Fall is closing its doors with winter just outside. We’ve been lucky in Colorado. Our fall season has been wonderful with warm days and vivid colors. A couple days ago, we experienced one. I had our deck patio door wide open, screen door included. No flies to worry about, they’ve taken flight. Ready to run errands, I grabbed my purse off the table, but movement below our hill caught my eye. The elderly man was riding his stocky pinto while leading a young horse, a western saddle on its back. Usually he and his son train a race horse or two and I was surprised this horse wasn’t one. I stopped to lean against the open door frame in the soothing warmth of the fall day and watched below as the man led the horse around and around on a large, circled pathway located in their sizeable pasture.
The sun was at that perfect angle, the air still inviting, almost resembling a desert day in October with the cloudless sky a light blue. Small sprays of dust rose from the horses’ hooves. A feeling overtook me. For a few seconds, the outdoor combination spun me back fourteen years to our time living in Tucson. As I watched the man and horses trotting below, it wasn’t memory. I actually felt transported to the desert once more, riding Shadow, a young, barely trained bay horse. I stood still in the moment and let it overtake me.
This familiarity took me to the twelve years I rode in the desert and weekly riding lessons I took from an instructor that lived close to the base of the Catalina Mountains. Sometimes, quite often, we rode the dry washes and popular horse trails. We walked or trotted up and down the mountains nearby, searching for ancient shattered Indian pottery pieces, admiring them but never keeping. Being adventurous, we traversed where no trails existed, just brush and a variety of cactus. It always fascinated me our horses seemed to know how to avoid the cactus and rattlesnakes. Only once did Shadow get a jumping cholla cactus below her tail and on her rectum. I have no idea why, but she didn’t buck me off. I only knew she had one because the girls riding behind me started laughing. Luckily, one of them carried a comb to brush it quickly off Shadow and to the ground. The comb kept one from getting any barbs into you or more on your horse.
On the farm, my father purchased three horses during different years while I was growing up. I was never a proficient rider, not then, not in Tucson. How I stayed on without a big number of falls is still a puzzle. My instructor said I was able to do so because I wasn’t afraid. I was, but she didn’t realize I was an accomplished actor. When I rode Shadow or Justin, her thoroughbred, I just silently prayed I stayed centered on their backs. They liked to spook in the washes, especially if a bird burst out of a tree. I don’t think I ever fell off when that event happened, but there were other times. Like when Sparky, a small gray horse with a lot of spunk, pretended to shy from the same tree, jumped a quick right angle sideways, tossing me so hard on the ground, my instructor sitting on the fence a good distance away, heard my head hit. No broken bones there. “Show him you’re boss,” she said as I mounted once more. There was also the time we were practicing for a fun competition of horse games (a Gymkhana) and as I galloped Shadow around a cone, she headed one direction and I went the opposite, landing in soft dirt on my bottom. I got back on. I always did. Not that I wasn’t literally “shaking in my boots” as they say.
I eventually stopped watching the man training the young horse, but not before I wondered how it could possibly be it was fourteen years ago when I rode in the desert? I thought of Shadow and her sweetness. Was she still alive? Were the trails still there or had houses had taken place of those we rode time and time again? All the questions and no answers.
I stopped riding once we left Tucson, but never tire of watching the man and his middle-aged son train a horse. I watch for a long amount of time, sometimes using binoculars for a closer look. They might think I’m a stalker, but I’m pretty certain they can’t see me gawking, loving every minute.
It’s rare I return to the memory of horses, my riding friends, the entertaining conversations as we rode the washes and trails. I will always miss those years and they will always warm me. I am so grateful that on one special day, all the elements were aligned to allow me to return once more.