We walk down the road, vehicle tracks as rigid deep veins in the frozen mud, sheets of ice glistening in the pale winter sun. It’s treacherous footing but we have to get out.
Our usual stop is to visit two young mares in a pasture, who are always excited to see another horse coming down the road. Today, Sabio stops and looks at them, but he doesn’t ask to go over and visit. Often he has gone over and sniffed noses and taken in their muzzles exploring his face and neck as though it was a special treat. But today, he looked and he decided he wanted to continue walking with me and didn’t give them a backward glance.
This demonstrated to me that he had gotten accustomed to their presence and that he was perfectly happy walking with me. At that point he made that decision not to visit with them, I felt a deep connection come from him, him matching my stride, us walking together. I often feel this with him while in the saddle too, but when I am on the ground next to him, I’m then like another horse. Horses walk side by side, they walk one behind the other. There is a rhythm to this, different from the rhythm of us being on their backs. I want all those rhythms. I want to feel all of it.
The other part of the walk is observing together. If he takes an interest in the mares, so do I. If he takes interest in some far off call of a coyote, I turn my head in the same direction. I often can’t hear and see what he has going on in his world, but it doesn’t matter. I want to know. I want to be more horse than I am. I want the senses he was born with, the broader knowledge of his world. He is my entry into that world, whether I will ever hear or see what he can or not.
Winter can be bleak here in the Southwest, with snow blowing across frozen stalks of wild grasses, tree trunks gone rigid and cracking from the cold. Once when it was warmer, a dust devil lifted dried horse poop into a swirl and hit me full in the face. It is not a romantic setting, yet there is something wild and beautiful about it all. It is a time for hibernation and yet I’m out here in the muck and cold walking a horse before the sun disappears.
We share this with the crows cawing, lighting on clawlike branches and taking flight when we come near. We share it with the coyotes who are the same color as the land and sunlight, fleets of yellow-brown fur hunkering low to the ground at a trot in hopes of not being noticed, stealthy, cunning.
On the way back, I tossed the leadrope over his back to see what he would do. He grazed on what was available, finds something tasty hidden under the snow; sticks with me. At times I led the way, other times he moved ahead, just as though we were two horses exploring. The only difference is I’m a human. He has the ability to move away and come back but I don’t really feel him leave. He looks at me, wants to know which direction at times, or even suggest a direction. Occasionally, I point or lead the way.
I feel his connection without the leadrope, with only his attention moving between his curiosity and staying close, a leadrope tethered to my heart, not my hand.