By Joy Stromberg, Questa, New Mexico
Jasper is dead.
Last night I cried. I’m glad he’s not in pain but right now, I’m gonna remember him.
When I first saw him, I was in awe… he glowed lIke silver from so far away.
“Who’s the Buckskin?” I asked.
“Oh, Tank?” The teenage girl replied, “No one rides him. He was a cutting horse on a ranch. My dad is trying to sell him since he’s the only one who can handle him.”
“Mind if I ride him?”
“If that’s what you want to do. Ask my dad first”.
I went out to catch him, not knowing what I would meet.
I was having trouble with my new mare, Tequila. She was suspicious of my motives: I just wanted to love her but she disregarded me as though I had already hurt her.
How was I supposed to climb over a wall like that?
I approached the group that was grazing in the marsh.
“Tank” the name fell on deaf ears. Click, whistle. Not even an ear twitch.
He looked like a horse I knew when I was a kid, in my mind I had already named him… “Jasper” the name stuck and he lifted his head.
“C’mere, Jasper” I stood perfectly still as he approached me, acquainting himself with my scent and touching my shoulder. I stroked his soft neck and haltered him.
Through the yucky, ankle-high wet lands we navigated. We were almost to dry land before I plunged waist high into a “hidden” pond. He was up to his chest in mucky water, unpleased, but maintaining his composure. I unstuck my boot from the bottom and waded hip deep to the other side. We scrambled up the banks.
“Go for a swim, Joy?” My employer laughed. I grinned. The mud only lengthened the black stockings on Jasper’s legs.
At the end of the work day I saddled Jasper. He buzzed with anticipation.
There is wisdom in the old adage that you should start yourself with a settled horse, maybe an old nag, to build your confidence and esteem in the saddle. That never applied to my first horse, or my second horse. If I were to quiet my “jitters”, it wouldn’t be because I had a really calm, unexciting horse to help me accomplish that.
No. It was me, Jesus, and this independently minded, 1,200-pound beast I was sittin’ on….
He zipped down the road… fast. I had raced just the other day but this horse… He moved faster than any other I had ever ridden and Jasper wasn’t even warmed up. I pulled back to slow him but he didn’t take the “suggestion.” Then, his hind hooves slipped in the wet grass (oh Lord!), he swifty corrected his steps and I reigned him in to a full halt. I gave him a pat.
“I know you wanna run;” I whispered, “but if we’re gonna survive this, you’re gonna have to trust me.”
He pawed the ground and snorted as we took off again. This time he softened his neck and paid closer attention to my direction. He would shake his head in agitation as I pulled him to a stop again and again.
The sun sank and rose again with the new day. Jasper approached me with just as much fervor as he had the day before. The girls lined up along the fence line for a race, all in good fun. We shot out over the hill, down the ravine then along the plains. I let Jasper have his neck and he breathed deeper. His shoulders pumped faster and faster, carrying us further and further ahead of the other two horses. I was so anxious about the holes, rocks and abrasions in the earth before us that I scarcely noticed that we were six furlongs ahead of our friends.
Fear clutched in my throat: If God wanted to take me home, here was an opportunity.
When I thought Jasper had reached his potential he surprised me with even more power and speed. Where did he muster this? From his heart. I could count the beats through the saddle.
As the summer rolled on, we complimented each other. He dusted off some manners and I beamed brighter and brighter with confidence and learned skill.
“How much do want for him?”
“Joy -I’ve been working with him, so now he’s ready for the trail. I’m not selling him”
“Sir, he can’t take that kind of weight. There’s a very small arthritic development on his left knee. My vet said he should be a one person horse right now. Anything heavier than 150 pounds will surely worsen his condition. Besides,” I narrow my eyes, “You haven’t sat on his back in three months”
“Then he owes his progress to you.”
After much praying, planning and Divine leverage, I purchased Jasper from my employer. He, along with the rest of the herd, were a sore sight to behold.
Then his former owner ran out of town, leaving behind a herd of hungry horses and a list of debt to the local townspeople.
I was only capable of rescuing the one: Jasper. Other good people stepped up to take in some of the abandoned horses, a few good folk fed the remaining herd but some of the herd still perished in the winter.
Jasper was not the same physically and his condition only got worse. But his gentleness, sense of humor, and desire to do anything for me, never faded.
After the weather changed on Wednesday, Jasper colicked. It was not impaction but his gut moved out of place.
I am grieving the loss of a very dear friend — one who nudged my back as he shadowed my footsteps.
I am deeply touched by my family’s support, Dr Babits Equine Medicine Wheel and Mr. Bobby Ortega for bringing his Backhoe.
I give thanks to God, the giver of life, who gives grace in all circumstances.
And I’m incredibly thankful to have had Jasper.
I will move on.
Editor’s note: Joy Stromberg originally posted her moving thoughts on Facebook and graciously gave the Chronicle permission to reprint.