Joe’s Project

My friend Joe, who is studying photography at Randolph Community College (see his blog), asked if he could feature Mystic and me in a multimedia project for a class. The object was to capture someone in her or his milieu, complete with sound effects and spoken narrative. It could only be one minute long, with no more than 24 images.

Joe

Joe

I said okay, and Joe shot photos over the course of two days (hence different clothes and tack, for the sharp-eyed). He also recorded some great sound effects: crunchy driveway gravel, hoofbeats, neighs, and nickers. You’ll just have to imagine those as you read the transcript and view the slideshow below.

Thanks, Joe, for letting us be part of your project. You deserve an A.

I love heading out to the farm on weekends. I know I’m going into this world that I love. I have this beautiful horse named Mystic; I’ve had him for about three years. A big part of having a horse is taking care of the horse and grooming it. I always do that before I do anything with Mystic for the day. One of the great things about it is that I’m not only taking care of him, but I’m also creating that connection with him. I learned about natural horsemanship a few years ago. It’s really about understanding horse psychology and behavior, especially how horses behave in herds, and using that knowledge to connect with a horse and build a trusting relationship with it. Mystic is 19 years old. Horses can live into their 30s; I hope to have a lot of years with him.

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Carriage Trails and Mountain Views

“When you come to Blowing Rock I advise you to say: ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,’ for you will need it unless your legs will carry you over the 30 miles of road on the Cone Estate.”

~ Greensboro Daily News, 1930

During his latter years, Greensboro textile magnate Moses Cone assembled a 3,500-acre country estate near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Now part of the National Park Service, Moses Cone Memorial Park sits on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It has two lakes, two mountains, endless carriage trails, and a 13,000-square-foot mansion featuring crafts by regional artists. The park is free and open to hikers, carriages, and horseback riders.

One of many breathtaking views in Cone Park

One of many breathtaking views in Cone Park

Thanks to my riding buddy Tim, I got to experience this magical place on horseback. Tim hauled Mystic; his horse, Laea; and me in his powerhouse white truck and trailer. The drive took about 2.5 hours from Flintrock Farm and brought us through Boone, home of Appalachian State (recipient of Moses Cone’s largesse), and Blowing Rock. As we traveled, the landscape transformed from flat expanse to rolling hills to deep green, cloud-shrouded mountains.

“I’ve got butterflies in my stomach,” Tim confessed as we unloaded the horses in the ample parking lot designed specifically for horse-pulling rigs.

I fully sympathized. I’ve ridden Laea a few times, and she’s a sensitive, high-strung, energetic handful. She spooks with the speed of a sidewinder and the agility of a gazelle. This outing marked her first extended trek on unfamiliar trails, where we were likely to encounter hikers, runners, and other horses.

To Tim’s surprise and delight, Laea settled right in, leading all the way. She spooked slightly at a few logs and rocky outcroppings, but was clearly engaged and interested. Mystic ambled behind, slowed down by the ouchy gravel on the carriage paths.

We started by riding up Rich Mountain, a five-mile trek that took us to a gentle pinnacle with a stone-walled picnic area and panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Good food and views

Good food and good views

A young hiker took our picture, memorializing the moment. As we held up our phones to capture the view, I wondered, “Would Thoreau have used a cell phone?” The hiker smiled and shook his head. “Absolutely not.” With that, he took his walking stick and set off down the mountain.

On top of Rich Mountain

On top of Rich Mountain

On our way down, we stepped over dozens of cow pads and passed an empty pasture. “I wonder where the cows are?” I mused. As we wound through the woods, we heard moaning, mooing sounds. The sounds got closer. Laea and Mystic’s ears swiveled and pricked upright. A few hundred feet ahead, a tan cow and a black cow stood in the carriage path. The tan cow retreated to a hillside as we got closer, but its friend was too curious to move. Laea, bless her heart, stood her ground, and we eventually shooshed the cow out of the way.

Our next stop was Trout Lake, where Mystic and Laea splashed like toddlers.

Tim and Laea at Trout Lake

Tim and Laea at Trout Lake

From there we rode to the manor house, the grand Colonial Revival that Moses and Bertha Cone built as their country retreat.

Flat Top Manor

Flat Top Manor

After Moses’ death at 51, Bertha summered at the estate for her remaining 39 years. She was said to be a firm but kind lady who was particularly proud of her black surrey with brass fittings. She was apparently a perfectionist, especially when it came to the condition of the carriage trails. One former tenant farmer reported that she rode in her surrey with a book in her lap. If a rock or stick jarred her even slightly, she would record its exact location and have estate workers smooth the spot.

Drat!

Drat!

Last, we rode to the Cones’ gravesite about a mile from the manor house. The path was less rocky, so we managed a sustained trot. I looked at Tim, posting comfortably on a relaxed-looking Laea, and felt I’d never seen a happier man. The Cone cemetery was surprisingly scant: one big monument for Moses and Bertha, and two small gravestones for her sisters. The couple had no children—perhaps a disappointment to them, but certainly a benefit to the communities and causes to which they willed their estate.

Cone gravesite

Cone gravesite

Our horses were clearly tired as we headed back to the trailer lot, where they grazed in tall grass before stepping easily into the trailer. All in all, we’d covered almost 15 miles and spent five hours in the saddle. It would be hard to imagine a better day.

But Tim was already imagining a better one—when we’d come back again, this time with protective boots on our horses’ feet, to enjoy the rustic pleasures of a beautifully preserved bygone era.

 

Showing Off

After competing in two horse shows—one in 1966, the other in 1971, I swore I would never do it again.

I was not what you’d call a star.

My first show took place in Vermont, and I didn’t earn a ribbon. The only thing I remember is ignoring my mother when she told me it was time go home. I defiantly trotted my borrowed pony around the show grounds, until he rebelled and dumped me. I ended up with a bloody nose and my mother’s admonition: “That’s what you get for not listening to me.”

Vermont horse show, 1966; I'm riding the rotund bay pony on the right

Vermont horse show, 1966; I’m riding the rotund bay pony on the right

My second show, a 4-H competition in Crawfordsville, Indiana, carried more glory. I won a golden trophy and a showy purple ribbon in the English pleasure class. It might have been impressive if there had been any other horses in the ring. Everybody in Crawfordsville rode western, so I had no competition—just my riding teacher hissing from the sidelines, “Wrong diagonal!” I never could figure that stuff out.

4-H champion, 1971

4-H champion, 1971

Performing makes me anxious, maybe because I’m an introverted perfectionist. The thought of competing in a horse show brings up all the anxiety I buried back in the day when I did figure skating competitions, piano recitals, swim meets, speech team contests, and theater roles. I quit my performance career for good when I forgot my lines during a college Shakespeare production.

My brief performing career included magician's assistant to "Chinese Louie," 1974

My brief performing career included magician’s assistant to “Chinese Louie,” 1975

Only my good riding buddy, Tim, could convince me to return to the spotlight. He told me about the Jack Benny class at HorseFriends of North Carolina’s Open Benefit Show on June 7, then added, “You and I are riding in it.”

A Jack Benny class, for those too young to get the reference, is for older riders. I’m not sure how the late actor and comedian became associated with an equine event, but I like to think he’s laughing about it.

A relaxed class for us middle-aged folks sounded like fun, especially now that I’m older and know that people have better things to do than brood on my performance. It’s nice to get over myself, a little.

The HorseFriends show is a sweet, good-natured production that raises funds for their therapeutic riding program. It’s low-key as horse shows go, with the egg-in-spoon contest and apple-bobbing-and-carrying-in-mouth being two highlights.

Balancing eggs and bobbing for apples (not throwing up) at the HorseFriends show, June 2014

Balancing eggs and bobbing for apples (not throwing up) at the HorseFriends show, June 2014

Yet some of the riders looked pretty serious. The fanciest ones wore English riding jackets and tall black boots. They sat straight in the saddle, their horses equally formal and focused.

This is getting serious

This is getting serious

Mystic and I were relaxed by comparison. I gave him the obligatory bath, then hung around with Tim and his mare, Laea, while we waited for the Jack Benny class. I took Mystic to the lower arena and practiced walk-trot transitions. He was responsive yet easygoing. This would be a piece of cake.

“You two will take the blue ribbon,” Tim said generously.

I tied the cardboard square with my number—232—around my back and put on my helmet, but we still had a long wait. The show was unfolding very slowly, and the day was getting hot and long.

As I waited, a little seed of anxiety made itself known in my stomach.

Huh? This is just a lark, nothing to get nervous about. Silly.

Finally the announcer called the Jack Benny contestants to the ring. There were four of us, including a woman wearing shorts without a number on her back.

That nervous thing in my stomach? It was getting bigger by the moment. Maybe it was the radioactive waste of my childhood performance anxiety. Maybe it was a hard-wired compulsion to be top primate in the group.

Whatever it was, Mystic felt it. As I’ve learned through studying natural horsemanship with James and Kate Cooler, horses are exquisitely fine-tuned. They feel what you feel, and they reflect your issues, for better or for worse.

I don’t remember the class very well—I do know my nose didn’t bleed—mainly I recall Mystic’s head jerking up every time we transitioned from walk to trot. I remember him starting to canter when he should have been trotting.

Giving Jack Benny our best effort: Mystic & me,  Tim & Laea

Giving Jack Benny our best effort: Mystic & me, Laea & Tim

I remember having a little bit of fun, but not much.

When it was over, we lined up in the center of the ring. The judge walked up to the woman in shorts and said, “We have to disqualify you because you’re not wearing proper attire and you don’t have a number. I hope you understand.” The woman laughed. “This is the first time I’ve been on this horse. It’s my daughter’s—I just decided to jump on it.”

Clearly she didn’t have performance anxiety.

Mystic and I ended up with a lovely, marigold-yellow third-place ribbon. I imagine it would have been fourth place if that numberless lady had been wearing breeches. Tim and Laea swept the competition, earning a royal blue ribbon. I wish I’d relaxed more and watched them do their thing instead of fussing about getting things “right.” I bet they were a wonderful sight.

Blue ribbon girl!

Blue ribbon girl!

Tim’s already talking about doing it again next year—he thinks we should do a pairs class. Based on my imperfect, anxious showing this year, I should say no.

But, you know, it could be fun.

Mystic and Maddie

Maddie is four years old, loves horses, and likes to keep moving. And when I say moving, I mean barreling forward with arms ready to embrace the next experience.

She’s a pip—defined by Merriam-Webster’s as one extraordinary of its kind.

Maddie the pip

Maddie the pip

Maddie has another definition, one that characterizes her spunk, social bluntness, and sensory-seeking nature as high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome. The DSM-V has reclassified this as autism spectrum disorder, but the symptoms remain the same.

I’m lucky to know Maddie as well as her mother, Shāna Cole, who co-owns Tree of Life Counseling and supervises my work there as a licensed professional counselor associate. Shāna has been my mentor since graduate school days, and she is one amazing therapist and can-do gal. The pip doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Shāna, who knows about my EAGALA training and interest in equine-assisted therapy, suggested I pair Maddie with my horse, Mystic. I didn’t hesitate. I had read and wept over the true-life book Horse Boy (also a documentary), in which horses help heal a profoundly autistic boy. I’d visited Eye of A Horse  in Florida and watched horses work their magic with a group of teens on the autism spectrum.

On a joyously green Saturday in April, Maddie came out to Flintrock Farm for her first therapeutic session. She hurtled out of the car, eager to see Mystic and get the ball rolling. She didn’t hesitate to pat him, stroke his tail, touch his hooves, and sidle closer than most adults would dare. When I gave her a grooming brush, she tackled Mystic’s tail with singular focus. I sprayed conditioner, she brushed. Spray, brush. We worked together, forging a triadic connection: human-horse-human.

“I’ve never seen Maddie immersed for so long,” Shana marveled. “She’s drawn to strong textures—that’s her sensory need—so I bet his bristly tail feels good to her.”

I saddled Mystic, then asked Maddie to help me walk him out of the barn. We shared the lead rope; every time she hurried forward, I reminded her to stay even with Mystic’s shoulder. This provided a lesson in spatial and relational sensitivity, not to mention horse safety.

Maddie and Mystic

Maddie and Mystic

Maddie, who lives in the moment while heartily priming for the next one, was ready to ride Mystic pronto.  Most people show hesitation when they get on a 1,000-pound animal, but she did not. “Let’s go!” she ordered as soon as I hoisted her into the saddle.

I walked Mystic in slow, careful circles, letting Maddie adjust to Mystic’s swaying movement. Because she had no fear, she moved easily with him. As she grew more balanced in her seat, I brought him to a gentle trot. She bobbed in the saddle, delighted. “Go fast again!”

Most novices stiffen when a horse moves faster, but Maddie had the opposite reaction: she bobbled and jounced and giggled. “Again! More!”

By the end of a sustained trotting session, Maddie’s energy had shifted. She was calm, grounded, and centered. Shana explained that bouncing, hanging upside down, and spinning are calming activities for Maddie. These movements stimulate the proprioceptive and vestibular systems, helping children on the autism spectrum locate their bodies in space and develop balance and coordination.

Whatever the scientific explanation, the proof was in the pudding: Maddie was mellow. She lolled against a hay bale, eating pretzel sticks, looking entirely sated.

“Thank you,” Shana said. “This is amazing. When can we do it again?”

We’ve since had two more equine sessions, with continuing focus on spatial awareness (“Keep step with Mystic—don’t run ahead!”), cueing into others’ emotions (“Ears back means he’s not happy”), and body movement (“Feel how your body is swaying side to side?”).

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Each session starts with Maddie running toward me, arms outstretched, shouting, “I missed you, Mary! I love you! I missed Mystic! I love Mystic!” followed by a feet-off-the-ground, arms-wrapped-and-locked hug that goes straight to the heart and lodges there permanently.

“You’re the best, Mary. You’re so nice. I love you.” Maddie smiles, pure delight, all id.

“I love you too. You’re a pip.”

We pick up our grooming brushes and turn our attention to Mystic, who stands quietly in the barn aisle, waiting to teach us both.

 

No-Fuss Gus

Meet Gus.

Gus, named for Captain Augustus "Gus" McRae from Lonesome Dove

Gus, named for Captain Augustus “Gus” McRae from Lonesome Dove

Gus, whose given name is First Sixgun, is James Cooler’s Wild Card pick for Road to the Horse 2015. Gus comes from the legendary 6666 Ranch in Texas, known for its top-quality Quarter horses.

If you’re new to the Wild Card concept, check out the Road to the Horse website. Basically, Wild Cards are up-and-coming natural horsemanship trainers who have the chance to compete against the world’s best trainers in a three-day colt-starting event.

It’s big, believe me.

James drove all the way to Texas to pick up Gus at the 6666 Ranch three weeks ago. He and a friend made the 2700-mile round trip in 72 hours, passing through seven states along the way.

The journey was well worthwhile.

Gus has turned out to be a quick study: confident, smart, quick to learn, steady. He enjoys walking over tarps as well as nibbling them; when the blue plastic wraps around his legs, he steps out of the tangle with elegant nonchalance.

Tarp, schmarp, doesn't bother me

Tarp, schmarp, doesn’t bother me

Flags, plastic bags, ropes—nothing particularly rattles Gus. He did, however, take exception to a saddle on his back for the first time, as seen in this video of his first week of training. Since a saddle approximates the feeling of a mountain lion dropping on a horse’s back, it’s not surprising when a little bucking happens.

I got to see Gus in action for the first time on May 18 at his debut demo. It took place at Shangrila Guest Ranch, where James and Kate held a Cooler Horsemanship clinic.

First, the clinic participants admired Gus up close.

Mussing Gus

Mussing Gus

Kate Cooler set up her camera to film the session for the Cooler Horsemanship video library.

Kate, videographer extraordinaire

Kate, videographer extraordinaire

Dillon, son of Shangrila owners Gary and Julie Holmes, set up his camera as well.

Director Dillon

Director Dillon

James started with the basics: lateral flexing, disengaging hindquarters, moving shoulders, backing up. On to some tarp work, then time to saddle up.

We got a little show of bucking, but smart Gus decided not to pursue that path for long.

Is it a mountain lion or a saddle?

Is it a mountain lion or a saddle?

His humped-up posture shifted to a relaxed stride.

Relaxing with the saddle

Relaxing with the saddle

Next James prepped Gus for riding, flapping the stirrups, putting his weight on one side and then the other.

Taking things slow before getting in the saddle

Taking things slow before getting in the saddle

And then the riding began. James and Gus moved in sync as if they’d been together forever—hard to believe it was only their sixth ride. They did a slow trot, extended trot, and canter.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Speeding up the relationship

Gus took a while to pick up the correct lead on one side, but once he did, he was sailing.

Like Deuce, James’ other 6666 Quarter horse, Gus has the muscly ease and power of a natural athlete. His confidence makes him an even quicker study than Deuce; James estimates that he’s made as much progress with Gus in three weeks as he made in the first four months with Deuce.

“It’s going so well, I keep waiting for the catch,” says James. “But I think he’s just a good-minded, super-talented guy.”

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

 

A Dream Deferred

Ten days ago I went to Lexington, Kentucky, to root for Wild Card James Cooler and his colt Deuce at Road to the Horse. They competed in the first round on March 13, but something wasn’t right with Deuce; he was clearly off his game.

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When the obstacle course came up next, James and Deuce were nowhere to be seen. Those of us in the stands wondered and worried, aware that only a major issue could take James and Deuce away from the competition they’d been preparing for all year. It turned out that James had bowed out of the Wild Card competition.

 As he later explained on Cooler Horsemanship’s Facebook page:

I could feel that Deuce was not 100% during the reining portion of the Wild Card competition on Thursday night, and his care is always my highest priority. He has a very special place in my heart, and when I felt he wasn’t at his best I decided not to continue with him in the competition.

My problems came up during the opening flag ceremony, and I could tell he was in pain from the behavior he exhibited, which was stomping and unusual urination… bless his heart for trying as hard as he did, but after that I knew it was not fair to him to continue.

Many people responded to that Facebook post, and the gist of every message was: You are a champion for putting your horse’s needs first.

James and Deuce’s withdrawal from the Wild Card competition was surprising, but Wild Card James Anderson’s steep ascent to 2014 Road to the Horse champion—besting three of the world’s finest natural horsemanship trainers, Dan Steers, Jonathan Field, and Antoine Cloux—was a total jaw-dropper. The idea that a little-known trainer from Alberta, Canada, could become the world champion of colt starting gave horsemen and horsewomen around the world something to dream about.

The Wild Cards proved so popular that they’ll be back again in 2015, and James will be among them. So will several of his fellow 2014 competitors: Trevor Carter, Mary Kitzmiller, and Sean Patrick. Three new trainers have joined the mix: Shamus Haws, Dan Keen, and Bobby Knight.

My favorite moment of the weekend took place when the 2015 Wild Cards entered the arena. As the announcer introduced them to the crowd, one of the newest Wild Cards—I’m not sure whether it was Shamus Haws or Dan Keen—dropped down in the dirt and rolled like a happy puppy. He was that excited.

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His ebullience reminded me of the extraordinary opportunity the Wild Card competition offers to under-the-radar trainers. Suddenly they’re vaulted into the big league, with Road to the Horse’s Facebook fans, 40,000+ and counting, following their every move. And then the big event: a chance to win the title of best natural horsemanship trainer in the world and to take home $100,000. Jim Anderson will be back in 2015 to defend his championship title; the other Road to the Horse competitors will be announced throughout the year.

James and his new 6666 Ranch colt, Stoli N Water, are already laying the groundwork for the ultimate trusting relationship. I saw him achieve that with Deuce, and their deep bond is a wonder to behold. It’s a relationship that will endure long after the Alltech Arena’s lights were dimmed and the last trailer pulled out of the parking lot.

Deuce and James

Deuce and James

 

Mystic Connection

Equus coverThe story of Mystic and me is featured in the February 2014 issue of Equus Magazine, on pages 62-63. Those of you who are longtime followers of Galloping Mind know the tale pretty well by now, but here it is all in one place. In a national magazine, albeit one that’s almost impossible to find on newsstands (thanks, Nancy, for giving me your subscriber’s copy!).

You may need a magnifying glass to read the reproduction below. No worries. Just scroll down to read my original article. It’s got more details and—I like to think—more flair than the downsized, glossy-print version.

So far no one has asked Mystic for his autograph, but he’ll be glad to supply a hoof print on request.

Screen shot 2014-02-01 at 7.57.20 PM

Sometimes we walk right past our future, blind-eyed to the mystery of convergence. That was the case with Mystic, a handsome middle-aged gray at the North Carolina stable where I leased a quiet Saddlebred.

No one could ride Mystic. He was unmanageable, dangerous. He’d arrived at the stable several years before on a truck full of rescue horses. The stable’s equestrian director planned to train the horses and sell them for a profit. She worked briefly with Mystic, then gave up. “This horse is not safe,” she declared.

Another director took her place; her daughter, a high-level dressage rider and jumper, saw Mystic’s potential. She drilled him hard, bringing out his athleticism, collecting him into a perfect, finely rounded frame. Although his lineage was uncertain, people guessed that he had Arabian and Andalusian blood.

Mystic performed beautifully—until one day he decided he’d had enough. Using his Andalusian talent for collection, he reared like a sparring stallion. He kept rearing, and threw in some bucking, just to make his point clear.

That was that. Mystic was dispatched back to the pasture. Unsafe. Unmanageable. There was talk of putting him down.

Trudging through the fields to catch my leased horse, I admired Mystic from afar. His undiminished spirit fascinated me: I wished I could somehow unlock his secret and gain his trust. But I knew absolutely nothing about horse training; I’d never even longed a horse. I simply rode the trails on my easygoing Saddlebred, relying on riding basics learned from childhood lessons.

IMG_0132

In May 2009 a new equestrian director and his wife, James and Kate Cooler, arrived at the stable. They practiced something called natural horsemanship, a concept I’d never heard of. When I watched them play with their horses, I was captivated. Horse and human seemed to speak the same language, connected by deep bonds of trust, respect, and understanding.

I audited their lessons and clinics, learning about horse psychology and the fundamental concept of pressure and release. I could no longer afford to lease a horse because, after decades as a professional writer, I’d decided to go back to school for a master’s degree in counseling—but James and Kate always welcomed me at the stable. One balmy spring day—April 24, 2010, to be exact—Kate invited me to join a Cooler Horsemanship clinic.

“I’d like to pair you with Mystic,” Kate said. “We want to start him in our program, and I think you’d be a good match.”

My heart lurched in a complicated mixture of fear and longing. “Really? Mystic?”

She nodded, and I accepted her instincts. I walked to the pasture and put a halter on Mystic, who stood quietly for me. When I met and and returned his dark, solemn gaze, my heart shifted and widened ever so slightly.

I had met my future.

That first day, and the days and weeks that followed, were far from easy. I’d never worked with a progress stick and string before, and I lived in a constant state of entanglement and confusion.

Mary and Mystic hat

Meanwhile, Mystic freaked out whenever I accidentally flicked him with the string. He showed stress at any sign of pressure and easily became braced, high-headed, and anxious.  Once he slipped into catatonia out of sheer right-brain fright.

James and Kate knew exactly what to do with both of us. They taught Mystic and me to relax, to take small steps, to always end a session on a good note. Bit by bit, we tackled Mystic’s emotional issues. By some kind of miracle, I’d met my horse doppelganger: extremely sensitive, anxious to please, high performing, and easily unraveled when overwhelmed. In helping him work on these issues, I helped myself.

James and Kate knew I had no disposable income for lessons; they also knew I’d fallen in love with Mystic and natural horsemanship. They generously and freely offered me their time and expertise; within three months, I was able to ride Mystic, who never offered a single buck or rear. As he improved, the stable owner talked about selling him. She’d been letting James and Kate use him in their program, but ultimately Mystic was her horse.

Saddle fit pose

I’d hoped to buy a horse of my own in five or ten years. When I was ready.

This was not the time. I was in school. I was taking out student loans. I was in a midlife career change.

And yet.

Am I crazy to consider it? I asked James and Kate.

No, they said. We’ll do everything we can to help you. Maybe we can negotiate reduced board in return for your help with publicity.

But it wasn’t time. And Mystic wasn’t the horse I’d planned for. I’d expected to get a young horse someday, preferably a Morgan.

Life had other plans for me.

I bought Mystic for a tiny sum and never looked back.

Five years after I first glimpsed him and two and a half years after we became a team, Mystic and I are still learning in small, thrilling steps. He’s the most confident, easygoing trail horse I’ve ever ridden. He’s relaxed, flexible, and attentive.  He side passes, backs up with a wiggle of the reins, and disengages his hindquarters with the grace of a young gymnast. He’s famous for his easygoing nature; those who knew him in his early days love to tell newcomers, “You won’t believe how much this horse has changed.”

My proudest achievement with him is progressing to “freedom play”—playing together on the ground without lead line or halter. The other day, during a freedom play session, I motioned for Mystic to change direction. He arched his neck, tossed his head, and rose up slightly on his hind legs before performing the requested pivot. I laughed at his playfulness, thrilled that he was delivering this whisper of a rear out of sheer high spirits.

He had become the horse he was always meant to be.Mysticglow2