His full name was Moonlight Firefly, but everyone called him Fly. It suited him better that way. His wild heart didn’t need such a formal address.
At 14.2 hands high, he wasn’t quite a horse and yet he held himself with the aplomb of the tallest horse in the world.
I was 11 when I first met him.
A lady I knew from the farm had saved him.
She saved lots of horses over the years. She’d buy them at auctions for next to nothing – most were destined for the slaughterhouse. Some were lame, some were sick, some were simply not needed any longer and so they were sent to meet their fate at the auction where they were bargained for by red-faced men in caps who shouted and waved cards in the air and bundled frightened ponies into the back of their trucks to god knows where.
I was told that Fly had been horribly mistreated during his life and that he was scared of people, especially men. He only trusted the lady who had saved him, it was like he saw the warmth of her soul and just knew.
One day, the lady asked me if I would like to look after Fly and care for him as if he were my own. My parents weren’t sure, they worried about money and how we could afford him, but the lady reassured them that he was cheap to keep – he lived in a field and didn’t need much – and so they agreed.
I was thinking about Fly the other day when I was running. I learnt so much from him over the seven years we shared together and yet I never really realised.
Fly didn’t give a shit what anyone thought of him. He was pretty vulnerable, damaged by so many years of neglect, and yet he had so much courage and raw spirit. I took him to a show once, the kind of place filled with pretty ponies and their equally pretty riders, all bows and perfect plaits and fluttering first-place rosettes. Fly and I stood out like a sore thumb. Me with my unkempt hair and second-hand jodhpurs and Fly with his orange legs, dyed that colour due to his favourite pastime of standing knee-deep in clay bogs.
I entered him in a jumping event at the show. He liked jumping over things, you see. Sometimes, I’d vault on his back, take off my shoes and ride him through the field, clinging to his mane so that I didn’t fall off, the long grass tickling the soles of my feet as he galloped and jumped over streams and fallen trees.
Turns out that Fly didn’t want to jump over the orderly red and white fences at the show. He probably thought it was all so stupid. As we approached the jump, he dug his heels in and I went soaring over his head. He ran off, causing havoc and scaring people, including my dad, who thought I was dead, before casually trotting back and standing only inches from me with a look in his eye as if to say, “Why are you on the floor?”
We won a trophy that day. Not for being the best or the fastest or the most talented. We won because we tried. They called it the Endeavour Award and it was the first time I’d heard the word ‘endeavour’ – I had to look it up in the dictionary when I got home: Endeavour: a purposeful undertaking (especially one that requires effort or boldness).
I never forgot that word.
I took him drag hunting when I was about 15. I don’t even know why. I think I was trying to fit in with all the girls at the farm – I guess it was the thing to do. There are lots of rules and etiquettes to abide by on a hunt; you have to dress a certain way (tweed jacket, fawn breeches, a white shirt with a tie) and you must say “Good morning” to the Huntmaster and not take over him during the hunt or get in the way. Again, Fly probably thought it was all so fucking ridiculous. Before we’d even started, as we were lining up in the car park, getting ready to go, Fly decided to leap over the side of someones expensive Mercedes and promptly set the car alarm off. I got shouted at and plenty of people raised their eyebrows at me. Fly just stood there, unfazed by their judgement.
Out on the hunt, with the wind in his tail, Fly was in his element. He plunged ahead with all his power, so far ahead in fact, that he took over the Huntsmaster. A big NO-NO. I tried, I really tried to stop him, but he knew what he wanted and he went for it; the rules and protocol meant nothing to him, he was enjoying himself and wanted to be up at the front on his own where he felt alive. When I finally stopped him, and the Huntmaster caught us up, he suggested that it would be a good idea if we left the hunt, Fly was just too out of control for his liking.
It was a long walk home for Fly and I. But we both felt free.