I’ve been riding since I was six. It’s always felt natural and effortless. It’s nothing but the wind in my hair, the steady, pulsing steps propelling us forward, and a communion between woman and beast that transcends individuality. Once I’ve mounted her, we stop being separate entities. We become a singular machine with one, undeniable purpose: motion.

Sometime around my 14th birthday, I concluded that a saddle and bridle defiled the purity of the riding experience. They were training wheels. They had to be taken away before I could consider myself a real rider. So I insisted that I learn to ride bareback.

It was much harder than I’d anticipated. I fell often. I had a terrible time trying to get Millie to obey my commands. There were many occasions when she would roam in random directions and I couldn’t turn her. But I learned. Gradually, I learned.

I began wearing spurs. When I dug them into Millie’s sides, she’d whimper and stomp the ground, but she learned quickly that the pain meant it was time to move. The harder I spurred her, the faster she was to go. Before long, she knew I was in control again. I’d grab the thick hair by her ears and pull her head in one direction or another, depending on where I wanted us to go. My thighs would ache as I held on, but slowly, methodically, our oneness was reinstated. Our purpose was renewed. We were speed. We were power.

On the morning I’d intended to ride through sprawling, wooded acres of our property, I stepped outside to find a note on the doorstep. It was from our stable hand. With a growing sensation of rage and contempt, I read every messy, scribbled word that he’d written. He was reprimanding me for my treatment of Millie. He called me cruel. In the envelope, along with his note, were photographs of bloody streaks on her side from my spurs and raw patches from when I’d pulled her hair too hard and it had come away in my hands.

The audacity of the stable hand – the stable boy – infuriated me. When my parents died, they’d left me everything. Their fortune. Their land. Their stables. And, most importantly, Millie. Millie was my property. That the servant in charge of caring for my property could have the temerity to scold his better was incomprehensible. It was seditious. It was vulgar.

In a rage, I stormed down the hill to the stables and saw him brushing Millie’s hair. He saw me coming with the envelope in my hand. The fear blooming in his dull eyes gifted me with a modicum of satisfaction, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.

I pulled a riding crop from the wall and beat the cowering worker across his face and neck. I screamed at him and demanded that he not cover himself. He obeyed. Blood poured out of the thin, deep canyons I left in his flesh. With one, final swing, I watched his left eye split as the tip of the crop carved through the organ.

Millie paced around her stall, frightened. I saw the scabs on her head and sides that’d been featured so prominently in the photographs. I unlatched the door and beckoned her out. She looked in the direction of the stable hand and saw the blood on the floor. She hesitated. I screamed for the hand to leave, and he did. After a moment, Millie stepped out of the stall.

Her towering bulk trotted into the aisle. She brushed up against me, obviously happy I was there. I looked at my watch. There was still enough time to ride. I patted her on the butt, and she knelt down.

“Good Millie,” I whispered. My spurs clinked on the wood floor. “Now, up!”

She lifted me with one massive arm and placed me on her hunched, twisted back. Her misshapen breasts dangled as she arched, then moaned slightly as I gripped her thick, black hair. She turned her head, and for a moment, I was startled by how familiar a portion of her profile looked. That one, small sector of her deformed face looked like me. It looked like our mother. The memory brought a tear to my eye. I gathered myself.

“Let’s go,” I ordered my older sister, and with a grunt of assent and a whimper of pain as she felt my spurs, we galloped off into the dewy morning.

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