When Ponies Become Horses

SuzAnne Miller and Danielle Lattuga are hard-working Montana women, but they still prefer horsing around. Horse Around, Missoula is a chronicle of life with horses in the Missoula area. It is written from the perspective of a seasoned horsewoman and ranch owner, and a novice horsewoman who hopes to one day have a horse of her own.

By DANIELLE LATTUGA

I was not a child obsessed with ponies. As I caught crayfish in clear streams, my thoughts turned more to the unicorns and elves that inhabited the forest near my home. Did they eat crayfish too? If I braided daisies into my hair, would they come out to play?  I certainly smelled like the forest, so what was their problem? Ponies were real and clearly, I was not interested in what was real.

It’s not that other aspects of my life were not supportive of a life with horses. We lived in a rural state (yes, Vermont too, has more cows than humans). Judging from the cats, bunnies, guppies (every one of them named), hamsters, salamanders and wounded wildlife that frequented our home, there was no shortage of love for animals. Our neighbors, the Kinseys, had a Clydesdale named Count.  His back almost reached the ceiling of the barn. I adored him.

My parents were probably relieved that I didn’t ask for a pony. They couldn’t have given me one. They worked hard just to get food on the table for my sisters and me. We had enough room in our yard for a garden, a swing set, a play house, a sandbox and a patio where we would watch lightning bugs flicker in the summer dusk. There were two old apple trees too. No room for a horse.

As I grew older, I was drawn to the spaces of the west.  The broad sky, the vast valleys and the mountains—naked peaks gathering weather, gathering sun— taking my eyes away from all the places I’d already planted my feet. Horses began to inhabit my imagination because I wanted a real, palpable life—in bigger mountains with more space.

Fourteen years ago, I moved to Montana. For a long time, I was content just knowing that horses were around me. Like wilderness, it brought me some level of comfort, as I navigated the challenges inherent in deliberately choosing a life tied to landscape and animal. At some juncture or another, the romance of things is enough.

Then, one day, it isn’t. I prefer to blame my sudden change of heart on SuzAnne Miller. I figured I was just going on another trail ride and that I would write an article about it, in collaboration with my friend, photographer, Pam Voth. I’d wax poetic about a singular experience, entertain briefly the notion of making horses a bigger part of my life then let it go. I mean really, struggling artist and horsewoman are mutually exclusive, based on two factors: land and money. Right?

Was it the absolute elation of floating through the forest on a Tennessee Walking Horse? Was it the fact that horses somehow smell like the wild freedom I felt as a child? Was it that SuzAnne saw something in me that told her I was a sucker for horses and needed them in my life right then?

Who knows? But it’s happened, and I am guilty—guilty of standing in a pasture with my head pressed against the forehead of a horse who didn’t want me to touch him two months ago; guilty of thinking mostly about riding horses in the mountains; guilty of wanting to speak more with my legs than my voice.

Maybe it’s because learning something new makes the world look fresh again. Maybe its because I love the silence between, as much as I love the words, and I can use that silence to speak to my horse. Regardless, I hope you’ll ride along with me, where ideas become horses.

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Danielle Lattuga is a novice horsewoman, frequently found guilty of confusing hoof beats with heartbeats. She believes that riding and writing are not so different: both part poetry, part sweat.  Follow her into Montana’s horse country, and find out if she’sright.