This exciting story comes from spazfilly at http://spazfilly.blogspot.com. I'm thinking there is an awfully fine writer here.
The easiest thing to forget about the ocean is that it can be heard long before it can be seen. Even from our campsite on the other side of the dunes, the rush and roar was a soft and insistent push on the senses. I heard it as I hoisted myself up onto the back of my four-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, settling in as he sidestepped a little, flicking his ears toward the sound of all that water, more water than he'd ever seen until just two days ago when we arrived. I was so proud of him when he walked into the water on the first try, even though he swayed when the first wave receded, like he might drift out to sea while my father's dunskin filly danced on the shore, unwilling to try out this strange place and its slippery, shifting footing.
We stepped off at a brisk walk toward the dunes, my father in the lead. Following behind, we were a shadow, my horse's black coat soaking up the flat light from the overcast summer sky. Hooves sunk deeply into the sand as we climbed the low rise of the dunes, sparse, wispy grass giving way to miles of beach. The sound of the water washed away the presence of the few other wanderers out for a morning walk clothed in warm sweatshirts and braced against the breeze that felt more October than August.
My horse's nostrils flared, taking in the salt air. It wasn't his nature to frisk, but I felt him alert beneath my legs. He was soft, watching the people and the birds, sidestepping a bit of driftwood here and there, but always flicking an ear back to check that I was with him. I patted him on the neck. Good boy. And then something happened that I should have expected from years and years of preparation. Dad abruptly stuck his heels into his filly's sides and she shot forward as though her tail was on fire. In that moment, a rush of memories came over me.
When I begged for a horse at six years old, Dad made a jar with a picture of a horse that we used to save up with the promise that I could have a horse at 11 if I still wanted one. I went to horse camp for a week and then got a hot, reactive four-year-old Morgan that we had no business owning, but I brushed the barbed wire out of his tail and made him mine. Dad helped me muddle through. He pored over horse books and tried to teach me about animal psychology and how to train animals. He walked down the trail with me, trying to help me not be scared of the horse that shied and jumped at invisible monsters. He eventually bought his own mare after enduring a great deal of preteen disapproval from me at the way he liked to gallop down the trail on my horse, who would come back foaming with sweat but still jigging and pulling at the reins.
There were many times we trail rode together and he took off through the woods with no warning, leaving me to cling to the mane of my wild little horse, white-knuckled until he stopped or I was thrown, whichever came first. Blackberry brambles, mud, creeks, and wild tangles of grass were all places I made crash landings. One time I clutched the pommel of my saddle, crying as he chased my horse around a round pen with a whip because I was afraid to go faster than a trot. My horse whirled through the pen at a canter trailing clouds of dust in his wake. I remember only the pure survival instinct of clinging to my horse's back and waiting for it to end. Stumbling back to the barn, I shook and cried. He left me there, driving home to tell my mother to "go pick up your daughter." I remember his disgust, and insistence that if I were a boy, no one would think he expected too much of me. For him it was about speed, about fearlessness - about the rush of flying through the woods and over any obstacle in his path. I was cautious by nature and because of that I failed him. I hung back. The words "trail ride" soon dropped my stomach into my boots every time I heard them.
Through it all he was, in his own way, trying to share something with me.
But things were different now. I sat on the back of a horse I trained myself, a horse who kept walking as Dad's filly bolted, though I could feel his heart beating through the girth. There was only a moment of hesitation before I put my heels to his sides, crouching low over his neck. He moved out into an easy canter, seeming surprised when I nudged him gently again. We were arena babies, destined for circles and finesse, not for speed. An extended canter was our Mach 10, still carefully regulated down the long side of the arena, each stride measured in the steady rhythm of a rocking chair. On the beach his strides willingly lengthened into a gallop, the snorts of his increased breath echoing over the sound of the waves rushing up to shore. I slid my hands further up his neck, clutching handfuls of his mane and urging him onward, to which he responded with yet another gear, and I learned what it meant to ride a descendant of the great racehorses Man O'War and Bold Ruler. The filly wasn't far ahead now. I could hear her hoof beats slapping against the wet sand, her tail flying out behind her, a black flag.
Our speed tore the air from my lungs, wind tears streaking back into my hairline. They were tears of pure speed, of going faster than I ever imagined as I clung to the back of a thousand pound animal bred for just this - for the beach falling away beneath us as we passed my father, passed people who pointed and stared until it was just us, me and my dark horse a northbound blur caught up in the unbridled joy of togetherness and freedom.
It was finally my turn to be in the lead.