She was perfect. He was smitten. Her glistening, raven hair; luminous, brown eyes; slender, taut torso; and gentle, sweet spirit were everything he had imagined in his dreams.
The ensuing span of years never diminished his memory of that first encounter. An awakening of both the season and dawn of that crisp spring day greeted him as he casually mounted his horse and rode the lower pastures, his daily routine for reassurance that his livestock had fared well overnight. Although he somehow sensed their presence, as he entered the tranquil pine thicket, he was startled at the reality of the scene. There, warmly nestled against her mother’s flanks, lay the tiny, sleeping foal, only hours old. The love story had begun.
Over the years Fanny blossomed into a beautiful, talented horse, the obvious favorite among Ed’s herd. The telepathic bond shared by man and beast seemed mystical, quite touching to observe. One rarely saw one of them without the other as the daily farm work progressed. Their affection for each other was palpable.
With great pride, head held high, and plume-like tail switching rhythmically behind her, Fanny pranced with noticeable pleasure while transporting the family to church in their shiny, black surrey, or accompanying them on neighborhood outings. Ed had no need to tie her to a hitching post, for Fanny always obeyed his command to wait until he returned.
She was the first of the horses to stand patiently, as Ed placed the cumbersome harness on her back, while preparing for spring planting. His simple, calm, verbal direction was all she needed to move correctly and methodically along the rich, moist furrows. Years after she was retired from this annual chore, Fanny would walk freely and happily behind the younger horses, as they turned the fresh earth for planting, seeming to relish her position as the experienced matriarch.
Old age eventually crept up on both the horse and her master. Among her other ailments, Fanny suffered with poor teeth. With love and compassion for his friend, Ed decided to let Fanny roam freely on the farm property and have her fill of any crops she desired. When one of the neighbors seemed aghast that Fanny was eating in the corn patch, Ed firmly replied, “That’s fine! She has worked hard all these years and has earned the right to eat anything and anywhere she pleases.”
One frosty, winter morning, when Fanny was nearing her twentieth year, she stood in the horse barn quietly enjoying her daily breakfast of oats, hay, and cotton seed meal from the old oak feed bin, as she had done so many mornings prior. Although he knew better, Ed had the bad habit of walking up behind his horses and affectionately slapping them on the rump, along with his boisterous, hearty greeting. As he did so this morning, he startled Fanny, who immediately dropped dead at his feet.
Ed never recovered from the guilt of his sad, careless act, nor the loss of Fanny. He never owned another horse.
Jane-Ann Heitmueller relishes a life of retirement from the field of education as a resident of the 1873 family homestead, Mulberry Farm. A mood of nostalgia and whimsy permeates her short stories and poetry in an attempt to absorb the unique facets of each new day, which bring joy to her heart and harmony to her soul. Jane-Ann's thoughts, written under the literary umbrella Barnwood and Lace have been published in a variety of books, magazines, newspapers, and online.