They found a second-hand saddle from someone who’d ridden Percheron crosses. A black Klimke with butter-soft flaps, a deep seat, low pommel, and no knee rolls. It had extra-long billets, and had come with a girth big enough for a draft horse. It fit Wolf to a T. His long back – broader and stronger by the day – looked made for a saddle.
Anne had brought by his bridle for Casey to use, misty-eyed over her boy’s progress. It was a black Passier with faux crystals in the browband, and it more than doubled all the bridles hanging in the Canterbury tack room. Casey had cleaned it with leather soap and beeswax until it gleamed. She’d had to go shopping for reins – extra-long necks, it turned out, required “oversized” reins; she hadn’t known such a thing existed.
All tacked up, in a faded blue saddle pad, Wolfram was a creature transformed. As if he sensed her admiration, he craned his neck around and nuzzled at her ribs.
“You know you’re handsome, don’t you?” Casey said, scratching at his forelock.
“If you used some of that sweet talk on the boys, you wouldn’t have to say it to the horses,” Nina said from the arena fence.
“As if the boys appreciate it,” Casey shot back, and stuck her boot in the stirrup.
She stood on top of the three-tiered mounting block that Jade used to mount her Atlas. It was a warm morning on the verge of going melted-popsicle. The night’s mist hung in tatters from the low branches; dew dripped. It was the first time she’d ever mounted Wolf. Her stomach fluttered and dove; she was glad she’d skipped breakfast.
“Go on,” Nina said.
Casey took a deep breath, took the front and back of the saddle in her hands, and sprung lightly up into the saddle. Wolf’s massive ribcage filled the space between her knees. His neck stretched before her, his back and haunches behind, and the arena sand loomed a long way below, far enough to break bones if she hurtled toward it.
But Wolf seemed to have no ideas about sending her crashing. He reached around, touched his muzzle to her boot, then faced forward, ears pricked, alert and ready. She touched her heels to his sides and he struck out in a loose, ground-eating walk, punctuated by his strange hiccupping steps in the back.
For two weeks, all they did was walk. Relaxed walk, working walk, extended walk. Arena walks, gallop track walks, pasture walks. When they went through the fields, Casey held LT on a line and ponied him beside them, so Wolf would have company.
The first steps of trot happened in the arena, and they lurched and leaped and nearly unseated her. Downward transitions were minor earthquakes, his legs collapsing and righting themselves at the last possible moment.
A month from the day she first put her foot in the stirrup, she cantered him. His hooves ate up the ground. She relaxed her spine, engaged her core, and her hips put dashboard hula girls to shame. When she pulled him to a halt – in only four strides! – she tossed a smile to her audience at the rail. Jade and Nina clapped.
Nina said, “What’d I tell ya?”