When a Horse Likes to Move


This morning’s sun is somehow pliant as it flickers through the needles of larch and ponderosa. A lazy breeze pushes it through the canopy of green. It has yet to claim the color of heat. But we are stiff as we begin our ride and the character of the light taunts us. We simply want to move that freely. So, after a little easy walking, we hit a subtle incline and urge the horses into a gait. Slowly, the distance between us spreads, like the space between fingers grasping for stone.

Smoke and I are almost always in the back of the line because he has a propensity for kicking out at horses behind him. I am better at catching him in the act now—this big horse with big movements used to be a lot harder for me to read. I can feel him wind up, his back end rising a little higher than usual; a ripple of energy running from his forequarters to his hind, but still, most of the time I’d rather not have to worry about it.

Being in the back isn’t always that much fun. We don’t see all that the others see, even though we are taller. We also don’t get to “move out” as frequently. We can watch the horse in the lead cruising along at a nice clip but the speed diminishes as it moves down the line, based on whether or not the horses behind are picking up the pace. By the time it gets to us it’s barely a gait and because of Smoke’s size, he can match it with a fast walk. Sometimes we are bored.

But today, each woman is riding the horse she knows and we are gliding through the forest, the sleepy breeze brushing a slight chill across our arms and flanks, pulling our skin tight, like we are wearing the air itself. Flashes of color and motion enter and escape my vision—the burnt pink of fireweed, the sporadic yellow rise of a swallowtail butterfly. I breathe in and settle my seat deeper into Smoke’s saddle, smelling the warmth of pine still harbored in the trees from the days before. There is some sense of urgency carrying us forward—but it’s not an urgency to get somewhere, it’s the desire to disappear into the mountains and let our bodies remember grace.

The incline turns into a long mellow hill, and the clunking of hoofs becomes punctuated with a single word being passed from rider to rider: “Canter!” Soon, “canter” is replaced with a collective, “YES!” and we are flying up the hill. I press my thighs against Smoke’s side. My hips roll forward and back in the saddle while Smoke hits his stride. I hold the reins lightly giving him more room to move—feeling like my legs are rooted into his back, twined around his ribs. I start to laugh, watching Smoke’s forelock flutter up with our speed.

The first time we cantered, my butt bones slammed against his back and he moved side to side, trying to stay under me as I bounced along, my breath banging and rattling out of my body. The impact sent tremors up my spine and I imagine, down his. It was a short run up the hill and I was thankful to see the end.

Today, I wish this hill would never end. Somehow, we’ve come to this place where I understand how to hold my body in a canter so that Smoke carries me with little effort. His front legs lift and land and we are going faster than ever now. We are gaining on the horses in front of us even though I held him back to give us more room when we started. I hear my companions giggling and whooping. My eyes start to water from the cold air.

In the last year with this horse, I’ve seen glimmers of connection. Little bright shining moments where we are working together perfectly in sync, or times when we stand shoulder to shoulder and everything goes still. But this moment is more than a glimmer. We are moving like it is second nature to us. A grouse bursts out of the trees to our right with a loud bang and we leap sideways, barely missing a beat before continuing up the hill. This quiet horse who questions me often and takes his time thinking things through is simply running for the sheer joy of it. I can feel it, in the vibrant string of shimmering minutes that carry us upwards. I know it, when we finally stop to catch our breath, and Smoke does a little dance, exhaling a long slow breath. It stays with us as we move into a gait again, easy, fluid and free, like the morning sun that greeted us.

Like this blog?  Chances are you’ll like some of Danielle Lattuga’s other blog posts:  Horse Trailer in Tow, Horse Connections-Even From Afar, or Gaited, not Gated.  Please  leave comments below, or check out Danielle’s other posts at the  Horse Around, Missoula blog home page.

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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.