There is one friend in the life of each of us,
who seems not a separate being,
however dear and beloved,
but an expansion, an interpretation of one’s self-
the very meaning of one’s soul.
Every time I walk into the pasture at Kaila’s place, I’m immediately surrounded by horses. Happy, fun, life-loving horses who just want to assimilate you into their herd. They want to show you things. They want to do things for you. They sniff you and crowd around you, taking their turn to introduce themselves politely and see if there’s anything they can impress or amuse you with. I always feel safe and welcome. I’m always a little bit in awe. Every time.
I joke that Blue is like a big lap dog. He’s more labrador retriever than he is horse. Kaila smiles at him as he turns himself inside out doing his whole lineup of tricks, just on the off chance that she *might* have a cookie in her pocket for him. She tells me that Blue is like her first love. As she rubs him under his forelock, his eyes close, his feet stop moving, and he sighs. He is happy. His girl is here and she is with him. And that is all he wants. Every time.
I ask Kaila what she means about Blue being her first love. “He’ll always have a special place in my heart. He was my first everything. My first horse. My first mistakes. My first accomplishments. He taught me everything I know. He’s the reason I’m here. He’s the reason that they’re all here,” she tells me as she looks out across her field at all of the happy horses. I’ve teased her for ages, telling her that as soon as she’s done with him, I’d take him off her hands. She giggles at me, pretending to be offended that I’d ever think she’d part with her first love.
I make a point of photographing the Meadow Brook horses at least a few times a year. It is not work. It’s a reminder why I started this job in the first place. My visits there humble me. They inspire me. They challenge me. My most recent shoot was on a perfect winter day. It was cold and fresh and big fluffy snowflakes fell from the just right cloud cover above. The wind picked up just enough to blow forelocks around. I got there late (surprise) and walked into the arena to introduce myself to the new girls. I asked Kaila who was getting pictures with which horses and she listed off all of the new pairings. She ended with, “…and me and Tru.” For the first time she didn’t add “…and maybe just a few pictures of me and Bluey…” like she’d requested every other time I’d been there. I’ve known for awhile that her first horsey love was slowly being replaced by her true horsey love. Literally. Her coming two year old filly, Tru, was her world now and even non-horse people could see the intense bond she shared with her. Still, I was left feeling a little nostalgic for the old times- Blue licking her face, snuggling in her hands, acting just as I knew he would, looking my way but not moving an inch when I whistled. I’d all but perfected photographing Kaila and Blue and it was a little sad knowing that I wasn’t going to be taking their picture that day.
A soft giggle came from the right side of the arena- I looked and there was Blue, moving his feet, licking a blue jacket, nuzzling in under the pink and brown tendrils of hair that hung over big brown eyes. Leigh made quick eye contact with me and shyly smiled, softly pushing Blue away. I walked over and introduced myself, all of the pieces coming together. “So YOU must be the girl that Kaila’s told me all about. You’re Blue’s new favorite person, she says.” Even more shyly than before, Leigh smiled at me. “Yah, I guess,”she said, turning her attention back to the grey horse, not for one second wanting all of the attention to be on her. My eyes got big as I turned around and smiled at Kaila, finally getting what she’d been telling me for the last few months. “He just LOVES her, Danique,” she’d tell me, “he does anything she asks. He’s so happy to be loved and played with again.” I got to see it myself when I took their pictures a few minutes later. This was why Kaila wasn’t worried about him. This was why she’d been able let him go.
Leigh is 13 going on 25. She is quiet and deliberate in everything she does and doesn’t say a lot. A quick smile and a polite answer to a question is about all she’ll give you if she doesn’t know you. Sometimes she hides her big brown eyes behind her fancy coloured hair, mostly because they’d give her away if she didn’t.
Yesterday morning I was able to do one of the most wonderful things. I was there when a little girl’s dream came true. I watched it happen. “Leigh,” Kaila said, her voice wavering just a little bit, “how would you like Blue to be your horse?” Leigh looked at us, a bit confused. She said, “Ok.” Kaila explained it to her again. She did not jump around, or scream, or yell, or say one word. She barely moved. She was speechless. As it sunk in, she turned around and looked at Blue and looked at us again and then hugged him. She hung onto his neck for a long time. She gave that grey horse a long, hard hug like she was never going to let him go. Because now, she didn’t have to.