I feel such sorrow.
Dar came back to the jousters today. In the end, I put his needs completely before my own.
Work kept me away from the barn for 12 days. I finally saw Dar on Tuesday evening. The solitary confinement of the past six weeks had been taking its toll on him, but I saw it bluntly, plainly, after being away for those days. He ran to the fence, calling over and over again. Not even to me, particularly, but for the diversion, a break from the boredom and confusion. It cut into me, quick and precise, the recognition of his unhappiness. Intolerable. It was intolerable to me.
Last night I gave him a bath, something which was so important to me to do. My best friend held the lead line while I scrubbed Dar. I washed his thick tail three times, shampooed his hind fetlocks back to bright white, and rinsed him until the water ran clear. I put everything I had into it and then felt a kind of peace watching him dry as he grazed in the grass arena.
It rained overnight, of course, and Dar rolled in the fresh mud this morning. I laughed when I saw him, but Jouster Steve was stunned by the changes in Dar; he could have cared less about the mud. Still, I groomed Dar before leading him to Steve's trailer.
Steve tried unsuccessfully to load Dar, then turned him over to me. I broke a carrot in half. "Come on, Dar. Let's go in there," I said. He crunched the carrot and we stepped into the trailer. Because this is my horse, that's why, I thought. It just flicked through my mind.
We drove 40 minutes to the fair. Dar called and sang out. He was keyed up, but trailered well. Then up the winding road to the pasture, slow over the ruts. I backed him out of the trailer and walked him through the gate. When I slipped his halter off, he immediately ducked to graze. "Horses, Dar. There's horses here." I pushed his rump. He lifted his head then and stepped into a trot. I could hear them coming. Skyler, Max and Sunny, three abreast, crested the hill. Dar startled and swept around them. Cutter, Kilvarro and Blaze joined in. The seven cantered the pasture in a large, swooping arc. Just the one lap and it was done. They grazed.
I stood watching Dar for 45 minutes. I felt elated because I could see the relief in him; I could feel it. One by one, the jousters joined to watch. Dar weighs 300 pounds more than he did when they last saw him; he's grown half a hand taller. His eyes are alive with energy and health. None of this was lost on them today.
I walked away feeling proud. I think I earned that. They acknowledged my horsemanship. I think I earned that too.
I went to my office and worked for a while and then drove to the bank in my borrowed pickup truck. It was when I left the bank that a horrible pit opened up in my stomach: Oh, no. What have I done? It was like a riptide; I never saw it coming. The feeling built and built and built. Tears of grief. The fierceness of my love for him. The shock of never really having ridden him.
"Dar," I had called to him just before I left the pasture. No camera could capture the joy in his face as he lifted his head to my voice, ears tipped forward, there among the herd.