Wednesday, March 16, 2011


My mare was fresh, having not been saddled in several weeks. We loped along and her ears swiveled at each shadow, leaf twitch, and flicker along the trail. The ground cut away, the river charged 70 feet below. Above, the cliff top stood bare against the outline of a mountain behind.

In the trail ahead, several bathtub-sized boulders had tumbled from the thawing, strewn across the path ahead. It was passable, I could see at a glance, but it was not the trail my mare was familiar with from the fall before. She hesitated, just momentarily. Was it a horse-eating rock? Was there a wolf behind it? Was it a trap, a trick, a carefully-disguised predator? She is not a spooky horse, but when alone, any horse will consider a change on the trail twice before approaching. I sat calmly, ready for her decision, broadcasting my confidence and asking her to trust me. We broke to a trot, our bodies moving in unison, as I allowed her to consider her options.

My dog, an exuberant puppy, loped onward. Rocks! He seemed to say. This looks like the perfect place to lift a leg! Maybe a coyote has been here! What kind of scents might be on these rocks?! He leapt over the first one and began hurriedly investigating.

Immediately, my mare changed beat. I sensed her decision and together we moved back into a lope, stepping through and around the boulder field without hesitation, ears and neck calm, forward, and focused. A little predator, a little dog-- she saw his movement around the rocks and understood she could trust the puppy to judge the danger of the unfamiliar scene. She, a prey animal, trusted the predator's decision.

Every instance of her higher intelligence and decision-making capabilities reinforces my life's choice to work in this field, with these horses. I just wish I could communicate these little miracles to the citified humans that are sent down my path..

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Native Wisdom

A memory from 2001, traveling through the Pacific Northwest:
We followed a coastal highway, letting the lay of the land dictate the direction of the car, until we spotted a grey arch rise from the water: a whale! We drove slowly, watching her swim and rise, blow and pause, between the great pines. At each turnout we would stop and watch her journey. We lost sight of her when the bay opened up, and she left us.

We came to a small logging village, quite rough-looking, within the bounds of an indian reservation. There was a small museum a few blocks off Main Street, and we stopped. Following our visit I bought a choker made of shells, and asked the cashier how much tax was. The native woman snorted. "Tax! We don't pay tax," she said. "The government has taken plenty enough from us!"