Monday, May. 27, 2024

Jagger

My first horse was a 7-year-old Appendix named Jagger—also Jaegger, Jaeggermeister, Little Sh!t, and (his show name) Rollie Pollie. He was short in stature (15.1-hands), big in scope (jumped 5’3”), and monumental in attitude. But of course I loved him. He packed my green, teenage self around every cross-country course we started. 

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My first horse was a 7-year-old Appendix named Jagger—also Jaegger, Jaeggermeister, Little Sh!t, and (his show name) Rollie Pollie. He was short in stature (15.1-hands), big in scope (jumped 5’3”), and monumental in attitude. But of course I loved him. He packed my green, teenage self around every cross-country course we started. 

He gave me confidence and miles and forgiveness, like every first horse should. I babied him, brought him five carrots and two apples a day, led him around proudly at shows, and tried not to take it personally when he grabbed my hair in his teeth and threatened to rear. Or when he, seemingly possessed by Satan himself, wheeled around to kick out while grazing at shows and then took off towards the arenas. Or when he routinely went through the canter work in his dressage tests like a twitchy porpoise (“croup high” said the judge).

Which is to say, much unlike my preteen self, Jagger had a great sense of humor. While my own self-esteem hinged on our SUCCESS and VICTORY and PERFECTION at every outing, Jagger’s self-esteem was in-built; instead, he took life as a series of games. 

Jagger

He loved to jump, but mostly on his own terms. When I asked for impulsion between fences, he would literally backfire, heels over head. Jagger: 1, Emilie: 0. Nick Larkin finally coached us best when, instead of yielding to such antics, he asked for more. “MORE BUCKING! MORE KICKING! YES! YES! YES!” Finally, I won that round. 

Jagger also had another, mellower evasion technique. We lived in Texas, where the summers are nothing less than infernal; always the self-starter, Jagger would occasionally take temperature matters into his own hands. First his head would go down, then his hocks would begin to bend, then his knees would buckle. Before I could realize what was happening, my stirrups would be touching earth. In puddles; in sand pits; in water complexes. 

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The first time he did this, I thought he was dying, and scrambled back in horror while my trainer ran over to whack his naughty, naughty rear end. The second time he did this, I was amused; the third time, I was pissed that my tack was yet again filthy. The fourth time, we were at a Stephen Bradley clinic, and my beige breeches turned out to be completely transparent when wet. I was wearing lucky ladybug underwear. I was mortified—the most mortified I think I’ve ever been in a horse-related scenario, even 15 years later.

I sold Jagger to a friend in the barn when I was 14. We did a few preliminary events, but he was mentally maxed out, and it was time for me to move to something that could share my goals instead of fight them. But he gave me the greatest three years of shenanigans—and, eventually, laughter—that I could have asked for. Somewhere in my parents’ basement is a VHS of our first prelim show jumping, wherein he launched an enormous, bronc-style lead change after a liverpool. In the video, I am finally laughing.

It would be easy to oversentimentalize this story, to suggest that Jagger had been intentionally teaching me lessons in humor and levity all along; that, like a fabled sage, he sensed my overwrought, preteen intensity and responded to it with didactic tricks. 

But I don’t think that’s accurate. I think Jagger was out to have a good time, at whoever’s dismay. He didn’t care about impressing anyone, and he certainly didn’t care about being perfect. That turned out to make him the best teacher that I could have asked for. 

Emilie, of Los Angeles, is one of the winners of the Chronicle’s second writing competition.

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