*note this is not a "Rainbow Bridge" story*
My mare Cessa is 29 this year. Age is catching up to her and I know, at least in my mind, that any day could be The Day. That's something my heart has trouble remembering.
Cessa is retired now. The vets say that as long as she seems comfortable I can ride her, lightly. I'll admit that I haven't really. From time to time I'll saddle her and pop on for a little walk around the yard or the arena. That's about it, even that little bit makes me feel guilty. Cessa has earned her retirement. So she gets to roam the pastures for exercise and if I want to I can pony her off Applejack.
But I remember the last "real" ride I had on her. The last time that I rode her with any expectation. The last ride that she actually had to do any degree of work.
It was about 2 years ago. Yes that would make her 27, but that day she felt much younger.
I brought her into the barn, groomed her and saddled up. She seemed to have an extra glint in her eye that day. A little more pep in her step as I led her out of the barn.
The weather was beautiful. Warm, not hot. We headed across the yard and down the driveway. Turned left and headed into the nice, grassy ditch. Cessa gave a toss of her head, her shiny mane flirting with the soft breeze.
The last few years when walking away from home she'd go slowly, almost like she felt like a feeble old lady. Of course that was a trick. As soon as we turned for home she'd be jigging and prancing. But that day her walk was smooth and forward. Like she had places to go and things to do.
We crossed the neighbour's driveway and settled into a jog. Of course neither of us was happy with that for long and we kicked it up to a nice long trot.
I didn't want to tire Cessa so after a few minutes of trotting I sat deep and we settled into that beautiful, smooth walk again.
Cessa kept tossing her head and occasionally would take a playful, quick step. Almost as if to say "C'mon lets GO! Let's make the most of this great day and have a FUN ride!" I gave in and squeezed with my legs as I opened my fingers a bit on the reins. Cessa didn't need a second invitation and flowed into a slow lope.
I smiled as I watched her ears flicking back and forth as we rocked along. Cessa was breathing nice and easy. She felt solid and steady... and ready.
I moved my hand forward the tiniest bit and she sped up a fraction. One ear was locked forward, the other one kept flicking back to me.
I put on a bit more leg and she happily kicked it up a notch. We played this game for a minute or two. A bit more leg, a bit freer rein and she'd speed up. Every time giving me exactly how much I asked for. Then I sat deep and we went back to a walk. Breathing a bit hard but not too bad Cessa kept playfully tossing her head and trying to sneak in a quicker step or two. She still wanted to run.
Instead I made her walk for a little longer before I gave her a pat and some leg and off we went again. This time I just let her run. Hand forward onto her neck, a deep squeeze with my leg. She sped up in fractions for the first few strides. Almost like she couldn't believe I was letting her go.
She loped the first few strides. Then loped a little faster. A few more strides and a little faster. And then she WENT. I could feel her mouth firm on the bit but not lugging and that wonderful surge of muscles as she hurtled into high gear. The breeze and the speed created tears that streamed from my eyes. For awhile I sat steady and let her run as fast as she wanted.
With a happy sigh I pulled my hand back closer to the horn and sat deep. Cessa slowed to a lope and then a reluctant trot. After a stride, or three, I closed my fingers more on the reins and she somewhat grudgingly came back to a walk.
Her bay coat was glossy with a light sweat as we walked home. I think when we got back to the barn we were both smiling.
To this day the memory of that ride is something I hold dear in my heart.