My good riding friend had joined me for this second ride. As we'd done on our previous ride two days earlier, we chatted as we rode next to each other. We rode at a walk for about 20 minutes - and then it happened...
I looked down - surprised. He stumbled again. I asked my friend to observe from next to me. Bob tripped, stumbled and tripped again.
A few days earlier my friend had commented that Bob's front legs looked a little weak and had suggested working with poles to build up his strength. Now she observed Bob's knees were shaking and he was rolling over his front feet like he used to.
I stopped and could feel his front legs quivering as I sat on him. I jumped off, a lump in my throat.
Both knees appeard to be suddenly swollen (they weren't like that when I'd gotten on). A twenty minute ride in 72 hours had resulted in Bob and I returning back to where we'd been twelve months ago.
I stood holding Bob in misery knowing it was time to face the truth. The efforts I'd taken to resolve Bob's issues hadn't worked. I'd pulled out all the stops for the love of this horse. Just as he'd done for me on so many rides, I'd done the same for him - I'd tried my best.
It was a quiet, somber drive home. After I unloaded Bob and put him back in the pasture I called my husband. When I tried to tell him about our ride and that Bob's riding days were over - that he was now officially retired - my throat closed up and all I could do was squeak one word out at a time...and then I couldn't speak at all. Tears flowed and I sobbed in pain and disappointment. Bob and I'd come to the end of our trail.
But my husband - the most wonderful guy in the world, knew exactly what to say. He reminded me that Bob wasn't going anywhere, that he has a forever home with us and just because I can no longer ride him doesn't mean I can't still interact with him and maintain the special bond we've developed.
And he reminded me that there is a horse here that needs me right now. My husband gently told me that he understood why I've been focusing on Bob but (with a bit more direction) he suggested that it was now time to take advantage of the great opportunity I've had sitting here.
He told me that one door had closed but another door was open and waiting for me to walk through.
I took a few sniffs, wiped my eyes and agreed. Bob will hopefully be here for many years in our pasture and I can still go out and receive those blubbering sighs. And I recognized how lucky I was to have another horse to turn to, a horse such as Elvis, that would challenge me yet take me places I've always wanted to go.
My husband was right. It was time to end Elvis's vacation. It was time to get to work on this talented six-year old horse, who may not take me down the road of sorting cows but would allow me to participate in Western Dressage and Performance.
I told my husband how much I loved him, hung up the phone and got up out of the pity chair. As I got up I stood up tall. I looked out the window and saw Bob happily grazing in the field. My gaze moved to the other horse near Bob, the gorgeous, big, strapping Appy Gelding, Rock on Hunter, aka Elvis, whose little white Appy spots are starting to come out as he matures giving him dazzle and bling.
And I knew that although one door had closed, another had opened and I was walking through it to Elvis and a fresh trail blessed by great memories of riding a little brown cow horse.