“Now entering the ring is Harper Castillo on Marco Polo,” a voice boomed across the stands. The arena was silent, the sandy brown sawdust sprinkled in a flat, neat layer across the top. The sight calmed me. The jumps, averaging near the tallest I had jumped, made me grin The bay horse underneath me pulled me into focus. It was like I was apart of a math equation, that had become my life when I was six.
I took a deep breath, five years, five years of waiting to get here, The World Equestrian Center. Where the biggest shows in America were hosted. And nothing was going to stop us from getting the blue ribbon. I gently pressed my heels into Marco’s side, urging him forward. We broke into a slow trot, I tilted my head upwards, and look towards our first jump, it had bright blue waves on the sides, and the poles were painted a sandy tan, resembling the beach. I clucked my tongue, and Marco started cantering towards the jump, which we easily cleared. The crowd and the announcer became a quiet buzz in the background, as my dark bay stallion and I soared over every jump, cutting every corner, until we reached the last line. Three jumps stood in our way now, all different shades of purple. The last one, a giant three bar oxer, was a jump height I had never jumped.
But dang was I ready.
I pushed my shoulders back, and deepened my seat, urging Marco forward as we centered ourselves towards the jumps. My breathing stilled as we cleared the first jump, I felt Marco try to kick out, and watched him toss his head. Suddenly everything slowed, the second jump now seem huge, and as we jumped, I felt Marco’s hoof snag the bar, and the clatter of the pole. I silently cursed, but the worst clearly wasn’t over. As we landed, one stride in, Marco bucked, and tripped. There was no circling back to this jump, there was no way out. I kicked Marco, who snorted, and took the awkward distance. I heard a crash, I could feel everything stop, as Marco’s legs plunged into the jump, and we spiraled out of control.
Two Years Later
Physically, I was fine. It had taken a year and a half, but my body had healed, leaving behind only scars. The part of my spine, healed, quicker than the doctors had predicted. My arm, my leg, everything was perfectly fine. My mind wasn’t though. At night I still had nightmares, and would shoot up in bed, drenched in sweat, but I couldn’t cry. I had cried once, when the vet had told us that Marco’s leg was broken in two places, and his neck damaged. And that there was no way he could survive this, but me, the reason he was gone, was still alive, to many’s amazement. So Marco was put down, and I still remember the way, right before, Marco hobbled over, his deep brown eyes filled with so much pain, and nuzzled my palm, then lifted his head, and had this look inside his eyes that said let me go. Then he backed away, and slowly laid himself down, and took his final breath.
I still blame myself.
The way we had toppled away from where we had landed from the jump, Marco stumbling, falling. Ending on top of me, but I couldn’t remember the pain of my legs shattering, a piece in my back starting to strain against the pressure. Only the pain of losing Marco. It creeped into my mind each night, my midnight visitor. But I’ve started to welcome the pain, I’ve started to enjoy it. I should be terrified, but I’m not. Because I deserve it.
“Harper, please come down here, we need to show you something,” a voice floated up the stairs, shaking the memories and guilt from my head. I sighed, last time I had refused to come down the stairs, my dad came, picked me up, and carried me down the stairs. My bed creaked as I got off, but I kept my eyes glued to the birch colored floors, knowing that looking up, all I would see were reminders of my best friend.
The wall of ribbons, mostly blue, trophies, blankets, pictures, so many pictures. So I quickly hurried down the stairs, and into the kitchen, where another view of a memory of Marco was available. The huge rolling pastures of the farm I lived on, where Marco had lived, and it in was an apple tree, which Marco had spent most of his time “picking” apples from. His ashes were spread there, one of his shoes buried under a root.
“Harper,” my mother’s sharp voice jerked me from my thoughts, I think my parents were fed up of my pity party. But the door was locked for me, there was no way for me to escape the constant reminders that my horse was dead because of me.
“There’s a horse here-”
“No.” I immediately snapped.
“Harper, he’s the one that we got five months ago, surely you’ve seen us riding him,” my father quietly chuckles. I had the view of the giant outdoor arena from my bedroom. It used to be one of my favorite views.
“More like you attempting to ride him,” I snorted, remembering seeing a giant dapple grey horse throwing rider after rider. I think it made me smile once, but not for long.
“Marco was just like that, when you first got him, you worked wonders with that horse.
You gave him a chance. Can’t you give this one a chance?”
“I think I’m fresh out of chances, try in a few more years,” I grumbled.
“If you can’t do anything with him, he’s going to have to be put down, he’s hurt too many
people.” my mom said, knowing that pulled my trigger.
My breathing slowed, and my body locked into place.
Did I really want to be the reason another horse died?
The horse was huge. I thought Marco had been tall at sixteen-and-a-half hands, this horse had to be seventeen something, towering over my 5’ 8” figure. His base coat was a silvery gray, almost white, but covered in gorgeous darker gray dapples. On his front two legs were two tall, dirty white socks. And on his face, was a long white blaze, with a cute little pink stripe on his nose. His eyes were a mix of blues, reminding me of the days when the sky was amazingly blue, with small wisps of clouds swirling through the colors.
I watched as a groom approached him, holding a saddle. The horse’s nostrils flared, and his eyes were widened, showing the whites. Before the groom could throw the saddle the horse reared up, snapping the cross ties from the hooks, kicking his leg out. His ears laid flat against his head, and I laughed. I laughed for the first time in two years. Everyone stared at me like I was insane, maybe I was. Something about this horse reminded me of… Marco. My laughter died, and I felt myself drawn the the big gray.
I crouched down, making myself less of a predator, and slowly approached the horse, holding a colorful lead rope behind my back. The horse lifted his lip, bared his teeth, and snapped at my hand. I gently flicked between his nostrils, which clearly took him by surprise, as he tossed his head, and clacked his teeth together. I giggled, and took this as an opportunity to hold out my hand, the palm up, completely flat. As a peace offering, I placed a piece of a candy cane I had been eating earlier on my palm. He reached his neck out, curling his lip up, and started sniffing my palm.
“Hey, bud, I won’t hurt you, see, I have food,” I murmured, and he lipped at the candy, then quickly snapped it up. He seemed to enjoy the taste, and quickly peered at me, begging for more. I slowly reached up, in an attempt to pet him, as soon as my hand touched his face, he tensed, but I kept it there, and reached into my pocket for more peppermints. With my hand still resting on his white blaze, he reached out, and slowly took the rest of the candy. I could feel him relax, as I slowly rubbed his face. I reached under his halter, and slowly clipped the lead rope onto the small silver hook. I felt the emptiness in my heart slowly fade, as the big grey horse willingly followed me into the yard.
The round pen wasn’t used often, now that Marco was gone, but I intended to change that with this horse. He was fully relaxed now, and didn’t seem to care that he was in an entirely new setting. I smiled at the thought that all it had taken to gain this horse’s trust was an old candy cane. I shut the round pen gate, and dropped the unclipped lead rope by my feet.
The horse watched me, and started to walk to me, but I waved my hands, and clicked my tongue. The gray tore around the round pen, bucking and bolting, as I kept moving him around. Eventually, his gallop slowed to an easy canter, so I stepped in front of him. He snorted, and darted around, taking off the other direction. The young horse soon tired, and slowed again. This time, he stayed out, instead of coming to be, and cantered on the rail. I decided he was finished, and crouched down, inviting him in. The horse slowly walked towards me, his ears forward, listening.
“You’re a quick learner, aren’t you, bud?” I giggled, rubbing his face as he sighed in content.
“Harper that was amazing,” my mother exclaimed.
The horse’s face shot up out of my arms, his ears pinned. I slowly stroked his neck, until he calmed down, and focused on me. I liked the fire this horse had, he reminded me of Marco. Maybe that’s why I gave him a chance. Just then, rain drops started slowly falling into the pen, quickly turning into large ones. The horse didn’t acknowledge the rain, and then looked at me, as if to say “What’s next?” I laughed, as my parents ran towards the house, and I looked at the horse. I moved to the other side of the pen, keeping my body language open and inviting. The horse trotted after me, so I quickly cut around the pen, until he was cantering along side me, one ear forward, the other facing me. I stopped suddenly, which the horse did too.
“Good boy,” I sighed, hugging him. He wrapped his head around me, as if he was hugging me back. I felt like crying, I could see so much of Marco in this horse. Hugging used to be his favorite trick. “Let’s get you inside, bud,” I laughed, tears running down my cheeks, but for the first time in years, they were happy tears.
The first thing I did, after I had dried the horse off, groomed, and blanketed him, was take a picture. In just a few hours this horse had taken me from living in memories, to moving on from Marco. I don’t know how, but it seemed that we were supposed to fix each other. The horse, who didn’t trust anyone, and me who was living in my past, had both started living again.
As I led the stallion back to his stall, I caught a glimpse of the nameplate on his stall.
“It means fire in Icelandic, we got into contact with his first owner, who owned him as a foal. He’s a purebred Danish Warmblood, the old lady who bred him owned a whole farm, until she had a stroke, and found herself unable to care for all of her horses. Eldur ended up in the wrong hands, and hence, here he is. You’ve worked wonders with him, though. Yesterday it took an hour just to groom him. Now he’s acting like you’ve known him his whole life. It’s incredible.”
Behind me, one of our stable hands, Earl, who now was leaning on a cane, his long, graying hair glinting in the light. Earl had been working for my family since I was two, fifteen years later, he was more family than friend or an employee.
“Here, I have all of his papers, if you want to read up on him, I can lock up,” Earl said. “You look exhausted.”
I took the papers from his hands, thanked him, and hurried out the doors. Earl was right, I was tired after finally doing something with my life. During the short walk home, I decided two things. One, that I needed to stop moping around. I would always miss Marco, and probably always blame myself, but something about Eldur reminded me so much of Marco, that it helped me realize, in a matter of seconds, thatI needed to move on, get better.
Two, I needed to help Eldur, whatever I had done to make the big gray horse trust me worked, and I saw potential in him.
This horse had helped me in the few hours I had spent with him, and there was no way I could ever repay him, but help to Eldur get over his obstacles too.
I glanced through his papers, in it was his passport, with his registered show name. Raining Fire.
I liked it, it matched the fiery spirit the horse had, the spirit that gave me hope that my days with horses were not over. The same spirit that had made me laugh, and I knew would keep me going forever.
I walked inside of the house, slipping off my muddy rain boots at the door. I didn’t see my parents anywhere, so I headed straight, through the brightly lit kitchen, into the office. In it, was the giant desktop my dad insisted was necessary. Next to it, was a printer. I pulled my phone out of my soaked jean pocket, and pulled up the picture I had taken of Eldur.
The blue wall behind my light grey comforter was covered in pictures of Marco and I, and there were only a few spots left on the wall. It had taken a few hours, but I had rearranged the pictures of Marco onto my closet wall, leaving a blank canvas behind my bed. I stood on the mattress, and neatly taped the picture of Eldur into the first open corner. I knew Marco would always hold a special spot in my heart, but I was ready for the new endless possibilities with Eldur, and knew with Marco watching over me, and Eldur by my side, I would be ready for anything.