The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Playing with Mystic in the arena

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.

The Black Stallion always came to Alec

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

  1. Very beautiful. And i agree with all you wrote about Kate. She is the soul of the place.

    It is for me, one of the great joys of my life to see Sonder come to me. I am an invetrerate treater, but she comes no matter if I have something or not. She comes when she is with her freinds.

    She is the best friend I have ever had.

    I am not at all surprised that you and Mystic have walked though the “magic mirror” together, where horse and human communicate. E

    • I love that phrase, the “magic mirror.” What’s the source of that? Sonder and you are such a well-matched pair–how you found each other in this big, wide world is a marvel to me. Hurray for serendipity!

  2. I too choked up again reading this. It was a beautiful moment and is one that will remain in both our minds forever. I like how you described the “relationship of willing cooperation”. It is a compromise, as any friendship is, and will not always be picture perfect… BUT there is something so magical about those special moments that we feel as though the world stands still and our hearts race in time with our horse’s. You will have more of them…

    • Kate, you are my inspiration, and your words of encouragement keep me going when I’m feeling tangled up (literally) or stuck. You see what I’m not always able to–but yesterday we saw the same thing together. I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather share that moment with.

  3. Loved this! I rode for years when I was young and I don’t think I ever had my horse come to me when he was out in the pasture. But then, I always never went to just “hang out” as part of the herd.

  4. It’s an amazing feeling, I’ll tell you. Natural horsemanship will take you there. Am I right in hearing that you and your daughter are joining the “herd” at FIore Farms?

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