Horse Connections – Even from Afar


I was away from Montana for 10 days, most of which I spent in the northeast kingdom of Vermont, at a writer’s workshop, hosted by Sterling College.

I’d forgotten the feel of heavy hot June air and how it wraps your body, holding you suspended in a wistful state; everything is softer there, everything is plump with water. Even the clip clop of draft horses walking on pavement has a muted tone in that place. But, still, it distracted me each morning during our workshop — so much so, that some of my cohorts took to teasing me by the end of the week,

“Oh, there they go, taunting you, again.”

The horses were in class too, but they were the teachers. I wanted to tag along with the Sterling College students and learn about “Draft Management,” but it never worked out. So, I was reduced to standing on the other side of the barbed wire, waiting for one of those big Belgians to give me a chance for an introduction. Pathetic. I really missed Smoke. Sometimes he is just as good at ignoring me, but at least I know why. Regardless, it was obvious that the connection to Smoke was still alive and well.

I was worried that Smoke would forget about me when I was away. I have come to relish the incremental bits of progress that we make together — each step forward is a layer made of thought, motion, fine threads of understanding and two steady heartbeats. I know these layers are fragile; they are laid out like old lace, only to crumble if the sun is too bright or the wind too strong.

I half expected us to be back at square one when I returned. I am not saying that this was a rational fear. I’m just saying that I found myself residing in the unknown — something I’ve had to walk myself out of, a lot lately. Regardless, I am quite sure that Smoke doesn’t think about me when I am gone. But I think about him — I am human, I am female, I am Italian—I can’t help it.

When I walk up to Smoke’s stall, he is busy trying to snatch the stray oats and hay from the ground near the water trough that he and Charger share. His ears are back as he eyes Charger, knowing full well that his nose has crossed the line. He is pre-occupied, but not so much that he can’t stop and give my palm a quick brush and nibble. That’s our greeting.

Stepping into his stall I immediately notice his summer sheen. His winter coat is finally all gone, and he is nothing but high chestnut gloss. When he turns, I can see the skin crinkle and gather, then stretch taut from the point of his hip, down his flank.

His ears perk up when I step up to him with the string halter and lead. Soon, we are walking easily into the bright sunlight.  The ranch is busy these days, and there is a corral session going on, so the sorting pen is where we find some space.

We start playing some games and I realize that we are right where we left off.  A while ago, Smoke stopped backing up straight when I asked him to. He backs up at an angle, because he thinks that I am getting him ready to walk a circle around me. Two of the games that we play have become one in his mind. I don’t know how we got there, and I have to figure out how to fix it. I also have to figure out how to get him to step up onto a wooden platform, instead of avoiding it at all costs, but not today. Just knowing that he remembers what we’ve been doing is enough right now. The human / horse connections remain strong.

We have the same “issues” we had two weeks ago. They will only change when we change them together. In my human mind, I can walk a journey without him and spend a lot of time worrying about what might happen. That’s what we humans do. While I was worrying about how Smoke would react to me after two weeks, he was eating grass, rolling in dirt, and riding trails. He was responding to different people and trying to figure out the best way to stay safe with them.

What I realize, standing here with Smoke, is that when I am with him, I am not sequestered in my mind. Any worries I have go away, because we are here together in the present. I am allowed to approach him with my heart, because my heart is part of the whole. I am whole, because that is the only way he sees me. He doesn’t know that I miss him he just knows that I am here, and he meets me in this place. In this place, we are safe together.


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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.