than pleased to enjoy it. Missi had been working with Honor for a little over a month. During that time span, she had put tack on him, walked him, lunged him, discovered a talent for taking the bit with a hilariously gaping maw, and taught him steering, stopping, and standing while tied. He understood verbal commands as well as rein commands. He walked now without being bribed (or yelled at in irritated female words). We also discovered Honor’s one phobia: black floor mats – but we’ll get to that later.
“I think today is a good day to get on him.”
“You realize you’re the only fiancé I have, right? That I can’t run down to Wal-Mart and just grab another off the shelf?” I jested.
“No, I’m serious.” She was deadpan. “I want you to come video it and hold the line while I walk.”
“Alright, I trust you, but it seems awful soon. I just want to remind you, this is the same horse that a couple months ago tried killing himself on every fence in his paddock when we got inside ten feet of him. That’s a whole lot of risk.”
“Tim, it’s a horse. Risk is just part of it. But he’s never going to be much of anything if that risk isn’t eventually taken. I've done this many, many times.”
“And what if it does go south?” I asked in my devil’s advocate role.
“These are just the risks we take.”
I wish I could have paused that moment. I wish now I could go back and bottle those words – encapsulate them for posterity. But would we call them as miracles if we saw them coming?
“Brass balls, Watson.” I used her last name from time to time for the sake of playful banter in moments like these.
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For the next hour, Missi long-lined him around the middle paddock both bleeding energy and demonstrating his new-found skill set. After a lazy meandering around the pasture, an impressive Honor was released of the long-line and led into the round pen. I picked up the bucket of grain containing a “snack’s worth” and stood outside the pen as Missi coaxed him through walking, trotting, and even a few hard-earned canter strides. Round and round Honor completed lap after lap. Missi then flipped the lead on his bridle and Honor repeated the exercise in the other, clockwise direction. The workout resembled every other I had assisted with in the past month in every unremarkable way. But the stakes were about to rise enormously.
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“Okay babe, come on in.” She was so damn casual. She handed me the line and smiled. “He looks good, yeah?”
“He looks like a horse.” I was cynically hedging my bets.
“He’s not going to kill me today, are you Honor?” She patted him affectionately on his neck. He bent to his left as if assuring her. “Grab your bucket; we’re going to go slow. Have a handful of grain ready at all times. Give him just a nibble when I tell you.” I reached into the bowels of the bucket and charged a handful. I set the bucket on the ground, held the lead in my right hand, the grain in my left. Missi pulled the faded red mounting block alongside Honor.
Rushes of second-guessing circled my brain in breakneck speed as I watched the now-helmeted Missi fiddle with his saddle while simultaneously bouncing up and down on the block. She began to lay across his back much the same as I had from the paddock fence. She instructed me to give him a treat – I ponied up a bite or two. Honor, focused on the feed, remained indifferent to Missi’s actions. Meanwhile, Missi was deliberately trying to get a rise out of him, something, anything. I watched her in slight confusion. She was a cat burglar skulking quietly through the victim’s house easily making off with priceless jewels. Upon accidentally knocking over a lamp and realizing the owners didn’t care, she took strange offense and began deliberately making more noise. Honor chewed on the bit.
She stopped. She turned to me and stared, as if I had some answer I could miraculously withdraw from nameless bodily orifices. I stood there like an obedient husband in a Victoria’s Secret, lunge line and grain awkwardly gripped in either hand. A vacant stare was the best I could offer. Missi’s training reputation is one of impeccably thorough and flawless diligence. But, a foreign twinkle flashed in her eye – something new, something risky, something edgy, something unpredictable but strangely scripted. It was different, but it was calculated. I could hear the rusty cogs again, clunking their secret plot line along – I could smell the metal the machine moving. I didn’t have time to say anything. She clenched her jaw, looked down at the ground, and turned back to Honor. She gripped the saddle with both hands; her gaze dropped to the stirrup.
A boot dove headlong into the stirrup, and with equal flash a right leg swung speedily over the saddle and her posterior softened into the seat. Every muscle in my body somehow squeezed to maximum tension without actually moving a bone. I maintained my stupid face and posture. I gulped - audibly. Grain trickled like sand between my fingers as I lost track of what I was holding. My eyes glazed as frozen moons. I didn’t know a damn thing about horses, but I knew what I had just witnessed. My brain was careening wildly from memory to memory, hitting each with violent impact. I remembered the auctioneer; I remembered how the filthy colt had never had a saddle on him. I remembered how the “buyer” tried to dissuade me by mentioning the time and effort it would take to break such a colt. I remembered the frenzied horse that tore a fence to shreds within hours of coming home. I remembered a haphazard, panicky mammoth flying dangerously around the paddock, sliding into fences like Jackie Robinson stealing home, coming up bloody and bruised every time. I remembered the disdain and utter vitriol the colt gave to any human contact. I remembered the blazing distrust and demonstrable ire with which this horse responded to any stimuli. More than anything, I remembered an injured mind that had good reason to be angry, reason to resent, and reason to despair. With that flash of memories, Honor ceased being a horse momentarily and became an idea – an idea that struck with painful force – brutal, honest, unflinching force. I thought Missi was the courageous one, I was only half-right. Forgiveness stood calmly on four legs without justifiable premise or reason. We hadn’t compelled him or inspired him. Honor chose it for himself. Missi now sat astride him, smiling.
With barely one month of training and not even five minutes of preparation, Honor was broke. I say that now with confidence, but at the time, we were still in dangerous, uncharted waters, waiting for the Kraken to breach.
But Honor stood the way redwoods stand.
“I’m over it. He’s not someone else’s horse. He’s ours. No one’s paying me, and I’m done doing this conventional wisdom crap. It doesn’t work with him.” She was venting more than conversing. “He learns something, gets bored, and then just mopes around. Okay, so he’s a Jones Auction pony. Maybe he’s not the next Triple Crown winner, but his brain… ugh! It’s like he’s laughing at me, laughing at the training. Fine. For a hundred bucks, I’ll take that gamble. If I was ever going to risk it, why not make it this one? I’ve never seen a horse do the things he does or act the way he does, and to hell with it, why not see just exactly what we’ve got… see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Walk me around the pen a couple times and then I want you to take the line off. Oh, and get your camera ready – no one’s going to believe this.”
Not a peep left my lips. These were not the moments to contest this woman. Yet, I can’t deny there was an itch, a curiosity of my own that sprang from that same clunking and grinding story machine. It was the metal monster moving the movie along that had whispered off-stage to get my camera ready even before Missi spoke the words.
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Missi deepened her seat until she was a sack of potatoes in the saddle. Honor responded with veteran sensitivity to her touch and her voice commands as practiced on the long-line. The team moseyed around the pen as I silently documented the event. What was I seeing! She brought him to a halt and Honor turned his head to me. His ears perked expectant of a treat. I obliged. While he chewed happily around the bit, I removed the lunge line. A tinge of cynical doubt crept back in to reopen a bleeding gash of reality. This isn’t crazy, this is stupid! This isn’t a movie, that’s my fiancé up there risking her life on a green colt! I looked at Honor’s face. Any fear that attempted to inflame the risk abated with the boyish colt’s soft expression. He was… happy?
I lifted the camera as I stepped to the center of the pen. I expanded my diaphragm with one last hopeful breath. “Okay.”
The next forty-five seconds would become not simply history – they would become the first undeniable truth, the hook, of an impossible story. Missi dropped carefree from the saddle as the setting sun lit Honor’s face aglow. She promptly patted Honor on the neck just behind the left ear. Honor turned his head to Missi affectionately. Jesus. He does get it.
[wpvideo zapUs0GF w=550] Feel free to pause the video at the last frame and re-read the "memories" paragraph up above.
“That’s good enough for today.” Missi was failing miserably at concealing her girlish jubilance. “Thank you for your help, Babe. I think you picked the right one to save. It doesn’t get much better than this.” I wondered if she even remembered the tumult of the last year.
“Yeah. Sure.” I stood petrified briefly, my mind fried. Did I save him? I quietly attached the lead rope to Honor’s bridle as Missi walked back to the barn. For the tiniest moment, I looked through Honor’s façade of coltish, innocent, young features and saw the machine – saw its heavy, oxidized iron gears beginning to break free of the inertia and accelerate. “Why are you really here?”