One of my favorite gals around these parts is Linda Mannix. The director of the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Mannix is a walking, talking fireball. She has more energy, ideas, and initiative than I could ever hope for. Technically, she is a senior citizen. But practically, she’s more a 30-year old overachiever. Yet her drive and productivity do not preclude her from appreciating quiet times.
Here, Mannix shares a moment of downtime with her beloved equines:
It is late winter in southwestern Colorado, a time when icy cold storms are followed by brilliant blue-sky days bearing a hint of spring. My husband and I live on an old ranch where we raised cattle to sell all-natural beef at the local Farmer’s Market. Now we just raise hay. Weather, livestock, and wildlife are a constant in our lives.
On the ranch, we used horses to work cattle. Several years ago, we bought a nice six-month old colt from another ranch. I named him “Tio” after a dear friend. Tio and I have had our ups and downs (Literally: I was bucked off while rounding up bulls in a rainstorm. That incident led me in search of newer and better ways of training a young horse, strategies better than just riding the buck out of them.)
Tio and I are older and wiser now, with a balanced sense of trust and respect between us. Two other horses and three donkeys fill out the remains of our string. Our ranch does not have a barn, so the horses and donks are turned out in a large, dry trap all winter. I feed them three times a day, keeping hay in their bellies to fend off the cold.
Last week, I went out on a moonless night to do late feeding about 11 pm. These journeys always afford me a vigorous walk after dinner, some excellent star gazing, and quality nose time breathing cold air next to frosty whiskers on the horse’s muzzles.
When I got to the feed ground, there were no horses or donkeys to be seen. They hang out in the trees at night, so I went ahead and spread the hay out. The longer I stood there, the more I realized I could hear nothing. The sound of silence. No braying, no crunching hooves on snow and ice. Nothing.
As I headed back towards the house I had second thoughts about leaving them unaccounted for. Our property backs up to a canyon which is home to mountain lion and coyote. I began searching with headlamp to find my tiny herd.
Finally, a beam caught the glint of reflection in eyes. Still, not a sound. I looked closer and they were all there. Horses and donkeys standing ankle deep in half frozen mud in our old branding pen.
Tio gave a concerned nicker and moved towards the walk-through gate. I looked at the footing and realized there was no way I could go in there. It was suck-yer-boots-off mud. So I circled around the outside of the pen and walked past an open stock panel where the horses could get out.
My big red horse looked at me. I looked at him, and kept on walking. He slogged his way out of the pen and followed me. No halter, no lead rope. He trusted me and I trusted him. He did not panic nor barge past me. Just walked steadily behind. It was an invisible bond between us which we have worked for years to build.
As we walked back around to where the feed was, the others followed. When they were all there, I clicked off my headlamp and sat down on a log. All the bustle, noise, and news of the day meant nothing compared to the simple joy of listening to those animals chew their feed on a cold, starry night. I realized once again how much these large, flighty animals touch our souls. The depth of their being reminds us to savor every moment in our lives.