Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jason Hatfield and the Gift of Snowy River

There is something about the outside of a horse
that is good for the inside of a man. 
-Winston Churchill

Jason Hatfield

Dad bought, first, a gelded, black-and-white Shetland pony named Pepper.  He had a terrible attitude, and we found him more reliable in harness than under saddle.  Our Pennsylvania neighbors felt sorry for Pepper's having to pull Dad in sleigh and sulky, but Pepper was strong: just suited poorly for the trail.  So, next, Dad bought horses: an Appaloosa gelding named Big Chew for himself, a Paso Fino named Daisy for Mom, and--after my borrowing, for a time, a very old gelding named Flash--a registered, Morgan mare named Firefly for me. 

I was nine when Dad bought Firefly, and--thanks to my being ill and weak with a virus--my parents lifted me to the window to see her the day Dad brought her home.  She and I were close to the same age, and she was spirited and would have been entirely too much horse for a nine-year-old girl but for her immediate and profound love for me.  Two years later, she moved with our family to East Tennessee.

I wish I could remember how Jason Hatfield and I came to ride together, but I can't.  I know it happened shortly after my family moved to Tennessee and assume I was yet eleven.  Jason is a year younger than I, and he rode a black gelding named Leroy.  Jason and I had exactly two things in common: our love for Camp Galilee (which deserves its own post at some point), and our love for our horses. 

Jason's and my horses were not pampered animals.  I guess they never saw the inside of a riding ring, and Firefly, I know, never owned a blanket: just a saddle pad.  My family's barn in Tennesee was (and is) really just an open-faced loafing shed.  Firefly ate a small amount of grain every day but hay only in winter, when no green grass grew for her to graze at will.  She was a fat, study animal.  For colder months she grew her chestnut coat shaggy and thick, and her breath became a cloud as it met cold air.  In summer, her tail flicked constantly at flies.  I never knew her to sustain an unrecoverable injury...or any injury at all save the twice a careless rider caused her to fall.  I was the first of these, and she lost the top of her kneecap after we hit, running, a concrete bridge.  Thankfully, she didn't land on top of me.  She stood and waited for me to rise, and we walked slowly all the way home, bleeding together. 

Jason and I rode in dusk, rain, sleet, and snow...up and down Highway 63 and, I guess, on every back road and trail in east-central Scott County.  We climbed mountains and crossed creeks; hitched our horses to a pine post at the Texaco; and ran our animals, hard, in the field behind Straight Fork Baptist.  For almost seven years we rode, and all the hundreds of (nearly wordless) rides run together in my mind and become one experience: the fresh air...the giant, kind eyes of my horse and her thick, warm body...the smiling, steady eyes of my friend. 

I look at my eleven-year-old son and try to imagine his leaving, unsupervised, on horseback for a day...my saying: "See you at dark, Son," and I can't.  I think of riding Firefly as she galloped in fields pitted with holes, clip-clopped along the shoulder-side of highway fog stripe, and I shudder to think of all that could've happened but didn't.  I praise my parents for turning me loose--even if into danger--and know my having Jason as companion relieved their minds and made possible my adventuring.

I sold Firefly just before leaving home for college.  I went to visit her exactly once after selling her; she trotted up to me at the fence, and I cried until I hyperventilated and threw up.  She is dead, now, but I know she lived long, happy years even after becoming someone else's horse.  

I have ridden three times, I think, since selling Firefly.  I do not seem drawn to horses in general; I loved the one animal, my animal.  I guess I must have loved Leroy, too, because--when, about four years ago, I last saw Jason and Leroy--I wept as I stroked the neck of that horse. 

Over the weekend, Jason friend-requested me on facebook, and I'd never supposed I might see him in that virtual space.  I wanted to lay my head over and cry for the joy of it and gushed to Jim how very much I love my friend.  And it's true: I love Jason Hatfield like a brother and always will.  But it's more than that. I love the girl who loved the horse, and no one else knew that girl, or that horse, or that season of my life quite like Jason.  Of the few things about which I never have to wonder, one is this: Firefly and I will always be bound up together in the heart of the man who was once my ten-, thirteen-, and seventeen-year-old companion on horseback.

1987 (13 Years Old)

1991 or 1992 (17 or 18)

My Parents' Farm 1988.  Firefly is on the right.

A Perfect Day - Lee Teter

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