Short Story Fiction
The Last Ride
Scott A. Gese

A young man anguishes over the future of the horse he has come to love.

Owen Edwards slowly led his injured horse toward home. The big roan was favoring its left front leg again. This was the third time in the past year Owen had to lead his horse back to the house. This time was different as the pace was much slower and more solemn.

The Last RideFotorieth/Pixabay

Owen knew this day would come but he dreaded it just the same. The situation was forcing him to make a decision he had been putting off as each time he hoped for a better outcome.

The slow pace gave him ample time to think over all his options once again. They never changed. The only difference this time around was that this time, he actually had to choose one.

It’s not like he was caught off guard. He had been preparing for this very day since last spring when he purchased a yearling colt from his neighbor down the road. A handsome little buckskin that had caught his eye. He had worked with the colt through the summer. Getting it accustomed to the feel of a saddle and a bit.

Owen knew the reality of the situation but he couldn’t find the courage to give up on his trusted steed altogether.

He really knew better than to think all would be well. Especially after the second time this had happened. And now here he was once again, “riding shank’s mare” with a lame horse.

He blamed himself for being so hard headed, but the bond between the two was proving itself to be a difficult thing to break. It was tearing him apart.

His horse, Grayson, was his faithful friend and constant companion. Had been for over twelve years. They had been together during good times and bad and not once had Grayson ever let him down. During the worst of days, he hung tough with Owen. Never wavering, never faltering, and always ready to do whatever was asked of him. Grayson would swim swollen rivers, climb steep grades and maneuver along some of the narrowest Cliffside trails in the state of New Mexico. He did it all without a flinch or a second’s hesitation.

Today had proved itself to be a bad day for both Grayson and Owen.

Today’s injury was a bad ending to a gallant effort to get him over the hump with this leg issue. But the effort went way beyond hope and in all reality shouldn’t have even been tried a third time. So now it had come down to this. Today Owen was being forced to make the inevitable decision concerning the fate of his horse. Difficult? Yes, but it could no longer be postponed.

He couldn’t begin to imagine how things would be without the big roan. They had been inseparable for all these years.

As they slowly walked along, Owen yearned to reset the clock, to turn back the hands of time and start again. But deep down, he knew the thought was nothing more than a feeble attempt to prolong the inevitable.

As they crested the last small rise Owen could see the ranch ahead. The journeys end was in sight.

Owen was soon walking Grayson into the dimly lit barn. Stopping in front of Grayson’s stall he dropped the reigns to the ground. And with a heavy heart and tears in his eyes he turned toward Grayson and rubbed his warm, soft nose.

The horse returned the affection by nuzzling up against Owens’s chest. The two stood close for as long as time would allow. Instinctively, each one felt the others pain. But for now, there was nothing either one of them could do but stand silently and console each other.

Owen eventually moved to Grayson’s side and gently lifted the injured leg to get a closer look. Again the once torn ligaments had not healed correctly. The leg was badly swollen and painful. Owen set the leg down easy and unbuckled the cinch. He slowly pulled the saddle off Grayson’s back and hung it over the tack rail.

As he grabbed hold of the saddle blanket his mind wandered back to the time when he had first set eyes on Grayson.

It was his fourteenth birthday and his father had gone into town to pick up a few supplies. Owen had stayed behind, tending to a few minor chores around the ranch. He was behind the main house stacking firewood when his father returned.

“Owen,” he called. “Come out to the barn for a minute. I need you to give me a hand with something.”

Owen walked out to the barn where he was met by the smiling faces of his parents. They stood in the center of the barn with a young roan colt standing between them. The colt was tall and lean and his color was a mixture of bay and gray.

“Happy Birthday Owen,” shouted his parents. “He needs to be broke, but he’s all yours,” added his father. “You know Owen, sometimes your Ma and I don’t always show our appreciation like we should. We surely do want you to know just how much we love you and appreciate all the hard work you put in around this place.

The Good Lord could not have blessed us with a better son than you Owen. And to show our appreciation, your mother and I figured it was about time you had a horse of your own. Oh yes, before I forget, there is one more thing.”

And with that, Owens’s mother promptly produced a new saddle blanket from behind her back and handed it to Owen.

It was a handsome looking quilted blanket. Made from a heavy wool fabric with a colorful pattern running through it.

“Your mother made it herself,” bragged Owens’s father. “Best lookin’ saddle blanket I’ve ever seen.”

Owen couldn’t have agreed more as he thanked his parents for such wonderful gifts. He named the horse Grayson. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between a man and his steed.

These days the blanket’s colors were a bit faded and a few spots were showing signs of wear. But it still had plenty of life left in it and would continue to bring a fair amount of comfort to the new horse. A good saddle blanket was a welcome buffer between a horse and the harsh reality of hard leather. It helped keep the daily rigors of a long trail bearable.

Owen removed the blanket from Grayson’s back and draped it over the tack rail next to the saddle. He led the limping horse into its stall and after removing the bridle he tended to the sore leg.

Strong liniment and a tight wrap would do for now. Owen rubbed him down then fed and watered him. Once Grayson had been taken care of, he reluctantly and slowly made his way back up to the house. Owen knew the prudent thing to do would be to put the animal down, but then Owen wasn’t always a prudent man. He could no more put Grayson down than a man could put down one of his own children.

Owen had made his decision. He would tend to Grayson’s injury and if all went well, he would retire him to the North pasture. He would live out his days enjoying the warmth of the noonday sun and chewing sweet grass to his hearts content. It was the least he could do for the friend who had been so faithful to him all these years.

As Owen settled in for the evening, he felt a sense of relief. He knew he had made the right decision concerning Grayson. It would still take a few days before he came to terms with the fact that he would no longer be riding his old friend. It was hard to believe that today was their last ride.

Tomorrow he would throw the old saddle blanket upon the back of his new horse. Tomorrow, thought Owen, he would begin in earnest to build a new friendship. It was time for the young horse, which he had named Cimarron, to begin earning his keep.

© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.

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