“And folding his wings, Pegasus bent his neck to the yolk and fell to plowing.” — Louisa May Alcott, ‘By the River: A Legend of the Asset’, 1875
Every horse person has their pegasus, some are lucky enough to encounter him multiple times. Really, every horse has a little bit of pegasus in them–and I briefly wrote about some of the many significant horses in my life here, but today I intend to tell you the story of my Pegasus (I’ve had this piece of writing prepared for a while due to a brief comment thread with mainepaperpusher, after she told a horse story and suggested I should as well).
My Pegasus, seemed like a giant to me at twelve years old. He stood 15.2 hands high and on the day of our first meeting, both of us having lived 12 years and some unknown number of days, Pegasus plodded with a lowered head, away from a group of weanlings and youngsters. He was sleepy and slow but to a horse-crazed youth he was everything! And just like that I was sold and he was bought.
For nearly a month Pegasus plodded for me, reluctantly trotting if one could offer enough encouragement. On the thirtieth day everything changed. I got a call saying Pegasus had fought the herd leader and though he was no worse for wear the herd leader was (slightly). Pegasus had remembered his wings.
For months after that I found myself chin between his ears, butt behind the saddle, and saddle horn beneath the ribcage, until I groaned and growled at the idea of getting on Pegasus. He took charge of the herd, of the pastures, and of rides and out-horsed me by leaps and bounds. Though never malicious, Pegasus revealed himself to be athletic and independent minded, with plenty of muscle to back him up. He embarrassed 4H leaders and clinicians alike.
So, upon seeing I was out-horsed, my dad offered me an out. A cowboy friend was willing to take Pegasus off my hands for a while and work with him. I was defeated. Pegasus rode off on the trailer the next week when Cowboy travelled through on his way home from the rodeo circuit.
And Cowboy loved Pegasus; he had never met a horse quite so cow-y (a term that means the horse can anticipate a cow and works them almost without instruction) and smart. He could sell Pegasus for twice our money or more likely. Again I was asked, should he look for a buyer? There was a catch though, if Pegasus was sold I may never own a horse again, so long as I required my parents money to subsidize it.
Pegasus had other thoughts.
He refused to perform a basic (I mean first year of elementary school in the horse world) task required for sale, despite months of competent riding. Cowboy couldn’t make him.
So, Pegasus was returned to me. For two years, we fought with one another–as my riding became more competent, Pegasus’s tricks became more elaborate. He bolted, he bucked, he turned on a dime, he stopped harder than a plane hitting a mountain. Through it all I gritted my teeth and rode, despite derision from my 4H group, despite bruises and headaches, despite grass stains and dirt baths (pretty sure I was concussed a couple times). Until I couldn’t remember why I ever wanted a horse.
At this point I could jump off from a full speed gallop, sit through a minute of bucking as though I was on a rocking chair, ride through a turn so hard my inside foot was touching the ground, at one point I even did a flying mount when Pegasus refused to stop after I jumped off the first time… and then I jumped off again and made him stop. Pegasus just found new gears, new buttons to push, new twists to make with his body. He did learn to do the thing Cowboy couldn’t get him to do and much more–he would have been an accomplished riding horse if he had a tad (or you know, a lot) less attitude.
One spring, I lead my horse into a clinic lead by a dressage instructor, tacked up in all western gear, to the eye rolls of my 4H instructors. While Pegasus had many faults ground manners wasn’t one of them, so on initial inspection he appeared gorgeous. The instructors eyes lingered on him and I had to give Pegasus one thing–physically, he was flashy: well muscled and well conformed, with a strawberry roan coat, golden legs, and a multicoloured mane and tail, Pegasus looked like a Ferrari (or Lamborghini or whatever car you think is the hottest) of a horse. Then the ride began and while the other horses moved about at moderate, put together paces Pegasus flew about the arena, twisting and turning, bending, and using 100 different speeds on each trip around.
The instructor always gave us a slightly different task compared to the rest of the group. By the end of the lesson I was ready to scream. All these push button horses got to do everything and here I was with demon-horse getting given different tasks because we were, as a team, completely incompetent, despite years, YEARS of practice. Then the instructor came over and said, “He’s amazing!” I couldn’t believe it–she loved Pegasus, everything about him. His athleticism, his intelligence, his movement, his conformation, his crazy. She asked us to come early next time, and we did.
We worked that weekend until sweat streamed off the midline of Pegasus’s belly like a tropical rainstorm and my muscles whimpered in submission, and the instructor beamed at us and praised us. Us. As a team.
I took a summer job that year which required 5 hours of riding per day and then rode in my free time as well 6 days per week. By the end of the summer Pegasus’s wings spread at the sight of me–you could see it, his ears found my voice before I entered the pasture and he moved towards me excitedly when I walked to the barn, he was all excitement for the next adventure. We swam across lakes, we rode without bridle or saddle, we jumped and spun, we chased cattle, and galloped down empty roads, until I was Pegasus and Pegasus was me.
We still had our bad days, we still worked hard and failed, but we worked together without fail and when I was frustrated so was Pegasus–because we knew each other wanted things to go a certain way and just couldn’t communicate clearly sometimes.
The next fall, back in 4H, the instructors asked if I had bought a new horse. We placed in every gymkhana event (except keyhole because flour is scary and musical matts because when I jumped off he would stop and go backwards not forwards–a throw back to an early career as a tie down and team roping horse), meanwhile the public turned up to watch Pegasus buck in the mandatory flat classes (I still can’t figure out how he knew the difference between the show class and the practice ring). They whistled and cheered as I rode the buck out across the arena with my stirrups flying about and rolling my eyes.
I set up a chair in Pegasus’s stall and read books while he ate, I would lay down on his back and watch other events while he slept standing up (until I got in trouble, because what if something surprises him–yeah, they didn’t believe me when I said I would land on my feet), I would load three other people onto his back and we would cart across the exhibition grounds until we got in trouble for having four people on a horse bareback (apparently it’s “dangerous”), I would hang off his neck and sit on his haunches and stand on top of him, I would pretend I was a corpse and get him to trot around with me flopped over his neck or his hips, I would ride side saddle with my leg wrapped around the saddle horn, I would use his forelegs as a backrest, and snuggle with him when he was laying around. Pegasus even learned to bow.
Beyond the few shows and clinics we attended though, Pegasus was one of my best friends: we would take walks through the city to go get his dental work done while we were in for a clinic, we spent hours together every day doing one stupid thing or another, we rode by the light of the moon without any tack, and he snuggled with me when I was upset. Old cowboys would come up and complement Pegasus or just look over and give us a smile and a wink, I think they could see something immaterial in how we interacted–maybe once they had had their own pegasus. Other cowboys would ask if he was for sale after seeing him stare down a cow or gallop through a pattern and when I said they couldn’t afford him would just nod and smile. People would look on terrified as we pulled out any number of stunts, pelting about like hell on wheels.
Pegasus and I flew together everyday for two more years, he passed abruptly the day before my seventeenth birthday–three days before his own birthday. I still can’t help missing the feeling though. Five years together was too short.
I am so thankful that my Pegasus never fell to plowing but rather, taught me to fly.
P.S. Sorry for another extended absence, I’m in the middle of finals and there was recently an event locally that really forced me sit back and think and let those feelings I normally ignore exist a little more openly for a while. Nothing that directly affected me but definitely a reminder that we should all hold those we love close while we can. Thanks if you’ve read this far! Be well.