It’s been 10 days since we said goodbye to Jake, and my eyes still fill with tears each time I think of him. We haven’t even sold him yet! Two Sundays ago we sent him to live in an agent’s yard who will market him, show him to potential buyers and negotiate his eventual sale. He’s had a lot of interest and a handful of people are coming back this week for a second try on him. Despite my sadness, I feel so happy for the lucky person who is going to take him home. But I didn’t always feel that way.
We bought Jake for Coco when he was five and she was nearly twelve. Five is definitely on the young side for a horse intended to be ridden by a child. But Coco had always inherited excellent and more experienced ponies from her older cousins – they were “push button” as horse people like to say when referring to a horse that will do anything you ask on command. First Mr Teddy and then Sailor followed by Polo had all made Coco a confident and daring rider. So both her coach and her grandmother felt she was up to the task of taking on a bit more of challenge.Jake was a great jumper with a lot of potential, but he needed lots of hard work and discipline put into him. The woman who sold him to us told Coco very clearly that she would be challenged by having a young horse, but that ultimately the time she spent with him would make her an even better rider. As someone who didn’t grown up around horses, I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not, but I decided to trust those around me. If they believed Coco could handle him, then I would chose to do the same.
Learning to trust Jake took me a while. I could see his immaturity when he ran much faster on a windy day, spooked at a pile of mown grass or jumped too high over a fence when he was excited. There were times when I doubted whether I could handle watching my young daughter take on so much responsibility for a horse’s development. I sometimes woke up at night filled with self-doubt and questioning. Horse riding is so dangerous anyway, why would I increase the risk by putting her on such a young thing?
The turning point came when both Coco and Jake went off to boarding school. There she would ride him six days a week with a disciplined structure and routine for him to follow. They would train hard and compete a lot – it suited them both to have goals laid out in front of them. Then she would take him out hunting in the holidays to give him a fun reward for his good work at school. When I would visit Coco she was so proud to show me how far he’d come along.
By spring of the first year at school together, Coco invited me to come watch her in a local hunter trials at Gawcott, a famously difficult and scary cross country course – the hills there are steep and the jumps are tricky. It was only the second time they had ridden in the open class (the highest level of jumps) and there were bonus jumps even higher. Coco was a bit intimidated when she realised the competition was open to all ages. As she waited her turn to go around the course, she noticed she was surrounded by mostly men in their 30’s and 40’s on horses well over 16 hands, dwarfing Jake’s 15.1 hands. Always the nervous one, I suggested to Coco that she may want to skip the bonus jumps. Her only concession to me was that she’d play them by ear. Then I turned to Jake, as I always did before they did something scary together, took his head in my heads, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Ok Jake, you go out there and have some fun, and do your very best, but most importantly, you take care of Coco, you hear?”
I stood on the top of the hill watching as she and Jake went over the first handful of fences and hedges, soon to disappear into the woods where I couldn’t see them. I bit my lip and paced back and forth. At one point I heard the announcer say that Coco and Jake were having a clear round so far, and then I just caught a glimpse of them in the distance doing the water jumps perfectly. But then they disappeared behind the trees heading towards a terrible-looking fence with a HUGE drop going straight into the dark woods. I couldn’t bare not seeing that they’d made it through there ok. I heard nothing from the announcer for the next few moments. Then I saw Coco and Jake emerge from the thick trees at the bottom of the hill in front where I was standing. They cleared the final jump easily and galloped up the hill towards the finish line. As they whipped past me, I could tell from the huge smile on Coco’s face that they’d done all the bonus jumps and had a clear round, just before the announcer confirmed it. My eyes filled with tears of relief and pride. My little girl and her young, small horse came second that day – she being the only teenager to place in the top six. Leading Jake back to the trailer after being presented with their rosette, Coco turned to me and asked, “Do you trust us now, Mommy?” And I did trust them.
Jake never gave me reason to question him again. He has been steady and intelligent and a better hunter/jumper than we ever could have hoped for. But as with most growing children riding horses, Coco grew ten inches over two years and suddenly looked far too big on Jake. She rode him outgrown for nearly a year, before she was ready to let go, knowing that it would make no sense to keep him when he held so much potential for someone else.
For weeks before we sent him off, I was dreading the moment of goodbye. It would be so hard to see this pair that had grown so much together and brought out the absolute best in each other be divided up. But I also had my own sad feelings of saying goodbye to Jake. I had chosen to trust this lovely but slightly unruly boy with my precious daughter’s life, and over time he had risen to the challenge and had taken such very good care of her. Just before loading him into the horse box to leave the farm for the last time, I took his head in my hands, looked him in the eye and said, “Ok Jake, you go out there and have some fun, and do your very best, but most importantly, THANK YOU for looking after Coco.”