The Greatest Gift

October 16, 2007
“What if he’s the one and we just happen to find each other on my birthday? How cool would that be?” The teenage girl with big brown eyes and a cheerful expression was driving with her mother, talking not of a boy as most girls but of an animal. That animal was a horse- a dark, muscular, fiery horse with the strength of ten men but the heart of the kindest: a dream horse. But only a dream until nine years had gone by and her stubbornness, love, and commitment finally convinced her parents to look for a horse.
The day was one they had experienced together before. The forty-minute drive to the barn where the teenager had spent years of her sweat and time to grab her saddle, her prized possession, and their busy trainer to go meet the next horse they were going to try. Already nine times her heart had been filled with suspense and excitement only to find that there was no connection or the horse was too small for her lanky legs.
“Well, we have to get there first,” the mother laughed, she was toying with the video camera on her lap although they were only at the beginning of the driveway -at the first stop-not where the horse was.

“Mom, we don’t need the camera yet, gosh!” the teenager answered irritably, her barn boots raised on the dashboard. Pulling into the lower parking lot, the girl’s trainer was waiting outside. Disorganized and busy the trainer’s appearance was surprising. “Wow, Olana is waiting for us!” the daughter screamed yet the joy and surprise was wiped from her face when Olana’s expression turned questioning as the car’s doors open and closed.

“I forgot you were coming. I’m sorry.” The girl’s disappointed face was hard to bear so they walked together through the double doors to talk to Olana’s next student, hoping she could leave early. But suddenly Olana stopped abruptly and turned to the girl. In her hand was a folded piece of paper.
“Today is that
special day
you do not have to wait
no way-
I was told you were tall
and thin
I know I can take you places
you have never been
you need to take your time
and be very
for I am young
this was such a must
by the way my name is Gus
Yet instead of happiness, a questioning look flickered over the girl’s face. “Who is Gus?” The shock, the impossible was making her mind ignorant. But a look downward showed a chalk written “Happy Birthday” and an arrow pointing up the long, endless aisle of Evenstride Barn. She flowed down the aisle, in a trance, her eye on one thing, the end of the aisle. Her mind thought of nothing else that it was blank. “Surprise” was written in front of a stall at end. The normally brown and black stall was covered in blue and green wrappings, her favorite colors. The paper covered the whole side and ribbons were everywhere. “Surprise” and “Happy Birthday” shouted from the next stall over as all her barn friends had shown up and hidden to watch her face. And inside, he stood.
He was covered in a green blanket, making the black coat even darker as he calmly munched hay, not knowing what was really happening outside. The white ribbon tied around his neck hung loosely and sideways, foreshadowing his goofy personality under the huge body of rippling muscle. He looked up and nickered gently surprised at the girl standing quietly in his stall with tears running down her face. Unable to recall when she had started crying the girl turned to face her friends and family as they had lined up behind her watching the two bond. “He is really yours.” Her mother didn’t know whether the shock had caused so much emotion that she couldn’t think clearly. The stern older woman, another border, who had ridden for many years, stood among her friends. The lady, who was always quick to give her opinion, was crying. They were all crying.
The teenager had worked at this barn for nine years. She had faced down the hardships including having to give up a horse she loved dearly, a horse that behaved for no other and finally became quiet again. The horse, Cheyenne, had been healed by the girl, their connection had been extremely deep. The horse was sold, the trainer knowing she wasn’t the right horse for the rider who wanted to go far. The people at the barn had seen that. They had seen the hardworking child learn through her mistakes and slowly get more informed around the animals. They had seen her try her hardest and yearn for something all of her life. Even before she could speak, horses had been the things she had loved most dearly. Her parents had signed her up for riding lessons; ignorantly thinking it was something she was going to outgrow. The girl was finally getting her dream, on the day of her fifteenth birthday.
Timidly, shaking, the girl reached out her hand and stroked the soft skin, “Hi, Gus.” She gave everyone watching a huge hug but found her mother’s eyes at last. They looked at each other and neither had to say anything. That afternoon had been happiness beyond imaginable. The girl was named Tina, and this was how I got the greatest gift ever.

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