“No, it can’t be.” Slowly my hands caressed the sweetsmelling leather of his bridle, and my fingers traced the small letters engraved on the tiny brass nameplate. J-U-D-A-H. Judah. My gaze dropped from my friend’s sympathetic face to the bridle in my hands to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. The only thing that I could see past my tears was the shiny metal plaque on my best friend’s bridle. My chest grew tight and a sob rose in my throat as I made out the tiny red hearts that I had painted around his name. I realized suddenly that my lips were moving in a silent prayer. “Please no, God, please don’t let it be true. Not Judah. Not my stubborn, cantankerous, sweet, wonderful Judah! Please don’t let it be true.” But it was true. I knew that it was true. Judah was gone.
Coming to this stable for riding lessons and meeting Judah was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. He was a sorrel thoroughbred gelding, kind of plain looking but beautiful in my eyes. There wasn’t really anything special about his appearance, except the large white splotch on his forehead that made an almost perfect map of the Middle East, hence his unusual name. But something had drawn me to him, and ever since the first time our eyes met, we were a team. I had learned to ride on Judah, and almost all of the blue ribbons that adorned my bedroom wall had been won from Judah’s back. The tall thoroughbred was an excellent teacher, and everything I knew about horses I attributed to him and my riding instructor, Holly. I had won many ribbons and spent many happy times on and around Judah, and when my father left my family for good, it was Judah whose mane I had cried in. We were a team.
Or, we had been.
My mind was numb and I wanted to be alone, but I listened while my friend told me what had happened.
After the first of several mild knee injuries that Judah had suffered over the last few years, his owner and my riding instructor, Holly, had begun to consider retiring him. After all, Judah was getting rather old. However, his quick recovery and the way he threw himself back into his work convinced her that he would be able to give riding lessons for quite a while yet, so Judah stayed. That was the way it had been after his second injury, too. But when the same problem popped up again, Holly had decided that it was time to turn the most amazing horse in the world out to pasture. She had made the decision without telling anyone, and he had left to go to another farm two days ago.
I wanted to be mad at Holly for sending Judah away, but I couldn’t. I was too miserable to be angry. Already I missed my horse. Well, not my horse. Judah was Holly’s horse, and it wasn’t like she needed anyone’s permission to retire him. Only Judah, God, and I knew that I thought of him as my horse. Judah’s fuzzy orange ears were the only ones that I had ever whispered it to. If only it were true. If only he was my horse. But he wasn’t. And he was gone.
I walked out of the stable without a word, never realizing that Judah’s familiar leather bridle was still clutched in my hands.
I couldn’t bring myself to go back to the stable after that, so instead I turned my attention to finding my best friend in the world. After numerous emails to Holly, I learned that Judah was still in the state, but Holly had forgotten the name of the place where he was, and she didn’t have time to try to find it. So, after that, all of my spare time was spent researching stables in the area and sending countless emails, letters, and phone calls to the owners to find out if an old sorrel thoroughbred with an irregular white splotch on his forehead lived there. Sometimes, if nobody replied to my desperate messages, my mom would drive me to the stable or farm after work to ask in person. Yet, though I knocked on many doors and sent countless emails and all my allowance money was spent on postage stamps, I could not locate Judah. It had been over a month since I’d seen him last, and every night I barely held back a flood of tears when I looked at the many pictures of him scattered about my room.
While driving to my sister’s dance recital on a chilly day in October, we passed an unfamiliar stable set far back from the road. A pasture full of lush grass sprawled toward the road, and I scrutinized it, as I always did, for horses. Suddenly, I spotted a tall, fuzzy sorrel grazing near the middle of the pasture. “Mom, can we stop here for a second? Please?” The strained, high-pitched voice that asked the question sounded more like a dying duck than me. But I didn’t care. Tears pricked at my eyes, and my throat constricted. My heart pounded. My mom pulled over with a concerned glance in my direction.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she queried. I didn’t answer. The next few moments passed in a blur. There was a house near the barn, and I leaped out of the car and sprinted to it. Almost as soon as I knocked on the door, someone opened it.
After that, I don’t remember anything of what happened except for hearing the words “Judah, yes” and “go see him.” That was all I needed to hear.
Blinded by tears, I tore across the lawn and vaulted over the fence to the pasture. “Judah!” I called out to my horse with as much strength as I could muster, ignoring the tears streaming down my face. The next instant, Judah was coming toward me, and I threw my arms around his neck and buried my face in his mane. Far too soon I would have to get back in the car for my sister’s recital, and I would have to leave my beloved Judah again. But just then none of that mattered. For a wonderful moment, it was just me and Judah, and I don’t believe that I have ever been happier than in that single moment with him.