The cool breezy Saturday morning was filled with irregularities. Usually, around nine in the morning, mom would come banging down the stairs with her pre-coffee attitude and looks to match. Her blinding smile more brutal and penetrating than the glaring South African sun just beyond our U.S government issued cream curtains. But that Saturday, the warm rumble of our dad’s voice, along with the fresh scent of pancakes, eggs, and freshly brewed coffee was the first thing that greeted us.
For months I had been questioned by my friends. “Why doesn’t your dad live with you?”, “Do your mom and dad not love each other anymore?”, “Are your parents divorced?” Looking at it now, I’m a little more understanding when it comes to my former self. Back then, it was a hard question to answer. I knew my parents loved each other, and I knew that they were still married and were not planning on ever getting a divorce. It was just simply a bad set of circumstances. When we first moved to South Africa, my father had to return to the United States for certain training that was required of him. The training only lasted 6 months, but it was a long enough time that the post that had previously been available in the Embassy to my father was filled. It became clear that my dad was going to have to be apart from us for a while longer than he had fully expected. Later that year, my sister and I found out that dad had been posted in Senegal, a small nation North of Africa that was suffering from all sorts of different economic, environmental, and political issues, but was nevertheless still strong in its own regard. Upon taking his post, my dad unfortunately had to miss out on some big events in our lives. Birthdays, ballet lessons, choir recitals, international day, family day and all sorts of other events that fathers and mothers alike wouldn’t miss for the world. So this Saturday morning, was an extremely special one.
By the time my sister and I had gotten dressed into our overly tight riding pants and dragged our still-sleepy selves down the pristine white tiled stairs through the recently unlocked grill-gate to the kitchen, dad had already finished quietly preparing himself for the day. His legendary USMC hat sat proudly upon his head while in one hand he sipped his coffee and in the other he slipped away the little camera my mom had given him for Christmas.
When we had arrived to the stables that morning, my dad was hiding away his excitement. Mom had usually been the one helping us toss the heavy beginner’s saddles upon the backs of our horses, and she had usually been the one to hold the horse steady as we pulled ourselves upon their powerful backs. Today, for the first time since he had left for Senegal, my dad had the opportunity to do all the things he had missed out on.
Sabrina that morning seemed more giddy than usual to get out of the stables. Her cookies n’ cream colored coat glistened from the rigorous amount of time I spent brushing and caring for her. Upon pulling her out of the stables that morning, I was determined that the two of us would perform beyond the best of our capabilities, to show just how far the two of us had come, how our bond had changed from the two of us nipping and picking at each other.
Riding into the arena that morning felt like a regular Saturday for all of the other riders. Routine warm-ups for ourselves and our trusty steeds, then towards the torture of two point position, and then finally towards the more fun part of the lesson. Jumping.
Sabrina had a natural talent for jumping and galloping. It was as if her only true purpose was to run and jump. Sitting astride her the first time was the most terrifying experience of my life, feeling all of those muscles, all of that power suddenly spring into action at full force, and me, tiny little 10-year-old me consumed with fear clinging onto her with every living fiber in my body. But as time went on I learned to adapt, to ride with her rather than upon her. So that morning, as my instructor laid out the jumping course for all of us to do in front of all of our proud onlookers, I prepared my part. Seb was the muscle, if I couldn’t slow her down before the jump I knew I could slow her down afterwards, giving us time to adjust to the turns before the next one. Every move we both made was precise, calculated. She trusted me to lead her towards the right direction, to guide her through the course and tell her the appropriate time to slow down and the appropriate time to speed up again. In turn, I trusted her to listen to my directions, to complete each jump and to have the proper speed to go over them.
As our name came up for our turn Sabrina and I began our first steps towards the first jump, my father eagerly awaiting for us to turn around the corner and go over the jump set right in front of him and the other parents. We took our time, a slow build-up of speed before we began our gentle canter around the corner. My heart was beating rapidly as my eyes focused forward, aiming her specifically for the center of the jump.
That very moment, as the two of us were caught just as we were ascending off the ground time seemed to slow down. For the first time since he had left, my father was there, watching me and Sabrina not only ride, but work together in harmony. He had captured the pure essence of what it meant to me, what it meant to be sitting upon a horse and being one with that animal.
Asha Danzot gets her creative inspiration from having lived in several different countries due to her parents’ work with the state department. She was born in San Jose, California, and is now a first-year student at PSH.