I also sold my friend.
Century has been listed for 3 years. In that time he has been leased, trialed, and occasionally ridden, but he's always come home. This time, after his new partner and I shook hands, I knew it would be different. We struck a deal on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday morning Century stood alone in the round pasture for a long time, neither grazing or napping. The sight of him voluntarily distancing himself from Penny brought tears to my eyes. I could feel him turning inward, and my heart, cracked from the pressure of trying to divorce myself from my partner of 10 years, began to hurt. When he lay down for a nap I dropped my gardening tools and went to sit in front of him. I cradled his cheeks in my hands, eyes blurry with tears, and thanked him for everything he's taught me and all the ways he has protected us. As I told him I loved him, my tears gave way to sobs. Ever the expressive ham, he flopped over, rolled his eyes, and stood up. Century is the only horse I've ever had who gives hugs. He will, when emotion strikes him, wrap his head and neck around me in a literal embrace. At that moment, I really needed a hug. I buried my face in his shoulder, wrapped my arms around his neck, and quietly cried snot bubbles into his mane. He waited patiently and with innate dignity for me to release him. Every horse, and every girl, is born knowing there is no safer place to cry than against the solid, forgiving curve of an equine friend.
When I left him, he called to Penny in a soft, insistent tone he hadn't used for many years. She came alone. They touched like the old married couple they are, familiar with one another's bodies as they are with the feel of the ground beneath their hooves. They groomed each other from nose to tail. Then Century returned to his solitary vigil and Penny to graze with Bullet.
I watched from the garden, remembering the days I picked them out, brought them home, broke them. The wintery morning I spent currying half an inch of ice off them. The time he won the barn costume contest. The time he protected his family from starvation. The way he was willing to go for me even when he was sore or scared. Our daily ritual of father ponying son as I trained Traveler. The day Traveler was born. The day he died. The time Century dislocated a hip and I thought he would die. The long talk I had with him before he was gelded. The day he convinced Penny to stand guard while he broke into the barn....
My friend Beverly is moving next month. I spent Tuesday afternoon taking advantage of her generosity with plants. It's a funny thing, women's urge to remember each other with flowers. A good friend of mine grows her mother's Cecil Brunner roses. Another, her mother's rosebush. Pioneer women carted family plants across the vast expanse of this nation, not knowing if their final destination would support the tender shoots they packed and nursed so carefully. My mother has my grandmother's irises, and I have my grandmother's poppies. Flowers become a woman's legacy. Beverly hasn't any idea how much she's taught me or how I treasure her friendship...or perhaps she does. (I took a LOT of plants!) While digging up a clump of stubborn narcissus I commented that I was surprised more people weren't digging up something to remember her by. I'll see her again - her new house will be my between-classes hangout - but every year as the flowers bloom I will see her face around my yard.
Friday morning dawned and Century was once again by himself. I groomed him, kissed him, and haltered him. Then Penny approached and I stepped aside to allow them some last few moments of precious physical connection. After once again grooming each other head to tail, they stood muzzle to muzzle for several minutes, silent and statuesque. Finally I moved to walk Century out of the pasture. He wouldn't go through the gate. Penny suddenly bolted past us, bucking and running amok for a good ten minutes until she could be haltered and returned behind fences. "Running away won't keep him from leaving!" I yelled at her. Hard truth.
My horse isn't my horse anymore. His halter, fly mask, papers are all gone. I have photographs, sure...but despite ten years of adventures I don't have a single shot of me on his back. "I had a horse named Century once...." Is that all? Stories? No. Penny wasn't the only one married to him for ten years. We knew each other well enough fo him to anticipate and correct my mistakes. After being paid to ride rank and green horses on open beach, Century taught me what it was like to trust a horse again. Horses make us honest, with them and with ourselves. He is loyal to a fault. He has a sense of humor. He knew when I needed a hug. Century was the first horse I broke and trained myself, and he taught and refined me every bit as much as I did him. Bullet and I are excited to be starting lessons soon (well, I'm excited). I can't feel my body like I used to and I know I'm not communicating effectively. That's Century's legacy. The gift of mutual respect and honesty, the ability to build a language of trust with every horse I've had or will have. That's what I have to remember him by.
It's my hope that Century and Jennifer will build as strong a partnership as he and I had. I'm almost completely happy; moving on was the right thing to do. The Horse is good. Be good, Century.