The Last Ride
We were f i f t e e n , Louise and I, when grandfather bought my cousin a horse. I should have been pleased that she chose to name the beast Johnny; and I should have been pleased at being offered the inaugural ride on my namesake. I wasn’t.
Once a week, we headed to the riding stables in St. Foy. Louise, the equestrian, always chose the friskiest animal, which she rode with assurance and authority. I, on other hand, always selected the slowest, the gentlest horse, preferably one that had pulled a milk wagon in its youth.
When grandfather told her to choose a horse, I was not surprised that she had picked a high-spirited three year-old Chestnut measuring over eighteen hands. What did surprise me, however, was that she had named a mare - Johnny.
“Who will be first to ride my horse?” asks Louise as she leads the mare out of the stable. Jean-Marc, Balloon and Kikitte, the farmer’s children and faithful members of our gang, stare in wonder at the handsome beast. Jean- Marc raises his hand. I hang back. I have to crane my neck just to look into Johnny’s eyes; wild, crazy eyes that promise injury to he who dares to mount him ... her. Louise looks past Jean-Marc and spies me hiding behind Balloon. “Plume,” she says, pointing in my direction, “should be the first to ride her.” Plume is the nickname she’s given me since we were ten. Louise is only three months older than I, but has always been a head taller.
It takes the efforts of Jean-Marc and Balloon to heave me onto the saddle. I would have preferred a Western saddle with a pummel to hang onto in case the horse decides to go faster than a sedate walk, but Louise favours an English saddle. My feet can’t reach the stirrups, which have been adjusted for Louise’s longer legs, and I need to slip feet into the stirrup straps. So far, Johnny has remained still. I look down from my vertiginous perch at the admiring glances below.
“Okay, make him go,” say Jean-Marc, Balloon and Louise. Kikitte keeps quiet; she looks worried.
“Tchk-tchk,” I say.
“Tchk-tchk,” I repeat. I jump up and down on the saddle, but Johnny ignores me. I suspect the stupid beast doesn’t even realize I’m sitting on its back.
Oh, how I wish Louise hadn’t done what she did next.
Frustrated at seeing Johnny’s reluctance to move, she gives the mare a sharp rap on the rump with her riding crop and Johnny explodes into action as if shot from a cannon. Thrown back by the sudden acceleration, I only succeed in retaining my seat by grabbing hold of the saddle’s edge. Johnny is now at full gallop and has the bit between his teeth racing towards a path in the woods. I’ve long ago dropped the reins; my arms are wrapped around the horse’s neck and my rear bounces up and down like a bolo ball on a paddle. My weight begins to shift so that by the time we enter the woods I’m leaning sideways. I need to get off.
I’m now leaning over so far to the right that tree trunks skim past within inches of my head. I succeed in slipping my foot out of the left strap. However, removing my foot from the right one is a struggle and I picture myself being dragged behind the animal with one foot caught in the stirrup strap. I spy a small pine rushing towards us and succeed slipping my right foot free in time to dive into it headfirst.
And I lie still, head spinning, holding on to the pine tree as if it were a life buoy.
“You okay?” cries Louise who is the first to reach me.
“Yeah, no thanks to that stupid animal of yours,” I grumble.
“They say you should climb right back on again when you fall off a horse.”
“I don’t know who ‘they’ are to suggest such a stupid thing, but as far as I’m concerned - not again today, not again ever,” I growl, brushing away pine needles in my hair. “In fact, that’s the last time I’ll ever mount a horse that walks faster than me.”