runaway horse

I’ve been learning Horse — the language. One of the women who boards her horse at this ramshackle ranch is teaching me Equus. Well, she and Jake, her horse, are.

I’ve had two lessons already, both longer than I thought my brain could stand. Learning how to communicate with anyone is tricky, let alone someone of a different species. Intention is 90% of it. Focus, clarity, and confidence make up the rest.

Sunny is the palomino Tennessee Walker I’ve been feeding, daily. I also groom and walk him as time permits. Yesterday felt like a walking day, so I grabbed his halter and went out to the pasture to see if he agreed. He did, initially.

We used to walk in the arena, but the last few times I thought he might like a roomier amble. So I slid the halter over his blonde nose, held the rope loosely in both hands, and proceeded along the fence line of his pasture.

The idea of snakes entered my head. “I’ll keep an eye out, Sunny. I’m looking for them.” We continued and made one full sweep of the area.

We took a small break, and I gave him some cut up carrots. “Let’s try the opposite direction this time, babe,” I said. This go-round started out fine, as before, but as we approached the northeast corner, he spooked. Took off at a run. Galloped back to the southwest corner, his safety zone.

Luckily, I dropped the rope immediately. My heart was pounding, but no rope burns. I stood still, and watched him gallop for several minutes, dragging the rope. I worried that he’d tread on it and trip, hurt himself, but he didn’t.

Eventually, he slowed down. Eventually he stopped. I waited a bit more ’til my own pulse was slower, then calmly walked toward him.

“You’re okay,” I said. “You’re fine. You’re okay. Everything is okay.” I kept up the soothing tone and words as I approached and petted his neck. Reached up slowly and calmly, undid the knot by his cheek, and slid the halter off his nose. Patted him. “You’re okay. I am so sorry. We will never walk that stupid pasture again.”

Snakes. I didn’t see any, but it was a hot August day, and the sandy chaparral has tall weeds and short shrubs that are perfect hiding places for snakes. And I had noticed, when we walked the pasture before, that certain parts of it made him nervous. I thought it was proximity to the road and cars.

“You’re right,” I told Sunny, “snakes are quick. No way could I see them in time. I was foolish to try to do so. It won’t happen again. We will not walk in here again. And yes, I know I promised you an ocean ride and that hasn’t happened. But I know it will happen for you. Not with me, probably, but it will happen.”

I gave him some carrots and climbed through the fence out of the pasture and into the arena. Where we’d first learned to walk together. Also a scary time, but on my end, not his. Nothing like walking with a thousand pound animal to make you realize how fragile you are.

This afternoon, after I fed Sunny his alfalfa dinner, his “owner” turned up. A real, live rodeo cowboy. He’s moving Sunny down the dune to another ranch. I won’t get to feed him anymore. Or have to, depending on your point of view. 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. might seem a little strange for a while.

I did say good-bye though. After the cowboy jumped on Sunny’s back, they walked over to the fence where I was standing. “Good-bye sweetheart,” I said, and rubbed the place on his forehead that he loves. “Good-bye.”

Then I opened the gate for them to ride through, and opened the next one. Closed the gates behind them.

The last I saw of Sunny, he was heading for the ocean. As promised.
Yeah baby, yeah baby, baby baby yeah. Yeah baby, yeah baby, baby baby yeah.

Resting after Equus lesson two, photo by James Dickens.
Resting after learning and feeding horses. Photo by James Dickens.
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