"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle
It seems ridiculous now, but for some reason, my 26th birthday was the only one that ever got me down. I have experienced many milestones since then and none have ever bothered me. My mum always declared that it was “better than the alternative” and I quite agree.
But this isn’t about me. This is about is Friday, my beautiful red mare. When she was only a few years old she took her first trip into the Rockies. She carried the pack boxes, carefully balanced and tied with a diamond hitch. It is good training for a young horse: following the more seasoned steeds through unfamiliar terrain. Just a couple of nights into the trip, those teenagers that were to have been setting an example may have bungled the job since it was probably her naïve panic that spurred the rest of them when a bear came through camp. They all ignored hobbles, broke ties, and scattered into the valley.
The others were all soon found, but being a somewhat flighty horse and not yet bound to the rest of the herd, she had disappeared. After three days of searching, the group had to give up, suspecting, but not wanting to believe the worst. A few weeks later, we were ecstatic to receive a call from an outfitter who had not only found her, but had yarded and treated her for several days before finding us through the grapevine. She had been on her own in the Rocky Mountains for ten days. Sadly, her rope had become looped around her neck. Cotton though it was, it had chafed and burned quite badly. The tender care of the outfitter prevented infection and it healed well, but she has ever since worn a white braided necklace, the hair follicles having lost their pigmentation in the scarred area.
However, she survived and is a survivor. Her adventure taught her wariness and how to defend herself. She is a ‘red flag’ horse, which means if I ride her with other horses that do not know her; I have to flag her tail with florescent survey tape so that their riders know that she might kick. And she doesn’t kick for fun. She means it. She has caused harm. Many would destroy her, but I love her. I have learned to read the signs and prevent the strike and I no longer ride with unknown horses.
Her adventure also taught her how to navigate any terrain with the grace of a gazelle. She has brought me safely through swamps, washed out trails, snowstorms and ice covered rivers. She is soft mouthed and exquisitely sensitive to the body language of her rider. Tense and nervous on her back, I find myself riding a tense and nervous horse. Never a confident rider, she has taught me to relax, to trust.
I remember a particularly steep decline in Willmore Wilderness Park during my first pack trip there about two decades ago. There were four of us with no packhorses; carrying all we needed on our saddles. After an exciting ascent to an alpine meadow, we entered an extremely narrow and steep draw where the natural flow of water had eroded a gully below the crossing roots of the tall conifers that lined the mountainsides. The other three horses carefully picked their way over each exposed root, treacherously sliding nearly against the next one down the hill. I watched the horse in front of me with great fear that a foot would slide too far and become wedged under a strongly anchored root. The momentum was unstoppably downhill and my nervous imagination almost got the best of me. Friday, however, had her own plan, which I had finally learned to trust explicitly. So I let her have her head. The sides being too steep both down the hill and into the gully, she elected to hop gracefully from mossy bank to mossy bank all the way down. It truly was the safest and smoothest method of navigating that treacherous descent.