Thursday, September 13, 2007

Full moons remind me of Shadow

Shadow is now 16 years old. How does it happen that the horse I love so much is 900 miles away?

I got this 14.5 hand Pinto gelding when he was 4 years old. I'd bought him about a year earlier for a ranch we worked on. He was recovering from a bout of "shipping fever" and when I tried him out, he was one gentle horse! And he had a fast, ground-eating walk. I bought him, with ranch money, for $2000.

However, when I got him home and healthy, his true nature came through. Shadow was opinionated. He was a rascal and blatantly cantankerous. Stubborn? Hell, yes. I mean, he would NOT leave the barn with me on his back at first. He reared and reared and spun around and backed up and was spoiled rotten. One time, he skittered across the ranch road right in front of the boss in his car, totally out of control (the horse, not the boss!). I got him settled a bit and yelled out to Lou, "I'll keep ridin' him til he's worth what we paid for him!"

And I did. I also started hauling him up to trail-heads, unloading him, and riding him up challenging trails to high mountain lakes. It took about 3 years before I started to feel a bit proud of him. Before he'd cross a little stream of water willingly. But in the 12 years I owned him, he never lost his edge. Shadow challenged me in ways that eventually taught me to be a much better horsewoman than if I'd never met him.

A year after I bought him for the ranch, the ranch owners gave Shadow to me. Signed over his registration papers where his name is listed as "Kiko's White Shadow." Said, "He's been yours all along, but we're just making it official."

I used him alot "chasing cows." And other riders would always comment on the great little cowhorse I had. I knew he did not have a background of working cattle. But he liked "doing" and "going" and making cows do something they didn't want to do? Now that fit right into Shadow's idea of a fun time.

After six years on that ranch, we moved almost 1000 miles away to manage another ranch for six years. Shadow came along and added so much that was positive to the dynamic of the stable-full of horses. He gave confidence to the other horses as we led out trail rides. He was not afraid in any way of natural things, like deer popping out of the brush or a bobcat crossing our path. He'd been a thousand miles in the high country and he'd seen it all. And he trusted me. My confidence in him fed his confidence in me, and thus we nurtured that circle of trust together.

Full moons remind me of him. I remember jumping him over obstacles in the fields, stacked hay-bales and logs. Shadow never liked formal jumping. If it was a log to jump because we were on the tail of an errant, yearling steer, okay, now this was fun. In English tack and jumping for precision and depth of communication, he never cared for that. But he'd do it for me.

So often I'd not want to come in when the moon rose early in the east and the frogs started their cacophony in the river bottom. I'd want to keep jumping, under the moon, in the dim light when things look far different from reality and when your trust in your horse, and his in you, is put to the real test.

At other times when we'd have those October moons, I'd swing my cowboy riggin' on Shadow's back, we'd take off about 8 pm and ride up through the canyons, my fingers loosely holding the braided leather of my romal reins. My awesome horse eating up the road in his swinging walk, packing a heavy Sleister bit with ease. We'd climb through the tall brown grass and enter the secret world of the darkness abiding under tall oaks in the arroyos. Again, trust upon trust making the experience not one of fear but of exhilaration. Climbing up out of the dry wash to the ridgetop where the moon lights up the golden grass with an ethereal eeriness.

Then back down, past the grazing cows who barely look up, for Shadow is on his way home and his fast walk quickens even more. At the bottom, where the road forks and the commitment to go home, back to the ranch must be made, I yield to youthful impulse and say, "No, Shadow ol' boy, I'm not ready to give this up yet. There won't be another October moon like this for another twelve months!" and I rein him up the other road, away from the barn and stall with green hay awaiting. Shadow shows clearly his dislike for this decision, but he is a broke horse, and in seconds, he gives in to the notion, in his own mind clearly understanding that if he walks fast, even away from the barn, it will eventually get him home that much faster. Now, that is a smart horse!

With my injury, what I want and what I can do have become two different things. My neurosurgeon in New York who found that my C1 is still hugely broken told me, "To ride a horse is suicidal for you. If you fall off, you die."

Some people think they will ride til they die or until they are of such a ripe old age they cannot climb onto a horse's back. No matter what anyone might say. I used to think that. But after hearing this statement from a very smart man, I knew what I must do. I could disregard his warning and continue to ride, but first of all, since my injury, I have no strength to ride. Secondly, when I did ride, I always ended up feeling much worse and in bed for days.

And thirdly, I would not put my family through that. Horsemen know that if you ride, you fall off. Done deal. And if I fall off, I will die, according to my doctor, whom I do not believe would be melodramatic or insincere.

So, the last time I rode was in January of 2007. I'm glad that on that ride, whatever or wherever it was, I was not aware that it was my last one.

And Shadow stayed at the ranch we worked on when we gave in to disability and retirement and moved away in April. He has a great life and he is well-loved. He could not be better taken care of. But...will anyone ever again succumb to the moon and saddle him up and head for the dark canyons?

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