Takes Two to Tango
The sun blazed high up in the sky, sending shimmering eddies of heat down onto the earth to curl up in watery mirages in the low spots between the verdant hills. Tango stood in the soft green grass: erect, sleek, powerful — a modern Bucephalus in the flesh. Had he been alive in Ancient Rome, the Emperor would most certainly have made Tango a senator. With a saddle on his back and reins around his neck, he waited for his rider.
The scion of a noble lineage, Tango had won all the big prizes: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes all in one year — a Triple Crown winner. He’d also won the Royal Ascot, the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the Dubai World Cup, the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita, and the Melbourne Cup in Australia, among others. His retirement, at the top of his form, age 6, had made the front page of The New York Times.
Now, he was an OTTB, or “off-the-track Thoroughbred.” They said he was washed up, a has-been - “Ready for the glue factory,” one sports reporter quipped, though you’d never know it by looking at him. He still stood tall and held his head high and was as swift, graceful, and magnificent as ever. Besides, his owner was much too kind for that. After a few years out to stud, Tango had been sent to a barn that taught kids therapeutic horseback riding.
Tango sniffed around and started lazily munching the grass. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a small voice asked:
“Are you Tango?”
Tango looked up. He saw a small girl with thick, black hair and dark eyes, just like him. “I’m Monica,” she said shyly. “They say you’re world-famous,” she added a little in awe, patting him on the neck.
Tango whinnied and touched Monica’s hand with his muzzle.
“I’m gonna learn to ride you, today.” Monica said.
Tango snorted and gently rubbed his nose on Monica’s shoulder. He was so excited to make a new friend!
Monica’s mom and the man from the barn helped her up onto Tango’s back.
“I’m scared,” said Monica, her lower lip trembling. Are you sure I can ride by myself?”
“Don’t worry,” the man smiled as Tango responded. “He’s a great old horse and he’ll take care of you.” The man showed her how to steer Tango with the reins and stop him by pulling back on them, and he showed her how to use her feet to nudge his belly and make him go faster. Tango took a slow step forward and felt Monica tightly grip his mane.
He took another step forward. The man clicked his tongue and the thoroughbred started a slow walk around the pasture along the fence.
“Weee!” she laughed, as her body rocked to the rhythm of his gait. Tango’s ears perked up and towards her voice, happy to hear she wasn’t afraid.
“Are you ready to go a bit faster?” The man called out to her from the white fence at the edge of the pasture.
“I won’t fall, will I?” she asked nervously.
“Oh, no,” he assured her. “He’ll take good care of you!”
The man whistled and Tango excitedly swished his tail. He loved going fast, because it always felt like he was flying. With one hoof in front of the other, he left the fenced pasture and headed towards the woods.
How about a nice trail ride through the woods? Tango silently asked, turning his eyes to meet her’s.
“I’m scared!” Monica cried in Tango’s ear, tugging on the reins, and the horse slowed back down to a walk. She steered Tango to the left, towards a clearing in the woods and out into a broad pasture overlooking a lovely river valley.
The setting sun was painting the sky a golden-orange hue when Tango and his new friend finally came back to the barn. Monica kissed Tango’s soft white nose and said “Thank you so much, Tango, for teaching me how to work together as a team with you. I’m not afraid anymore, knowing we are partners! Let’s do it again!”
Tango nuzzled her cheek just as she turned and ran to her mom and told her about the woods and the river and all about riding Tango. It was his way of saying, I look forward to our next ride.