I met Jasper when I was eleven years old in 1948. I lived in the town of Jericho, Long Island, New York, about 10 miles away from him. I use to ride my Columbia bike to the stables so I could watch him work with the horses.
Jasper and his wife ran a boarding farm for horses. I'm not certain whether he managed it or owned it. The farm wasn't very large. It had a choral, three pastures a couple of wooden buildings that comprised of a tackle barn attached to the building which Jasper and his wife lived in and about eight stables which were always occupied.
It wasn't long before I was bringing my lunch and spending the day on weekends, both days. He was a small man, a good size for a jockey. He was bow legged, always bent forward and walked with a strong side to side wattle. I never learned his last name, but that's not important. What is important is that at the young age of eleven, he was my first and most important teacher.
He taught me so many things that its sometimes difficult to admit to myself that a stranger should have played such an instrumental part in my growth as a young man. In defense of my parents, I know they loved me, but they just never seemed to touch the places in me that Jasper did.
He taught me how to ride a horse and how to care for them. I don't mean just how to take care of them, but how to love something that big. Before jasper I was petrified of horses. He taught me the true meaning of horse sense. He would say that horses have all of the senses that man has and that's why such a strong bond of love and trust can be formed between man and horse.
He said that he thought that the sense of smell was the most important to a horse because no one could imitate the real thing. No one can fool a horse. Everyone has a sent, not an odor or a smell that's offensive but a sent that identifies him. "If I'm upwind and I'm approaching the stables my horses know its me before I'm in site", he would say.
He went on to tell me more about the sense of smell. We were sitting on a small couch and he asked me to get up and sit down real fast, which I did. Then he asked me what I smelled. I told him it smelled bad and he laughed. He said what you're smelling is saddle leather and the sent of everyone of the horses they were on. After the people drop the horses off and come into the office they often sit on the couch and deposit any and all of the sent on the couch pillows. Well not quite in those words, those were not the words he used but I knew what he meant. He was right.
I started smelling everyone's sent after that. Some of the first were my mom and dad. Mom had a strong sent. Dad smelled the best. It was like a clean, sweet, mild, pleasant smell. Shortly after that discussion with Jasper I asked him how come I couldn't smell myself. He smiled and told me that you have to pick up a sent to smell it and that if you carry it on your person you can't pick it up.
I noticed that every time he was in close quarters with a horse he used to make this constant soft hissing noise. I asked him why he did it and he explained that when ever you're around a horse, specially a horse that's not used to you, you should make sure he knows you're there so he doesn't spook and hurt you or himself.
I volunteered for many chores. I didn't mind it, I enjoyed being with him. Most often I worked along with Jasper. Cleaning stables, distributing new hay, feeding them, walking them to pasture and often I would ride them in the choral. He taught me how to ride and jump them. I remember how exciting it was to go over a jump on the back of an animal that big. Sometimes it was frightening. He was always there talking me through.
The most important and hardest thing he taught me was respect. Respect for everything from animals to people to myself. I was having a hard time in school at that time and I think my lack of self esteem reflected it. I wouldn't really understand his teaching of respect until years later when I was in my thirties. It was difficult to administer respect the way he taught it.
One day while at lunch with him in the office he pointed to a picture of a horse on the wall and said to me, "See that horse? He was the greatest horse in the world. There'll never be another Man O' War." I had no idea who Man O' War was, but as I found out years later he was probably the strongest, fastest and most loved horse of all time.
He went on, "He's dead, he died, he's gone." and his eyes started watering. I didn't know what to do for him. He stopped long enough to wipe the tears away with a handkerchief that was less than clean then blowing his nose he said, "We put him out to pasture and a couple of days later he got sick and died. I don't know what happened but earlier in the week the trees in that pasture were sprayed for bugs and I think he ate the fruit." He told me again he didn't know what to do for him and he died.
Years later, many years after Jaspers death I would hear that Man O' War died of a broken heart shortly after the death of his life long groomer with whom he was very attached.
At first I was very confused because I didn't want to believe that Jasper lied to me. But the confusion didn't last long because I knew how much he loved Man O' War.
Out of respect for my friend Jasper I have to believe him and his claim to have cared for Man O'War in his last days. At the very least I have to believe that if he love this horse enough to fantasize that he took care of this wonderful animal, then most likely he believed it himself. Perhaps someday someone out there who knows something of Jasper or Man O' War will come forth and clarify the issue for me.
One day one of my friend came to me all excited and told me the bad news. Jasper was dead. I was so upset I didn't even tell mom and dad where I was going. I jumped on my bike and rode as fast as I could to Jaspers. When I got there, I went into the office and was confronted by a man who told me that I was going to have to leave.
I told him of my association with Jasper and started crying. I asked him if I could pay my respect to Mrs. Jasper, that's what everyone called her. He told me that she wasn't there any longer but that if I wanted to hang around for a while I could as long as I didn't get in the way. I thanked him and sat on the couch, the one that Jasper and I had sat on so many times.
I looked at the picture on the wall of Man O'War and he looked even more beautiful than when Jasper brought him to my attention. I saw one of jaspers old long sleeve shirts hanging from a coat rack in the corner of the room and I went over to pick it up. As I held it to my nose I could smell Jasper and at that time I realized what he had tried to teach me about the sense of smell. I could smell Jasper.
After a while I put the shirt back on the rack and walked out of the office. I fed oats to the horses in their stalls one last time, touched them and walked to the choral and then stood and looked at the empty pastures for one last time then picked up my bike and rode off, never to return.
I only looked back one time. It was when I got about a block away. I turned and looked over my shoulder. It was difficult seeing through my tears. I could tell things would be different now, I could tell they had changed, I could tell it would never be the same again. I'd never see him again.
I've long since forgotten the sent of jasper but the memories have grown stronger. They've grown so strong that sometimes I have to assure myself that I'm certain that I'm not making any of it up. Perhaps this is what Jasper felt when he spoke of Man O' War. It is possible that he never had anything to do with the great Man O' War. It wouldn't matter to me if he didn't. I could tell he loved the horse. Everyone who knew anything about horses loved him. There has never been another like him since.
It would please me to find out the he was not fantasizing about Man O'War and indeed I would be proud to have known him. But I am proud of him regardless of the outcome. I truly loved my friend Jasper. He was a good man, a good teacher, a good friend.
I can count the teachers in my life on the first three fingers of one hand, but by far I can attribute my affections for animals, life and love to the teaching of a man called Jasper, my friend.
Every time I smell real leather, a horse, horse ligament or pasture grass my mind goes back to those days I spent with my friend Jasper. Some times I even smell him. I remember him to people I care about allot lately. Its important to me that they know of the role he played in my life.