“Grandpa, tell us the story one more time. Pleeeeeze!” Pleading eyes stared at me, and then Jerri wrinkled her nose. That did it – who can resist that?
“Ok,” I mock sighed. “Are you sure you want to hear it again? You’ve heard the story maybe a million times before!”
“Oh yes, yes. Please oh please oh please!” The four of them danced in front of me.
I settled back, took a deep breath and started off, “Well, I just a young guy, used to having freedom every day, playing with my friends, cavorting in the fields, when Mom came to me, tears in her eyes, and told me to get ready. ‘Ready for what?’ I asked her innocently.”
The grandkids gave each other meaningful looks, and jostled one another as they anticipated what came next.
“‘Come son. Let me show you.’ she said slowly. She led me down the drive, the one I’d been told not to go down on pain of death. The trees hung low over the road, dappling the packed down earth and we made barely any noise as we wended our way down. I stuck close to Mom, especially when I heard a screech.”
Malcolm, the baby, shuddered in delight, and squealed, “I know what’s coming next!” “Shush” his older brother murmured, “Let Grandpa talk.”
“No. Mal, you tell us. What comes next?” This was a ritual, each of the grandkids got to tell the next part of the story.
He wriggled in excitement, barely able to keep his legs still, “You jumped like a million miles high, and it turned out to be nothing more than a gate squeaking.”
“Thank you for that most inviting picture of my bravery, Malcolm,” I said in my sternest voice, but the twinkle in my eye belied any anger. “All right — moving on. Mom swung around as I jumped and said, ‘Oh my goodness. They were right. You have talent.’ ‘Talent? Talent for what?’ I asked, a little nervously. ‘You’ll see’ she smiled enigmatically.
“We turned a corner, and that’s when I saw it — the largest arena ever, filled with sawdust, and banked by seats. But what grabbbed my attention was the human standing in the middle. When she caught sight of us, she beckoned. I stopped short, but Mom nudged me. ‘It’s all right, go on. She’s really nice, she won’t hurt you.’ Hesitantly, I stepped forward, through the gate and joined this blonde woman with the warm, inviting smile.
“’Hello Favory, my name is Tonya, and I can tell we’re going to be best friends.’ Her hands reached out to pat my neck, warm, supple hands, gentle on my coat. I relaxed under her touch. I peeked back at my mother, who gave me a reassuring look, and began to trot away.
“Quickly I broke away from Tonya’s grip and cantered after Mom. ‘Mom! Mom! Where am I?’ ‘Why darling, we live in the most legendary place of them all — the Imperial Spanish Riding School! And, you’re going to be famous one day!’ I gave her a quizzical look, ‘Me? Famous? Why?’
“She nudged me gently and replied, ‘Because without even thinking about it, you could do Airs Above Ground, the most difficult maneuver that any horse can do. Now, I will be back to visit you every day and watch your progress. But son, your future is here.’ And with that she walked away.”
“And she was right, wasn’t she grandpa?” Tessa asked.
I shifted my weight from one hoof to the other, and smiled depreciatingly, “Well, let’s just say, jumping comes natural to me.
“But, listen. I hear footsteps. Look at the time! Kids, it’s time to meet Tonya and start your first day of haute école!”