Monday, June 1, 2015


The cadence of my mare's footfalls soothes me as she trots through the snow, chopping it up with the delicate pounding of her hooves. Two years ago, every stride of hers was a tip toe as if she was in permanent stealth mode. Body abused, mind shaken and weary she slipped through the world, sticking to the shadows that were as black as her coat. Every stride held a hesitation - would this be the moment she was beaten (for surely everyone was aggressive) or would it be the next? She sucked in her breath and held it, tip toeing through the barn, into her stall and into our lives.
Repetition told her that people were brutal. Now, after two years, repetition tells her that she is safe with me. When we ride, I gently navigate, charting our course and she gladly trots along, carefully taking us the safest way. Her confidence builds a castle upon that safety - she wears a surcingle and crupper, side reins flap against her shoulders and although her nerves want to leap away, her mind says she is safe, I am near. Now her footfalls hit a rhythm not unlike pistons in a well oiled motor, or the marching of soldiers in a parade. Her steps are serious and solemn, mindful that her job is important and it is important to her to do it well. But there is a confidence brewing in her, the footfalls are heavier, more specific, wanting to be heard, tapping out a beat that settles my nerves and reassures me that she is content and peaceful, happy to do her job. On this night, she watches me as she trots by, paying no mind to the delicate snowflakes as they touch down on her midnight fur, looking like stars in a far away sky. She carries herself like an equine Audrey Hepburn - long necked, curvy proportions, and delicate features crowned with large, liquid black eyes. She struts with certainty instead of cockiness, each hoof placed specifically  in "the correct spot" because everything has an order for her. When asked to move on from a walk, she tucks her nose a little closer to her chest and raises her head. She steals a glance at me just long enough to convey what she wants to say which is, "I know what you're asking but no thank you. I prefer to walk." She is a please and thank you mare, although her 'pleases' at treat or dinner time turn into more of a "Please!" in her husky mare nicker. Her 14.1 hand frame does not show the wear and tear that five babies have no doubt wrought on it. Her coat glistens and her eyes are bright, making her look much younger than the 15 years that her registration papers recall.
That drumbeat. That unfailing cadence. It has become a signature of hers. We dubbed her the wind-up toy as she'll go and go and go at the same comfortable pace forever. Limbs limber, she goes along as if she were made to trot everywhere and not walk or canter. Ever. Something about that pace - is it the new found confidence that sneaks into each step like an ice cube dissolving in a summer drink? Or is it the dependability of that stride that mesmerized me, settles my nerves until I am a cadence zombie, hearing only her rhythm, riding only to that beat. The ground shivers a little when she trots by, it echoes up through my toes and ankles, up through my knees and into my spine. It alters the pounding of my heart and soon we are just rhythm. That relentless pattern is amplified through us and others begin to hear it. They don't have this pattern, this solidarity - it is terrifying to them. We are not powerful, we don't display cockiness - instead we radiate pure love. We are vulnerable and a little shy but we can not breathe, we can not ride with anything less that pure love in our hearts. And that, is the scariest, most beautiful thing of all.

*Author's note: I originally wrote this eight years ago about my Morgan mare, NLF Tia. This week she'll celebrate her 22nd birthday and although her forelock has a shock of white in it and her face is peppered with gray, she is still my wind-up toy, always pushing for more trot. And everyday she reminds me of the importance of being polite, brave and vulnerable.
Photo taken by Bryan Nigro Photography

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