Horse Trailer in Tow

By DANIELLE LATTUGA

I am riding shotgun in a Subaru Forester, cruising along Brooks Street. The windows are down. Hot summer air sucks strands of my hair up and off my face, so that they reach out the window and catch the light. I see flickers of blond, then brunette, before I start looking for blooms, as we pass the Memorial Rose Garden. As traffic slows, the strands fall back inside, tickling my face. Zach hits the brakes and I instinctively turn around to check on the horse trailer.

We don’t have a horse trailer. If we did, we wouldn’t be pulling it with a Subaru. It’s a peculiar habit that I’ve developed, but I can’t say that it will change. Of the 11 years that I’ve lived in Missoula there were only three in which I possessed a car. I don’t own one now. Therefore, a significant chunk of my car time involves the to and fro to the mountains to go riding. It’s only normal that I am attuned to the precious cargo being hauled around by the vehicle I am riding in, even when it isn’t. At least that’s what I tell myself.

It started several weeks ago when six of us loaded our horses for a full day ride to Skookum Butte. SuzAnne was driving, as usual. We wound our way up the dirt road, talking about horses, food, dogs, food, wildflowers and food. SuzAnne easily navigated the conversation while she deftly navigated the road—her eyes following a pattern: forward, then to the side view mirror, to the rearview and back forward again. We were towing a six-horse trailer. Unloaded, the trailer weighs several thousand pounds.  On that day, it was carrying at least 6,000 more pounds—of sentient being.

There was some talk of running into snow, but we were all looking forward to staying higher up, in the cooler temperatures. Trillium and fawn lilies peppered the side of the road. It was like we were driving backwards into spring. As we ascended, little rivulets of water filled the ditches. On the shaded corners, the dirt was moist; the warm sun yet to reach it. By then, we knew there would besnow.

Moments later, SuzAnne slowed to a stop, where the road became a slushy mess of white. “Alright girls, unload the horses. I’m going to have to back down. It’s a couple miles to where I can turn around, so just walk ahead and let the horses graze.”

We unloaded and begin meandering back in the direction from which we came, not one of us envious of SuzAnne. Smoke expelled his hot breath on my shoulder, and lightly brushed my skin with his whiskers, then glanced back at the trailer, his ears forward in a question.

For an hour or so, we strolled, pausing where we found good grass. While the horses ate, we pointed out flowers and looked back up the road, keeping an eye on SuzAnne’s progress. I watched a western tanager alight on a blooming serviceberry shrub and happily pointed it out to the others—the succulent vision of its yellow and tangerine plumage making us all chatter excitedly.

By the time we arrived at the turn-around, I was wishing I had an icy cold beer to offer SuzAnne. While we’d ambled lazily on our way, she’d made herself dizzy—watching the truck wheels and trailer wheels, backing around curves, and keeping away from the shoulder.

After a brief rest, we saddled up and rode, linking trails together in lower elevations. Having had their fill of green grass, the horses seemed content and gaited easily. The forward momentum of our bodies was an answer to all the backward motion of the day—through time and down roads. Slowly, it halted and reversed, until there were six women on six horses cantering up a grassy woodland trail, where only breath, laughter and flecks of summer color reigned.

In my world, to say that you ride horses is to say that you ride willingly along a path, sometimes on your horse, sometimes alongside them. You don’t always know what the path looks like. You tow trailers down highways and up winding roads, so that you and your horse can journey together. You learn the language of the alpine, your senses mingling with your horse’s, and the gift is an understanding of your place in the order of things.

Sometime during this journey, my heart began to tow the trailer. Behind me, there are women who love the mountains as deeply as I do. Behind me, there are horses who see me exactly for who I am. Behind me, there is the momentum of all my dreams pushing me along — telling me to seek, to ride, to feed my soul.

I think one day that I’ll actually drive the truck and trailer, but you can bet I’ll start with the two-horse.

 

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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.