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The Gift Horse MAG
“I don't understand … You want me to ride that?” I asked, feeling my upper lip curl involuntarily – well, almost involuntarily.
“Ah … yes,” Jacob said, peering at me from under his Cleveland Brown's baseball hat. That in itself was something I didn't understand. Baseball hats for football teams?
“I'm sorry, Jake, but I refuse,” I said, shoving my blunt bangs out of my eyes. “I need a jumping horse. This one is barely worthy of a glue factory.”
I had come to Jake almost five years ago for my equestrian needs. He had provided me with three of my four prize mares, and now he was offering me this beast?
“McAllister, please. Don't you trust me?” Jake asked, his tanned skin glinting in the sun as he leaned on the fence, cowboy style.
“Yes.” He was the best horseman I knew.
The horse in question – a knock-kneed chestnut stallion with fleabites and scabs covering his lackluster coat – raised his head and whinnied, as if aware we were talking about him.
“Please give him a chance. I wouldn't be showing him to you unless I knew he was perfect for you.”
“Can he jump?” I asked, nuzzling the horse's nose with my open palm.
“Like you wouldn't believe.” Jake smiled and exposed his teeth, yellowed from nicotine and coffee.
“All right,” I sighed, knowing I'd caved too easily. “Let me grab my helmet. Are the jumps set up?”
“Right out back,” he said. I yanked my auburn curls back into a messy bun and jammed my black riding helmet on my head. It must have looked horribly out of place, this formal riding accessory, with my skinny jeans and ragged tank top.
“What's his name?” I called as I tied the laces of my vintage Pumas. I heard numerous nickers from the horses and inhaled the comforting smell of damp hay, mud, compost, and the shampoo that Jake used to wash the horses.
“We call him Trebeau.”
“Treble?” I asked, butchering the name as I took the reins Jake offered me.
“Très beau. Like “very handsome” in French.
“So it's false advertising?” I joked, hoisting myself into the saddle. “I think that's illegal in Ohio.”
I felt the horse's knees sway under my weight, all 120 pounds. “Are you sure he can support me?”
“Trust me,” he said for the second time in 15 minutes. I sighed and nudged Trebeau's sides with my shoes. I clucked my tongue against my teeth. The horse tensed up and so did I, bracing for a problem.
“Come on, handsome,” I coaxed.
“Run him around a bit,” Jake called. I nodded and turned Trebeau toward the line of jumps, the tops lined with bristles.
I sped him up around the turn. It felt like I was riding a camel in the deep end of a swimming pool. “What is going on?” I gasped, struggling to control the swaybacked animal.
“He's running,” Jake replied.
“Are you sure?”
“What happened to him?” I asked, as we passed Jacob the fifth time. I had avoided the jumps because I wasn't convinced Trebeau could handle them.
“Well, you know I rescue all my animals.”
“We found Trebeau tied up in a kitchen.”
“Yeah, and his tail was caught in the pantry door, so he had to stoop to support himself.”
“So that's why he has these knees?”
“Who would do that to him?”
“I don't know. But he's the strongest horse I've ever known,” Jake commented. I slowed down and allowed him to pat Trebeau's backside as we passed.
“He was broken down, but he still came out fighting and ready to go.” I detected fondness in his voice.
“You sound just like me, buddy,” I murmured, and the horse whinnied softly in reply. “We've both been broken, huh?” I stroked his neck. The small indentations in his skin began to feel like the craters of the moon – uneven and dented but full of mystery and possibility.
“Ready to try the jumps?”
“What do you say, Trebeau?” No response came from the horse, but I took it for a yes anyway.
I tapped Trebeau to the starting line. The horse broke into an uneven run, his hooves smacking the ground in an undistinguishable pattern.
“First jump … you can do it,” I urged.
I felt him start to raise his front legs and groaned. It was too early.
“McAllister!” Jacob yelled.
I yelped as my body hit the ground.
Jacob was at my side immediately, hoisting me up. I winced. “Sorry, sorry. Are you okay?” I sat up and looked over to where Trebeau was struggling to get up on his damaged knees. It was the most pathetic sight I'd ever seen – like a bug that had fallen onto a pool cover and was stuck in a tiny puddle of rainwater. “McAllister?” Jacob prompted. “Are you okay?”
“I think so. I think I broke my collarbone. Maybe my index finger.”
“Can you move it?”
“Ouch. No.” My finger cracked with an incredible amount of pain. I peeked over at Trebeau, who had struggled to his knees and was kneeling there inspecting me for himself.
“Your collarbone and fingers are definitely broken,” Jacob said. “I'm taking you to the hospital.”
“Man,” I groaned, and glared at Trebeau with all the intensity my blue eyes could muster.
Jacob grabbed my backpack. “Come on.”
“Wait, Jake. You're forgetting something.”
“My horse.” Trebeau wobbled pitifully over to me and stuck his head into the groove between my elbow and rib cage.
Jake cocked his head. “Are you sure?”
I left the stables with three broken bones and a new horse. I only regretted three of the four.