Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #49 // Haunted by Anne Penfield

His body is shot through with tension. He trains his ears on the woods. I look through his ears, through the bare branches and staggered trunks to see what he is sensing. A squirrel darts along the snow. His ears flicker, head lowers, and his breath clouds out. My knees are snugged into the saddle knee rolls. I shake my shoulders. I murmur something to him; his ear twitches in response. He is bold. When I accept this motion as part of my own, I too am bold. I press my heels to his side and tip forward into a gallop. Snow crunches underfoot. We are a glimmer through the dark trunks of the forest.

I rehearse the fall in my mind. It creeps into my thoughts unexpected. The moment at the March competition when I asked for the big jump but then vacillated. You decide, went through my mind. Take the extra stride. Then, Maybe not? And he stuttered a step. He was unaccustomed to my indecision. His hesitant small step stole his power from the take-off and he jumped flat, hitting the front of the fence with his shoulders and rotating over and together we fell to the ground. I was falling down his left shoulder, watching the ground close in. Did I push away slightly with my hands to separate, or did I just get lucky? Don’t crush my leg. My shoulder crunched, first point of contact. I heard a pop. The frozen ground unforgiving and with a bounce, my shoulder popped again.

My cheek in the dirt, I opened my eyes and looked right into the eye of my horse on the ground beside me. His eye was not afraid, not bewildered. He was simply looking back at me. I didn’t hear the approach of people running towards us. I looked in his eye. And then he pushed up with his front legs, his nose high pulling the weight up off his haunch, and then stretching forward as his hocks pushed him to standing. And he pulled me to my feet.

You fall; you get back on. You fall; you get in an ambulance. You tell them you’re fine and you ask for water and Advil. But my arms don’t really move. I am T-Rex Annie with my arms only taking action from the elbow. I splice a ride into every day between children and work. In time, I allow the correct stride. Fear lives with me, but I don’t run from it. I want this heightened sensory world. This calm within the aura of his smells and sounds. The quiet attentiveness of his ear. The surge over a fence and the quick get away down the track. I go the fence, again and again, until I am again quiet. Until I absorb all the sensations flickering in a moment, like this moment: the squirrel, the crunch, the visible breath, the sweat. I recover, because I so desperately want to ride again.

Anne Penfield’s work has been published in Fourth Genre, Hunger Mountain, Loquacious, and area tack journals. Her essay “The Half-Life” was named a “Notable Essay” by Best American Essays 2014. She earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2011. She lives in Vermont with her husband, three children and several horses. Most days she works in her tack shop, Strafford Saddlery.”