Like a jewel, the translucent mountain waters spread before us – for me and my horse. Momentarily on the beach – the next second plunging into the cold Sierra waters; like a foamy knife cutting through glass. Waves cresting over my knees, the stride of my horse, so powerful, so masterful. With only a bridle to steer with, I clung for dear life to his full, white mane. No saddle to cling to. The saddle was left on the beach with the other horses. The fraidy-cat horses who could not be budged to head into the cold mountain waters. Only I and my mount were courageous enough to hurtle ourselves forward. Finally! A good day for both of us.
Fred was a Buckskin Tobiano Pinto. A long name for the gorgeous creature he was! Beautifully formed, with black tail and forelock; a snowy-white mane and sweet angular face. He was a “Hollywood Horse.” A movie-star horse filmed in John Wayne’s last movie: The Cowboys. Superbly trained – but what a pain in the ass! He was “barn sour.” Meaning the horse perennially wants to return to the barn. This 900 pound animal will do most anything and everything to unseat the rider so he may return to his stall and do nothing all day. Maybe we two-legs can feel barn sour on occasion too!
Thanks to his longing to go home all day, the past two days away from the ranch, heading high into the mountains on a hazy, dusty trail ride, were a long struggle. Two days of fighting the restraints of hobbles; of watching my horse tumble into a stream – nose first, burying his fuzzy nose in muck up to his eyes with the flowing stream below him. Then came trying to brush me off by tearing through low-hanging Pondarosa pine branches, getting me all stickery with pinecone resin. For the other 10 riders, we were the clowns for this rodeo; providing endless amusement and astonishment. Never had they seen a horse tumble into a stream nose first. Never had they seen a horse work so hard to go home. Little did any of us know, another moment of astonishment lay just ahead!
For there we were: Fred and I as one. Riding in completeness, as one unit against a cobalt sky, through jade waters. Nothing between me and my horse: no blanket, no saddle. Just US.
A fast-running current was topping my knees; my legs hopelessly trying to grip my horse’s silky ribs. No way to hold on! And OOPS! I’ve lost hold of my horse. So intense the water rushing past my legs, I inescapably slid off his backside; then over the rump; and finally, into his lashing legs and feet!
In a trice, there I was…. Alone. In the middle of a vast mountain lake, in the middle of the Sierras, in the midst of cold mountain water. Fred’s foaming stride, leaving me in the dust. Only this time, it was in the water. A time-critical moment for hypothermia to settle in.
Then came OUR moment, his and mine. Realizing I was no longer astride, Fred circled back to get me; blowing little Pinto puffs at me as he neared. How I loved my horse!
By dint of clinging to his neck and hanging onto his snowy mane, Fred returned me safely to shore. Brought me to a cheering crowd of cowboys; red bandanas and neckerchiefs a-fluttering.
Moving as one with any large animal, horse, dolphin or dog – etches in our minds forever how interconnected we are to the animal world and, therefore, to each other. My horse challenged me on every level throughout our two-day ordeal… I mean ride.
The best challenge of all was that moment of faith in my horse. Did I or didn’t I believe he would return? As we jogged along, I thought I was his teacher. Turned out, Fred was my teacher too. Valuable lessons were learned like taking everything “in stride,” including falling off my horse! While not easy to work with, the journey outshone the obstacles. Everything has its moment. This was our moment; our moment together in so many ways.
Modern life has taken us away from horses. Out of sight really is out of mind. Little time is spent considering the horses who played a huge role in the history of human experience. In my history, my horse changed my life.