Animals are often used for physical and emotional therapies when it comes to children with disabilities, so I wasn’t surprised when Wild Thunderbolt came to Skylar Ranch, he would give my new husband a new set of legs for walking. Jack Foster was only twelve years old when I first met him. He was the son of an overprotective mother and a father that was labeled as a work-a-holic. Jack was only eleven years old when he was struck by a man driving drunk in his home town. The man received several years in jail, while Jack was placed in the hospital for a spinal cord injury. There are two kinds of spinal injuries, complete or incomplete break. In most cases of a complete break of the spinal cord, the patient never regains the use of the limbs, but in an incomplete break, the patient has a fairly good chance of a full recovery. In Jack’s case, his injury was an incomplete break around the Lumbar 4 (L4) area, which meant that he could make a full recovery with physical therapy. Jack, probably because of his age, was not interested in physical therapy. He was a video game junky that only knew the joys of pressing buttons on his hand controls in front of flat screen TV. I, on the other hand, was a recipient of known condition of Spina Bifida. My mother died giving birth to me, and my father was also a work-a-holic in the ranching business. My father, because of his financial resources, used his money to build Skylar Ranch, a ranch for children with disabilities. He hired countless numbers of physical therapists, horse trainers, and ranch handlers to promote and run the facility seven days a week, while he was out looking for new business deals. My life was filled with personal lived-in caregivers that home schooled by day, and I helped care for the horses in the evening.
Wild Thunderbolt came to Skylar Ranch during the early spring in 1991. I was one of the first to see him as the ranch handlers lured the ten year horse into his stall. He was a tall white horse with broad shoulders and stout legs. Wild Thunderbolt had been a racing horse with two triple-crown races and one Kentucky Derby championship under its belt. Wild thunderbolt was sold to my father at a fraction of the amount for a regular horse in order to save it from the local slaughter house. I think Wild Thunderbolt had run his races, and so he had nothing else to prove to his owner and jockey. I also believe the horse wanted new challenges that involved interacting with people. Whatever the case, Wild Thunderbolt had come to the ranch to be trained to give children with disabilities rides. Horseback riding helps to give children with disabilities muscle control and body balance in the form of riding therapy. I was, and still am, living proof of the therapeutic benefits of horseback riding. This is where Jack and my story begins in the early summer of 1991. I never would have believed that one single horse with the heart of a champion could bring us together.
I met Jack during a bright sunny Monday afternoon in May of 1991. I was in the stables feeding the horses, as I’ve done every afternoon for the past five years. The ranch handlers were out gathering feed, cleaning stables, and tending other horses. The therapists were walking the other horses, which carried children with a variety of disabilities. I was a scrawny teenaged girl with dark brown hair that I kept in pony-tail. I wore cowboy shirts with baggy jeans; they had to be baggy to hide the braces from my waist to my feet. I didn’t like to wear dresses because I wanted to hide my braces and legs, which were very skinny due to lack of muscle definition. Spina Bifida, which often the case, leaves the body with disproportionate features of a normal upper body with abnormal smaller legs. I can still walk some, but only in short distances and with crutches. The rest of the time I use a light-weight manual wheelchair. The wheelchair and crutches do allow me to gain upper body strength, which is useful when carrying small buckets of feed for the horses. I always like feeding horses because it gives me time to myself, and I don’t need caregivers to gather the food.
As I was feeding one of the horses in the stall, Cindy (a hippotherapist) approached me to discuss a new client of hers. She described him as a quiet boy with a stubborn personality. She also said that Jack was a product of an overprotective mother with a father who was constantly working. This story sounded, with the exception of the overprotective mom, all too familiar to me. I think Cindy new that we had similar backgrounds with regards to overworking fathers, which is maybe why she asked me to meet Jack. I was also not a typical teenage girl. I did not know the latest fashion in outfits and facial make-up that consumed other girls. I didn’t listen to pop teen singer such as Debbie Gibson or Tiffany, nor did I watch MTV or the so call VH1. I was a country girl with the animals as my friends, so when Cindy asked me to meet Jack, I was taken by surprise.
Cindy brought Jack to me, his mother pushing his wheelchair. Jack was a nice looking boy with short blond hair and blue eyes. He seemed to have a normal-size body with high-priced running shoes that looked like they were used to play baseball. Jack’s voice was very quiet, almost timid, when he spoke. It was as if he didn’t want to speak to anyone, especially adults. I held out my hand when Cindy introduced us. I said, “Hello, my name is Jessica, Jess for short.” Jack replied, “Hey, what’s up,” as he continued to press the buttons of his game boy that played annoying music that echoed throughout the stable. The game boy seemed to be a ploy to tune out the rest of the world, especially nagging parents. Cindy took the mother on a tour of the ranch. This gave me the opportunity to better gain Jack’s attention. As I continued to speak to Jack, I noticed that the game boy was his only attraction so I grabbed the device, turned it off, and put it in my front shirt pocket. “Look here! I like people to look at me when I speak to them,” I firmly said. Jack became startled as his eyes suddenly focused on me, “I’m sorry.” he replied. “You’d never been to a ranch, have you?” I asked. He nodded no as we began to stroll through the stable.
As we began to stroll through the stable, I introduced Jack to the horses. I walked with my crutches as Jack wheeled himself and I said, “this is Lucy from the Peanuts gang, she is quiet, but likes to wonder around. In the next stable is Sponge Bob, he likes to lie in the grass and soak up the sun. And in the next stall we have Wild Thunderbolt, he fast but very smart. He was once a race horse, but he got too old, and now he lives here with us. Lastly, we have Little Miss Piggy, she likes to hog up people’s attention. I think Wild Thunderbolt and her have a thing going on.” Jack turned to me and asked, “So why do all the other horses have cartoon characters names, except Wild Thunderbolt?” “Well, because children relate better to the horses if they have cartoon names,” I answered. “Oh, I understand,” jack replied back as Wild thunderbolt poked his white head out and nudged Jack’s own head. I laughed as Jack tried to push the horses head back. “I think he likes you,” I said. “I’m not big on animals,” Jack responded. “So what do you do when you’re not in school?” I asked. “I play video games all day,” he answered. “Doesn’t that get boring?” I asked while stroking Wild Thunderbolt’s head. “No, because I can tune out the rest of the world,” he replied. “Or maybe your mother?” I sarcastically asked, but more as a statement rather than a question. “I guess,” he replied in a sarcastic response. “Well there are no video games here. Here, you’ll get to ride horses and get physical therapy,” I added. “Great!” he quietly replied. I said, “Don’t worry, you’ll have fun, and I’ll be with you the whole time.” Soon after that, Cindy and Jack’s mother returned to the stable. Jack’s mother seemed eager for her son to begin the therapy, but Jack was much less enthusiastic about the ranch. They both said their goodbyes to us. After they left the ranch, I forgot to give Jack back his game boy, so I laid it on my night stand.
The next week, I think it was a Monday, was Jack’s official full day at the ranch. He came dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (pants are required for horseback riding), well prepared to begin. Jack’s mother dropped him off for therapy, but I think she also needed a break from Jack. Parents often leave their children at the ranch to rejuvenate from being a full-time caregiver. Jack didn’t seem too eager to get started, but Cindy led him into the physical therapy for some stretching exercises. It is always good for the children to begin hippo therapy with stretching exercises to gain a foundation for goals to achieve. Hippo therapy, which comes from a Greek word—hippos (horse), was formerly transformed into a discipline in the early 60’s in other countries. Now this form of physical therapy is used in American culture to help patients regain neuromuscular strength, speech, and emotional stability. In Jack’s case, his goals were to regain the feelings in his legs, feet, and toes. Once those sensations returned to his lower body, then he would begin to use his leg muscles for walking.
I watched while Cindy moved Jack’s bare legs and feet up and down, sideways, in and out, and bending them at the knees. I found it interesting to watch her handle his legs and feet like he was a Barbie doll. It was as if she was an adult playing with an over-sized male doll. I watched as Jack seemed bored out of his mind. I said to him, trying to keep his mind occupied, “Played any new video games, lately?” He replied, “No, just the same ones.” It was hard to get his attention as Cindy continued her physical therapy for the hour, but I was determined to break down the wall. Later, Cindy helped jack back into his wheelchair, and we all went to the mounting ramp. A mounting ramp is an incline that leads to a platform about the height of a standard horse. This was Jack’s first horse ride, so I was eager to see his reaction to the experience.
Jack and Cindy waited on the platform as a ranch handler brought Wild Thunderbolt to the stand. I watch from a distance as Cindy lifted Jack onto the horse. “Put your weight on the right leg, and I’ll lift your left leg over Wild Thunderbolt,” Cindy said. Soon, Jack was sitting straight on the horse as Wild Thunderbolt rocked a little to gain his stability. Cindy placed a helmet on Jack’s head as two other male volunteers entered the preparation warm-up walk. Wild Thunderbolt was slowly led away from the mounting platform one trot at a time. I found it very enjoyable to watch Jack ride Wild Thunderbolt. I can’t remember my first horse ride. I guess I must have been too small to sit on a horse because I have several photos of riding horses with my dad and other personal caregivers. “You’re doing great!” I shouted as the horse trotted around the stable track. Clunk! Clunk! The horse slowly walked with adult handlers walking along side. Jack’s face seemed unsure about the horse riding experience. I think he wanted to enjoy riding the horse, but he may have been scared of falling off. This was Jack’s first ride, so I expected him to be resistant to horseback riding, but I also think it was about not wanting to do physical therapy. Jack did not believe in himself, and so he projected his dissatisfactions onto other adults. It might have been that Jack had not resolved his feeling about becoming disabled. I believe that his perceived laziness towards life was actually resentment towards becoming a disabled child. This was my opportunity to change his heart towards life. I, with my gentle sternness, could get him to see his full potential. I could see opportunities in Jack that he might not have, and I was going to use my kindness to give him a new chance at a full life.
“What did you think about the ride?” I asked. “I thought it was kinda boring,” Jack replied as Cindy wheeled him to me. I sat on a bench just outside the stable with my crutches in both hands. “You can do this!” I demanded while rising on my legs. “How do you know?” he sternly asked. “Because Cindy told me how your spinal cord is just bruised, and how with a few months of physical therapy, you be walking again,” I said. “It’s never helped you!” he angrily replied. “I have a whole different disability. My muscles can’t fully develop, and you’re wrong about how horseback riding hasn’t helped me, because it has helped me maintain my balance while giving me some muscle strength,” I said. I could tell by Jack’s eyes that he was searching for excuses like a typical pre-teen boy, but I wasn’t buying it. “Well, I can’t do it,” he said. “Can’t never could unless he tried,” I replied. “What if I fail, and I get hurt?” he asked. “Everybody gets hurt. You just have to get up and try again. Jack, you have an opportunity at a normal life, that’s something only I and many other children here wish for. Don’t throw it away because you’re afraid to get hurt.” I said. “I don’t know, Jess. What if mom doesn’t let me try?” he asked. “Are going to live your life for her or for yourself?” I asked. “I’m scared!” Jack turned to look at Wild Thunderbolt. “Don’t worry Wild Thunderbolt and I will be with you all the way,” I said. “Ok, I’ll try,” he calmly replied. “Come on, let’s go say goodbye to Wild Thunderbolt. I see your mom driving up to the stable,” I smiled as we headed towards the horse.
Within a few days, maybe a week or so, I began to notice a change in Jack’s behaviors. It was as though he was happier, but I didn’t know why? Jack was becoming eager to do physical therapy and ride Wild Thunderbolt. In my eyes, Jack was forming an attachment to Wild Thunderbolt, which was normal, but at the same time, the horse was also bonding with him, and that was unusual. Horses do not normally bond with children riders, but I think Wild Thunderbolt saw something in Jack that no other person or animal could see. What that was, I would find out as Jack actively participated in his physical activities. It is often easy to spot motivation in children because of their behaviors. Children that actively participate in their therapies tend to be happy and extremely sociable, whereas kids that are not engaged tend to be withdrawn and less friendly. Those children that participate less are least likely to benefit from their therapies. Jack was grinning from ear to ear as he trotted with Wild Thunderbolt. Later, after the session had ended I asked, “Why are grinning so much?” “You want to know why?” he asked. “Well, duh!” I eagerly said. He quietly whispered, “I can now feel and move my toes.” I shouted, “Yeah!” The news excited me as we stood petting Wild Thunderbolt’s nose. “You see, we can do this!” I said. Jack’s mother soon came to pick him up. I could tell she knew the news because Jack and she seemed to be happier together as they left for the day. I was happy for Jack because I knew that something special was happening between us. “We’re going to get him walking yet, aren’t we Wild Thunderbolt,” I said while kissing him between the eyes.
The next couple weeks, Jack began to slowly progress. Cindy and I made sure that Wild Thunderbolt was available for Jack to ride. In normal children, the therapists try to rotate the horses so that a child does not become too dependent on a particular horse. But in Jack’s case, therapists felt that trust was a key element to his rehabilitation. I think the bonding relationship between Jack and Wild Thunderbolt did boost Jack’s confidence. I really enjoyed watching Jack ride Wild Thunderbolt. I guess, in my own heart, it was like watching my knight in shining armor developed into a normal young man. I somehow saw Jack as my prince, but I had to keep it secret. As Cindy and the other ranch handlers trotted Jack and Wild Thunderbolt around the track, I imagined myself as the helpless princess on a far-away land waiting for my prince to rescue me. Could Jack be my prince? I did not know for sure, but being around him, made me bloom like a bright yellow sun-flower. I could feel my heart jump with every meeting with him. His eyes were deep blue, and I could see a long-lasting relationship with him.
The summer got hotter as the weeks moved on. Jack was beginning to regain feeling in his legs and feet. It was nice watching him come to the ranch five days a week to ride Wild Thunderbolt, but I wanted to change the routine. I asked Jack to bring his swim-suit for the next session. It wasn’t hard to convince Cindy and some other volunteers to lets us go swimming in our fairly-sizable pool. Swimming, as anyone knows, consists of kicking the legs and feet and upper arm movements. This was the precise kind of activity that could cause nerve stimulation. I still, to this day, use swimming as a way of maintaining my muscle tension in all for limbs. I was always a good swimmer, but Jack needed more one-to-one guidance from Cindy. Splash! Splash! Kick! Kick! I dove in head first like a fish being thrown back into a lake. Cindy and another male volunteer, whose name I can’t recall, eased Jack into the pool. I could tell that Jack, even before the accident, had little or no experience in a pool. “Kick your legs and feet, and keep your mouth closed so you don’t swallow water,” said Cindy. Jack wasn’t able to kick very well, but he could move his feet a little. Splash! Splash! Slap! Slap! Slap! I jokingly slap the water towards Jack. Slap! Slap! He returned the playful slap of the water. Within an hour or two, I had Jack swimming without Cindy’s help. We swam for a few hours, and this was the first time I saw Jack really have fun. I think Jack forgot, at least for a little while, that he had a disability. I also forgot that we had disabilities. I believe the water gave us a sense of normalcy. Later, we vowed to swim twice a week. I guess laughter and cool water on a hot summer day is the best physical therapy the body can get.
The summer was going great that year, but life on a ranch isn’t always happy and peaceful. It was about late June when tragedy occurred. A ranch handler took Wild Thunderbolt for a walk on our hundred acre property. This was a common walk for all horses for extra exercise. The handler walked through trees and shady wooded area. Wild Thunderbolt and the handler took rest under a large tree with several old dead hollow tree stumps. The handler moved one of the tree stumps when the sound of a rattlesnake appeared under it. Wild Thunderbolt jumped back and neighed loudly. The snake took one bite of Wild Thunderbolt’s hind leg as he jumped harder back. Snap! Thump! Wild Thunderbolt fell to the ground like a small hurricane with his hind leg broken. The ranch handler pulled his pistol and shot the snake dead. Wild Thunderbolt quietly lay on the ground in pain. The ranch handler sat on the ground sobbing because Wild Thunderbolt was forever gone. He knew that the horse could not be saved, so he slowly pulled out his rifle and shot Wild Thunderbolt.
It was a sad day for all of us. Dad took off of work to tell me the news. This was the one time that my father showed me how much he loved me. Sometimes we lose horses and other pets, but Wild Thunderbolt was loved by all the children. He had become a part of our family, and it was extremely difficult for me to lose him because he, Jack, and I had bonded. “How am I going to tell Jack,” I said with tears in my eyes and my arms around dad. “Well, honey, you just have tell him that Wild Thunderbolt lived a great life, and accidents happen. It’s no one’s fault! It just happened!” my dad said. “I don’t know if I can,” I replied. “You can. It will be hard, but I think it should come from you. And remember, I do love you, honey, and I’ll be with you,” he said while looking in my eyes and kissing me on the cheek. I cried hard as my dad held me in his arms. I have never been so heart-broken the way I was that day. I knew then that it was going to be equally as hard on Jack, and I didn’t know how to break the news.
The next week Cindy, because of her professional relationship with Jack’s mother, called his mom to prepare her for the bad news. I had an unsettling feeling about how Jack might take the news, but Cindy still believed that the news should come from me. I still wasn’t sure how to tell him because I never had to give someone bad news, especially someone that was a close friend. Cindy and I waited in the parking lot as Jack and his mother pulled in. I had to hold back the tears as my heart beat hard against my chest. I had to play the bubbly young teenage girl as Jack wheeled over to me. I think that was the longest wait of my life as Jack’s mom walked behind him. “Hey, Mrs. Foster, thank you for coming. I need to discuss a few things with you. Can I have a word with you?” asked Cindy. “Sure,” replied Mrs. Foster as she and Cindy went into the main therapy offices. Jack and I slowly made our way to the stables where one stall remained empty. It didn’t take Jack long to notice the empty stall where Wild Thunderbolt once occupied. “Where’s Wild Thunderbolt?” Jack asked. “Ummmmm! Well jack, I’m sorry, but there was an accident,” I sadly answered. “What kind of accident?” Jack worriedly asked. “One of the ranch handlers took Wild Thunderbolt for a walk and they encountered a rattlesnake. Wild Thunderbolt jumped back; the snake bit him on the back leg. Wild Thunderbolt again jumped back and broke the same leg. There was nothing the ranch handler could do, but to put him down,” I said sadly as tears filled my eyes and ran down my cheeks. “NO! You’re lying, why are you lying?” Jack screamed as tears began to fill his eyes. “I’m not lying, Jack. There was nothing the ranch handler could do. Wild Thunderbolt was in too much pain and too old to save. I’m so so so sorry, Jack!” I said while crying and trying to hug him. Jack pulled back and yelled, “Where’s Wild Thunderbolt? I have to ride Wild Thunderbolt!” “I’m so sorry, but Wild Thunderbolt is gone,” I answered. Jack turned to find Cindy and Mrs. Foster standing in the doorway. “I’m so so sorry Jack,” said Cindy. Jack wheeled himself towards the car. “I want to go home! I want to go home!” Jack said while crying all the way to the car. Mrs. Foster said nothing as she followed Jack to the car. As soon as Jack’s mom loaded him in the car, they drove out of sight. I tried to follow Jack, but Cindy grabbed my arm and nodded, no. I watched the car drive-off in the distance as tears flowed down my cheeks. I thought I had forever lost my friend as Cindy held me in her arms. It was like a knife was being stabbed in my heart, as this was clearly the worse day of my life.
Time passes so slowly when tragedy occurs; days become heavy and tiresome and the night become long. I sat in my room hoping for a phone call from Jack, but our answering machine had no messages. I tried to call Jack, but I never got a response. I sat in my room on my chair in front of the night stand mirror just brushing my long brown hair. The hot summer air blew the curtains as they swayed with every burst of night-time wind. I could see the night full moon shinning in on the floor as my thoughts focused on Jack’s well-being. I fumbled though my jewelry to find a hair pin to pull back my long hair, but all I found was Jack’s pocket video game still hidden under my mangled necklaces. I turned the game on, even though I knew nothing about video games. The game was “Pac-man” which had something to do with eating small, yellow pellets and colored ghost. I tried franticly to push the right buttons as the game made a series of loud beeps, as the mouth ran through the maze dodging ghosts and eating dumb pellets. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was beginning to understand Jack’s fascination, or rather obsession, with the stupid and obnoxious game.
In the midst of playing the Pac-man game for hours, I knew why Jack played video games so much. Games gave him distractions to tune-out the rest of the world. This was kind of the same technique I used when I rode horses. When I rode a horse, I was in my own world where nobody could enter. It was just me and the horse as we trotted around the ranch. Or course, my favorite time to ride a horse was just before the sunset. I would ride out to a field where the tall green grass would sway in the warm air, and I could see the bright orange sun set in the distant horizon. My horse and I would stand there until the top-edge of the sun would settle down behind the grass. I guess jack’s indoor video game playing and my horse riding activity gave us solitude from the outside world, but for me, I could come back to the real world. Jack tried to stay in his world when tragedy occurred. This was something that needed to be popped like a bubble floating in the wind, as I threw the Gameboy back onto the night stand and went to sleep.
The next morning I asked Cindy to drive me to Jack’s home. I knew what I needed to do. I was going to be the one to burst his bubble. Jack may be a quitter, but I’m not. I knew that Jack could have opportunities that I would never have. He just needed a good kick in the butt to get him moving again. We found Jack in front of the TV with his hand on a game controller and noises from the game blaring in the speakers. Jack’s house seemed normal with photos hanging on the wall, plants in planters or on tables, and shelves full of VHS movies and video games. I think there were more video games than movies, but I wasn’t too much of a video junky, so anything over ten was far too much in my opinion. Jack’s mother stayed in the kitchen talking with Cindy as the scent of coffee and Vanilla-scented candles filled my nose. I sat myself down next to Jack as he stared at the TV shooting bad or good guys on the screen. I’d never seen or heard so many explosions from a video game. I knew that Jack was trying to avoid me as he continued to press the multitude buttons on the controller.
“Hey, Jack,” I quietly said while watching him play the video game. “Hey,” he returned the greeting, but not the eye contact. He didn’t miss a single shot as the noisy game played on with every pressed button. “I heard that you weren’t coming back to the ranch?” I asked. “Nope!” he replied while taking another shot. “Why not?” I asked. “I think you know why!” he said. “Look, just because Wild Thunderbolt is gone doesn’t mean you have to give up! I shouted while I stared at him. “I don’t want to ride your dumb horses!” he replied. “You’re not the only one that lost a friend. I lost two friends in Wild Thunderbolt’s death. I lost a good horse and you!” I shouted back. “Well, I’m not coming back, and that’s my final word,” he added. “Quit, that’s all you can do, is quit. I wish that I had never met you Jack Foster. Because all you know is how to play these stupid video games and quit,” I said while reaching into my pocket and pulling out his Pac-man game. “Goodbye, Jack. I hope you live a happy life starring at your TV and playing video games,” I threw the game onto the coffee table next to the other video games. Cindy and I left the house. I was sad about losing Wild Thunderbolt, but to lose two friends, my heart sank in the pit of my stomach as I cried all the way home.
Life on a ranch consists of routines. My routine was getting up in the morning, getting help with dressing myself, eating breakfast, and helping to get the horses ready for riding. I liked brushing the horses because I imagined myself being brushed, which helped me to relax. With the big wooden brown-handle brush in my hand, I stroked the horses’ mane from top to bottom. I couldn’t always reach the top of each horse, but I did my best to get all the sides. Sometimes I would even help bathe the horses, which usually took about two ranch handlers per horse. This day was different, for I got a little surprise to cheer me up.
As I brushed Miss Piggy, which gave her some joy during her sadness over the loss of Wild Thunderbolt, a car pulled into the parking lot. The car resembled the same color vehicle as Jack’s mother. I watch intensely as Jack’s mom got out of the car. She walked around the car to the passenger’s back door, and opened it. I wait for a wheelchair to be pulled out of the back seat, but Mrs. Foster pulled out a pair of brown under-the-arm wooden crutches, like mine. I began walking towards the car, as Cindy did the same. Suddenly, the right front passenger door opened, and two legs with brown braces popped out. It was Jack. He had learned to walk with crutches. Jack and I met at the mid-point between the car and the stable. This was the first time Jack and I eyes met in a standing position. Jack and I were at the same height until he grew older. I smile joyfully as Jack said, “the doctor thinks I should keep riding horses and doing physical therapy,” as he stared at the ground. Cindy and I looked at each other and smiled. We both knew that we had Jack back. I smiled and said, “come on, I think you can ride Miss Piggy.”
Throughout the years, Jack and I remained close friends. By the end of that summer, Jack began to use the crutches less and less. We did all kind of things together. By the following year, Jack did not need hippotherapy or physical therapy any more. He was now coming to the ranch to see me and to help out with the horses. Jack even taught me how to play a few video games, but he was no longer a video game junky. By high school, my father had given Jack a full-time job as a ranch handler. Jack even asked my father if he could take me to the senior prom. This was the first time Jack had seen me in a formal dress and facial make-up. My father knew that we were inseparable, and throughout the years Jack never dated any other girl. Jack now had the body and face that could catch any girl’s eyes, but he never loved anyone, but me. Jack waited until after college to propose to me, but I think, he and dad had discussed it way before then. On the day he proposed to me, he took me to the stall where Wild Thunderbolt had once occupied. He decorated the stall with brightly colored flowers of yellow and blue with red rose pedals on the ground. He bent down with one knee on the ground and held my hand, and gently said, “Jessica, will you marry me?” With tears of joy running down my face, I quietly said, “Yes, I will marry you.”
Now today we stand here before the alter of the Lord on the grave site where Wild Thunderbolt is buried. In front of a multitude of guests and family members, Jack and I make our vowels to each other on a warm sunny day in May. With flowers all around us, we prepare to profess our love to each other and to the minister. Cindy and father are standing to the left of me, Cindy with her beautiful purple bridesmaid dress, and father with his black bow-tie tuxedo, I could not have a more wonderful day. As I look into Jack’s lovely blue eyes, he recites, “Jessica, from the moment we met, you have pushed me into believing in myself. Now, I believe in you and our relationship. With this ring that I place on your finger I know that our love will last forever.” I now look into his eyes and say, “Jack, from the moment we met I have loved you. We were brought together by Wild Thunderbolt’s love for us, and now, I will always carry that love for you. Let our love for each other forever be unbroken.” As I slip the ring on Jack’s finger and we kiss in holy matrimony, we hear Wild Thunderbolt neighing in the wind and his strong galloping footsteps running in the distant track. For the horse that once beat other horses in races and helped bring love to two unlikely adults, we will always remember the name Wild Thunderbolt, the horse with the big heart.