Delusions and the Dream


Smoke and I are riding in an open valley. The two of us move in unison, and gracefully navigate all obstacles.  We float over fallen logs, glide fluidly in an elegant sidestep along a meandering stream, throw in the occasional pirouette just for the heck of it, and canter with a style that rivals giraffes running in a blooming desert. We are backlit by the glow of a sun low on the horizon. Smoke’s mane shines with bronze glory and the sleek muscles in my arms (which by the way, have no need for reigns) are illuminated.

Then I wake up, land back on earth, and try to figure out why Smoke wants to go in the opposite direction from the one I just asked him to go. Never mind the fact that I am not nearly as buff as the fantasy would have you believe.

Smoke and I have been working on backing up a lot, lately.  He’s not so comfortable when I ask him to back through a gate, and I figure that the more work we do around gates, the more likely it is I’ll be able to open and close one when I am actually on his back. That would be cool.

He’s great at the yo-yo game, in the center of the arena.  In fact he smiled at me, just the other day, when I praised him for a particularly smooth series of steps back. His upper lip curled in a fashion reminiscent of Mr. Ed and I giggled as he walked easily back to me, for a good chin scratch.

We worked on some other things, and I spent a bit of time wondering why he would push through a set of barrels in his path, coming from one direction, but not from the other. Then, I realized that he was done, and so was I. There was hay to be had, and all the other horses were already down in the riparian, munching away.

But before we walked across the lawn and down to meet the herd, I asked him to do one more thing:  He needed to back through the gate. I pushed the gate open and turned him around to face me. Then I wiggled my finger, as I had done earlier, to ask for a step back. Smoke lifted his head high, and turned it to look behind him. He wanted to turn his whole body, but I asked him not to.

One tentative step back. I dropped my finger and praised him.

Then I asked again. Again, he raised his chin high, and glanced back.

“No, Smoke, look at me.”

I asked him to turn his face back to mine, waiting quietly until he did. I wiggled my finger.

Another step back.

Each step was a bit of a battle, and the word trust surfaced in my mind:

He needs to know that I won’t ask him to do something that would put him in harm’s way. He doesn’t know that quite yet.

When his front legs cleared the fence line, he snorted and dropped his head. He nodded and his mane glowed red, with the falling sun. I stepped forward, pulled the gate shut behind us, and scratched him under his forelock. Then we walked to the pasture, I took off his halter, and he chased Rocket off a pile of hay.

I can have these dreams of what I want to accomplish, with Smoke. I can recognize that some of them may come true and some may not.  But, I know that none of it will happen, if I don’t convince this horse that I have good ideas.

Sometimes I laugh at the fact that I spend all this time moving backwards with him, when all I want is to move forward at a full and elegant speed. And I know that I wouldn’t be so willing to work at such a necessary and incremental pace, if I didn’t have the fantasy to hold on to.  It’s a conscious choice, to do it this way—and I believe that some day, we will live some semblance of this dream.

It’s about negotiating with myself and negotiating with Smoke. I won’t let go of the vision, even though I know it may change. Smoke doesn’t share that vision, but he shares more of his attention with me, each time.

I will let go of the idea that he smiled at me because we accomplished a goal and acquiesce to the idea that he probably smiled because there was a mare in heat close by. It makes me laugh, regardless.  But I will hold onto the belief that when he snorted and tossed his head, after he backed through the gate, I got the smile I was looking for.


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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’s right.