Last night I went to the pasture to catch Mystic for a play session in the arena. The air was cool and breathy, the grass June-sweet. The horses had trotted into the pasture at six pm after spending all day in their dry lots. Since they’re on a night-grazing schedule during our heat-battering North Carolina summers, they were enjoying the equine equivalent of an all-nighter at the Golden Corral.
I sidled toward Mystic, rope halter in hand, trying to look casual. He glanced up.
Uh oh, I thought. He’s going to walk away, like almost every horse I’ve ever tried to catch. (At best, they stand still while I approach, like a prisoner waiting to be handcuffed.) Actually, a lot of them have run away, with conviction. I’ll admit: It hurts my feelings every time, even though my head tells me it’s not personal. If I were a horse with the choice of eating grass or working with a human, I’d go for the grass every time.
Mystic studied me with his white-lashed, deep-brown eyes, which, in girlish fashion, I’ve totally fallen in love with.
To my surprise, he stepped forward. Toward me.
He’s going to turn away in a second, I told myself. After all, why would he give up an orgy of grass-eating in favor of me?
But he kept on coming. He walked right up to me, as if to say, Hey, good to see you.
Then, to my utter astonishment, he stood next to me without running away or even putting his head down to eat. I stroked his neck, ruffled his mane, rubbed the sweet spot in the center of his forehead. To all appearances, I looked calm, but inside I sounded like Sally Field during her notorious 1985 Academy Award speech: “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”
You see, I grew up reading the Black Stallion books, in which Alec Ramsay and his wild black stallion form a lifelong bond. No one else could ride the Black, as he was called, and he always came running to Alec. That’s how I pictured myself with my imaginary, someday horse. Except it never happened. My pony needed a heaping handful of grain to even come near me, and then she’d wiggle out of my grasp with the speed of a sidewinder before I could halter her.
This sense of communion with Mystic was a whole new ballgame. I remembered a phrase James uses often to describe the relationship between horse and human in natural horsemanship: “willing cooperation.” Suddenly I got it. I didn’t “catch” Mystic, who’s not a fish, after all. We willingly, cooperatively met each other in the middle, which is starting to look a lot like friendship.
As I walked Mystic up the crunchy path toward the barn, Kate rode up on her fairy-tale Arab-Friesian mare, Kleo; the two of them personify beauty and partnership. Kate, the most attuned person I’ve ever met, said, “I saw your special moment with Mystic.” She’d been riding in a field hundreds of yards away, yet still managed to catch the moment when Mystic walked up to me. Kate’s face glowed: she’s the one who instantly spotted the bond between Mystic and me during our first training session together, and she’s the one cheerleading me through this unfolding love affair with a horse.
She rode her black horse alongside me as I walked my white horse to the arena. We just smiled at each other; no words were necessary.
I know Mystic won’t always walk up to me in the pasture. Maybe it’ll be a long time before he does it again. But I have that memory, and Kate saw it too. I wasn’t dreaming.