Clinicians say their clients are focused more than ever on the development of the horse-rider relationship. The personal connection with a particular horse and the development of that connection is what matters most to us.
Relationships can certainly grow with studious application. They can also grow with the camaraderie of hours, seasons, and years on the trails. It’s a BFF kind of thing in which decisions are made cooperatively, often subconsciously, and in which the destination is less the point than the journey.
I head out with Pep, the paint pony on a warm, sunny day. My goal is to find a route up Joe’s Canyon and onto Menefee Mountain. The area suffered a devastating wild fire in 2012, so the canyon is marked by a seven-foot deep, mostly dry stream bed with vertical walls. (With no trees or plants left, areas often flood after fires. Subsequent erosion damage can last for eons.)
We find ourselves dropping into the stream bed when the going gets too thick or steep on either side. This strategy involves identifying a not-too-steep place to descend and then an equally doable route for getting back up.
On one stretch of creek bed, I get off and walk with Pep and the dogs. We come to a cul-de-sac, where dead fall has jammed up the narrow fissure and clogged the way. A box canyon in miniature.
We all stop to examine the remains of a deer who had recently met its demise here. A small pool of water should have triggered a yellow flag in my brain. Instead, I’m just happy the dogs could rehydrate.
I turn to face Pep, who has been more wary about the dead-end spot with its high embankments on each side. I watch as her hooves are being swallowed up by the fluid mix of sand and water underneath us. With Pep in the lead, we u-turn and get out lickety-split. I thank my partner for her attentiveness.
Further along, we need to cross the eroded stream bed again. I clamber down the steep embankment and ask her to follow. Six feet above me on the bank, Pep hesitates. To get out of her way, I climb up the other side, holding the very end of my mecate reins.
We’re staring across a divide at each other. It’s at least six feet across and six feet deep. Pep hesitates, assesses, thinks. I believe she’s flustered by the dogs; they are waiting at her heels for the next move. I call them to my side of the stream bed.
Suddenly, the mare gives me a I-have-a-better-plan look. In a split-second, she bows her head, sits back on her haunches, and l-a-u-n-c-h-e-s herself across the gap to land right beside me.
My jaw drops. I’m made speechless by her daring, by her athleticism, by that I-have-a-better-plan mentality which I’ve come to accept and love.
On days like these, our partnership – one that has had its share of ups and downs, literally and figuratively – becomes that much more of one.
I laugh. She licks her lips. And we continue on our way.