In the ancient days, when the world was new and fresh, and the animals could converse with their masters, a horse was born. His name was Marius. He appeared to all, his dam and sire, his aunts and uncles and cousins, and the horses of all the neighboring pastures, a plain and simple beast. His dam coaxed him onto his wobbly new legs, and he stood, straight and proud as horses do. He took a step forward, slowly at first, but quickly he found that he could run and play. Marius was a very happy horse indeed.
One day as Marius and his friends gathered in the pasture for an afternoon of leaping and chasing, he decided that he could jump higher than any of his friends, even though he’d never really tried. He just knew. He pulled himself up, took three quick strides, and leaped into the air. And he was right! He could jump higher than any other horse he knew. He thought about this, and as he thought, it didn’t occur to him to look down to prepare for his landing, for he was enjoying the feel of the air flowing through his mane and tail. After a time, he realized that he had not begun his descent back down to the ground, but was instead, flying. He was amazed by his ability and reveled in it. As he looked around, he wondered where the other flying horses were, for surely he was not the only one. But he saw no other horses with him, and he became frightened. His fear caught up and surpassed his joy at being able to fly, he panicked, and fell to the ground.
While he was not injured by the fall, he was indeed very frightened, and even though he had never experienced such joy as he had when he flew, Marius did not try again. When he and his playmates gathered now, he would trot with them, but he would not do anything else. His playmates began to canter in the pastures, and to jump over small trees that had fallen during the stormy days. He would watch them in silence from the back of the pasture, his joy now gone.
As the days passed he grew taller, his legs became stronger, but still he would not jump. When enough time had passed, the horse master decided it was time for all of the new horses to begin their training so that they could contribute to the well-being of the herd. The master called all the young horses together and began to teach them to respond to voice commands. If the master said, “Horses, walk!”, all of the horses would fall into line and walk together. Then the master taught them to trot, and when he commanded, they would all trot.
Then the day came when the master said, “Horses, canter!” Marius thought back to that day long ago, when he flew, and realized that those three steps he had taken before he leaped into the air had, in fact, been a canter. As all the other horses took their places in line, Marius stayed back. One by one, each horse cantered as the master commanded, until Marius was the only horse left in the back of the pasture. The master looked kindly at Marius and spoke to him with a very calm, loving voice, saying “Marius, it’s your turn to canter. I know you can do this. I know that you’re scared, but I will not let you fall. Please, Marius, canter to me.” Marius pushed aside his fear as he began to trot toward the master. When he saw the master smile, Marius broke into a swift canter and came to the master’s side. “Good job, Marius!”, said the master, and he gave Marius a tasty treat from the garden.
The training continued, with the master issuing commands and the horses responding, until all of the horses could walk, trot, canter, and even gallop. Marius was once again a happy horse.
Early one morning, before daybreak, the master called the horses into the pasture for training. “Today,” he said, “we are going to learn to jump properly. I have placed a very small fence in the center of the pasture. I know you can not see the fence because it is dark, but you don’t need to see the fence. Here, instead, is what you must do: listen to my voice. I will tell you when to trot, when to canter, and when to jump. When you hear me say, ‘Jump!’, then you will jump. Do not anticipate my command, but wait for it. And when I command, do not hesitate, but jump. I know you are afraid of what you can not see, but if you trust me, I will not let you trip over the fence.” The horses were gathered at the back of the pasture, discussing the master’s new commands. “I’m afraid,” said one horse. “It’s too dark!”, said another. “But the master has trained us well,” said a third. “He will not let us get hurt, for he is a good master indeed. I will go first.”
The first brave horse began to walk across the dark pasture. “Trot!”, said the master. The horse began to trot. “Canter!”, said the master, and once again the horse obeyed. “JUMP!” shouted the master. The horse jumped over the fence and landed solidly on the other side. When he realized what he had accomplished, he kicked his heels high into the air and shouted back to the other horses, “Do what the master says, and come over to this side of the fence. It is very exciting!” Each horse, in turn, listened to the master’s commands, and leaped over the fence. Until Marius was the only horse left in the back pasture.
“It’s your turn, Marius,” said the master. “Listen to my voice and you will be safe.” Marius thought to himself about the time he flew. He remembered the freedom, the joy, the excitement of flying through the air. But he also remembered falling, and he allowed fear to grip him once again. “No!” he shouted. “I will not jump a fence that I can not see.” The master asked Marius, “Do you not trust me? Have I allowed anything bad to happen to you since we began your training?” “No,” Marius replied, “but you let me fall to the ground the day I flew.”
“I did not allow you to fall to the ground,” said the master. “I was not even aware that you were flying, for you did that on your own, using only the strength you have inside. You had no training, only your natural, raw abilities. And you were superb, until you doubted yourself. That is why you fell. Now you have training and experience to go with your natural abilities. You should be able to jump the highest fence I put before you, because you can fly!”
Marius listened to the master, and he thought about the words and their meaning. He wanted desperately to jump, to come to the master waiting for him on the other side of the fence. He knew the master had a treat waiting for him. But he also knew that, if he jumped this fence, then the master would ask him to jump another, higher fence. And eventually the master would ask him to fly. He had to make a decision: jump the fence, in the dark, or forever remain in the back pasture, watching the other horses go on without him.
He heard the master say. “Marius, trot!” He slowly began to trot toward the master’s voice. “Marius, canter!” He hesitated, then began to canter. Finally the command came. “Marius, JUMP!” As he began to raise up on his back legs to jump, he hesitated. Then he jerked his head to the side and pulled away from the fence, galloping to the back of the pasture. “I can not do this,” Marius said to the master. “Yes, you can,” the master replied. “You are more than capable of jumping this fence. You must decide for yourself. I have trained you well. You have natural abilities that the other horses lack. You are the most capable horse in this pasture. But if you refuse to jump, I can not help you any more. The others are waiting for me to continue with their training. They are excited because they jumped their first fence. I can only wait for you a short time. Then I must move on with the others.”
“You must decide,” said the master. “The other horses and I will be on the other side of the fence continuing our work, and when we have finished, we will all go into the barn and rest. You can join us, or you can remain in the back pasture. I can tell you that there are many wonderful things waiting for you on this side of the fence, but until you jump you will never know what they are.”
“Choose wisely.” said the master.
And he waited.
(Editor’s note: I have heard this song performed live exactly one time, by this singer, in 1989, the week I found out that I was pregnant with our first child.)