When I was a kid ANYBODY who had a horse was doomed to be my "best friend". Didn't matter whether I liked them or not, they had a horse and by virtue of that I would do ANYTHING to be in their presence.
I recall the first day I met Jayne. Our family had been invited up to her family's vacation home in the Cascade Mountains. An old logging town called Cabin Creek, built in the early 1900's and used by the mill workers until the mill shut down. When they became vacant Jayne's family offered them to close friends to maintain and use as long as they didn't change the exterior of the buildings. This maintained the mill town as it originally stood and today, over one hundred years later, the cabins stand the same.
I'd been briefed that the family had a daughter about my age and that they had horses. By the time we arrived, in my six year-old mind Jayne had already become my best friend. When I got out of the car I thought I'd entered horse heaven. There was a corral full of horses. I was told they were used by the grown-ups and the corral was called the "Horse Corral".
I was told there was also another corral which was called the "Pony Corral". It hosted two beautiful POA ponies, a sorrel and a buckskin. I thought I'd died and went to heaven - TWO corrals with horses in them!!
Shortly after our arrival, Jayne's parents requested she take my siblings and I over to ride the ponies. From her demeanor over to the Pony Corral, it was obvious it wasn't the first time she'd been asked to do this. She surely wasn't thrilled with the task but she saddled the sorrel named Rusty and of course I elbowed my siblings out of the way and hopped on first.
It was also not the first time Rusty had been asked to entertain visitors and he promptly dumped me in the dirt. I landed on my right arm, still sensitive from getting my cast off a few months earlier compliments of my first fall off of a horse. It hurt and I was sure I'd broken it again. I began to cry and wanted my Mommy.
I remember Jayne firmly warning (more like threatening) me to not say a word about what had just occurred because Rusty had dumped her months before that and she'd also broken her arm. She didn't want Rusty to be in trouble. I wiped my tears and kept my silence. After all, isn't that what a best friend does?
By the end of that weekend, our family had been offered use of one of the cabins. We were now part of the Cabin Creek community. Each time we'd come up, like a magnet I'd run to first see the horses and then off to locate my best friend, Jayne.
Since I'd only ambushed trail riders at home to beg them for rides, I didn't know a thing about taking care of a horse. Jayne was meticulous about the care of her horses and I was an intent listener. I followed her around like a dog. I watched and I learned.
Fast forward through the years spent with our families at Cabin Creek. In high school where we stayed up in the mountains for entire summers, swimming in the creek and riding bareback in the cool golden evenings. On to college together in a cowboy town where she brought along her hot-headed Quarter Horse and I received permission ride a local horse so we could comb the fields together.
Onto our professional lives where we still rode when we could, together at Cabin Creek in the summers or the low lands on her family's property in the winter. Our lengthy conversations on horseback where we contemplated dumping or keeping boyfriends, the success and disappointments of our careers and later marriages. We laughed at the joy of our children's births and cried at the loss of our loved ones.
After we were both married our favorite time together included mucking out the low land barn where one now aged pony and a no longer hot-headed horse resided. We trudged through mid-knee deep muck, sweating, laughing, and happily complaining about whatever struck our fancy. We always left filthy dirty but content at the smell of clean shavings and knowing we'd done something good for the horses.
The horses and ponies passed away and the corrals at the cabin and the low lands remained empty and began to deteriorate. My husband and I purchased our first home on the edge of her family's property and with their generosity, it was here where I had grown up riding and mucking out the barn that I brought my first horse home.
After years of standing empty, family and friends rebuilt the Horse Corral at Cabin Creek and we started bringing up our horses with us. Horses once again became a part of "Camp".
When our daughter started showing we found ourselves spending most of our weekends out in the country. On a whim we stopped to look at a place that was For Sale. Two months later we were moving. I said goodbye to my wonderful surrogate family who had so generously allowed me keep my horses at their place and to the low lands where Jayne and I had ridden, now filled with houses.
Four years have passed since we moved. Jayne and I see each other at Cabin Creek and catch up on the phone when we can. She's been following my adventure with Champ and recently called and asked if she could come out and watch us. I didn't have to say a thing, she arrived dressed to ride.
After Champ and I went through our paces, I suggested Jayne get on. She was a bit hesitant but bravely climbed on. I admire her Grit. After not riding for so many years I know how tentative she must have felt. Bless Champ for sensing this and treating her so well.
When Jayne was finished she asked if she could climb back off via the mounting block and I told her I didn't think that was a safe idea. I held Champ while she slid off. Since Champ is +16 hands, it's a long way to the ground and as Jayne landed she fell backwards onto her rear and up her backside.
We both laughed as I helped her up. I asked Jayne if she knew what she had to do next and she replied, "Yeah, I have to get back on don't I?" So back up she went and off she rode for a few more minutes before getting down successfully this time.
Later as we unsaddled Champ we talked about being older and the challenges faced in returning to riding. Jayne is interested in riding again and I've suggested we take lessons together. We will laugh and cheer each other on. With the assistance of a trainer it will help Jayne regain her confidence and hopefully keep the experience safe and positive for her.
It's been a long time since Jayne gave that six-year old girl a ride on Rusty. For almost 50 years she's been there for me, sharing her knowledge and later encouraging me to keep riding and not give up. Recently she was on the rail at my first horse show, grinning ear to ear. When we get together and are around horses we return in time to the many wonderful memories we've shared. Jayne is truly my best friend, my 50+ pal.