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By: Wayne Brown
I hook the stirrup up over the saddle-horn and recheck the girt once more before climbing into the familiar saddle’s soft-padded leather seat. Ol’ Rex shifts his feet about showing his impatience with my slow movements. He knows where we are headed as surely as he knows he smell of fresh oats in the field over the next hill. We’ve been doing this together for a few years now so he knows the routine as well as I do. He enjoys the routine as well. I sense that in his mood and his anticipation. Giving in to his impatience, I move the reins slightly signaling that he can have his head to move out of the corral.
The sun is still starting to come over the ridge line to the east. The coolness of the night still rides on the air as the last bastions of darkness begin to recede like the outgoing tide of an ocean harbor. It’s quiet, so quiet we can almost hear the sun moving up over the horizon as it starts its daily trek to the western horizon. The leather of the saddle gives off its familiar creak as Rex winds his way out across the broad range land cast in front of us. The meadows grow deep in vegetation for miles and miles as the rolling hills undulate their way to the foothills of the mountains off in the distance. The day is coming on strong and so full of life. The fields blaze with a gold texture highlighted by the clear blue of an early morning sky. Shades of pink and orange mark the eastern sky as the sun just peeks above the ridge and says its first “hello”. There’s a hint of dew on the grass which lends moisture to the air and a smell of honeysuckle on the wind. God, it’s good to be alive.
Rex makes his way toward the ridge line at a steady gait. He has been over this ground so many times that I believe that he could walk it blind and go right to the spot that we keep going back to in our morning rituals. I let the reins rest on the saddle-horn as Rex needs no guidance. I talk to him occasionally in a low voice reassuring him that he is doing a good job. I tell him what a great horse he really is and how much I depend on him here on the ranch. He maybe just a horse but he is probably the best friend that I’ve got and he listens to me, never criticizing my ways. A true friend.
We keep up this pace for about a half hour, crossing the stony brook running full with spring’s snow melt then winding our way through the clumps of trees dotting the lower side of the ridge when leads down into our destination, Drawback Canyon. Rex and I found this spot by accident while out hunting strays on a cold fall morning a few years back. Every time we return to the spot, things are the same as they were the very first time. There is that moment when we crest the ridge and look down upon the canyon when the beauty of it all catches your breath and your eyes quickly taken in everything. I never tire of the sight and hope that I never will.
Rex makes his way up over the grassy ridge and the sloping hill leading into the canyon comes into view. I sense the anxious anticipation that is building in Rex as we begin the gradual ascent down to the plain of the canyon. About half-way down, Rex stops as he does each time we come here. There is moment of quiet anticipation and then it begins. Out of the tree line below runs a small herd of wild ponies of every color and hue. Their backs glisten in the morning sun and their nickers and snorts signal their awareness of our arrival. The ponies run full out on the grassy plain twisting and turning, pushing and shoving like children on a playground. Their movement is like a dance…a carefully crafted dance with tails raised and manes flying in the gentle breeze blowing into the canyon. Rex shifts about on his front feet showing his excitement. That is his signal to me that the time has come.
I step down out of the saddle and untie the latigo, releasing the cinch. I lift the saddle and blanket off his back in a singular movement. Rex stands perfectly still knowing that the moment is near but not quite here yet. I slide the bridle strap over his ears and step away. He turns his head slightly toward me showing the blaze streak of white that marks his forehead and nose. I nod and away he runs down the slope toward the wild ponies still engaged in their morning dance. Like a child arriving on the playground, Rex runs right in and joins their merriment as I squat beside the saddle and watch the beauty of these magnificent wild beasts. Even the old stud leading the herd tolerates his presence though he keeps his distance. I suppose age has taught him that. Rex is only looking to mix with his kind for a while, there are no challenges for leadership here.
Seeing these ponies running free, manes flying, hooves cutting up the ground, never gets old. I pull a camera from my saddlebag and snap a few more photos. I then sit and wait for the herd to settle a bit then begin a slow movement down the slope toward the herd. This is a game we play on each visit. As the herd settles to graze, I attempt to move closer and they seem to tolerate it, at least for a while. When the space closes to a distance which violates their sense of danger, all of the heads appear to come up at once and stare straight at me. I must look like a burglar caught in the beam of an unexpected flashlight to them. They stand looking directly at me with their ears standing and their nostrils searching the wind for the odor of this man. I don’t push the point but simply stop where I am and continue to watch. That is not good enough, eyes continue to stay riveted on me making sure that I get no closer to them. I find myself envying Rex’s ability to move freely among them. Even the leader of the herd tolerates his presence. For once, I would love to step close enough to reach out and touch one of them. To extend a hand in trust and feel the warm of their skin upon its palm. That will not happen today but I can always dream.
Time passes quickly and the sun is getting high…far too near the noon hour. The final part of our ritual now will take place. The first time we experienced the sight of the wild ponies and I released Rex to run with them, I was overwhelmed watching the ponies run and frolic about. I sensed that Rex might desire to have such freedom as well. On the spur of the moment, I gathered up the saddle and walked up the slope headed for the crest of the ridge all the time thinking that I just might have to find me a new horse. Once I crested the ridge heading west, I heard the distant sound of hooves. I dared not to look for fear that it was the sound of the ponies departing the canyon with Rex in tow. I continue my walk back toward the horse. Suddenly, I received a shove from behind as Rex placed his muzzle into my back and pushed me forward. It was as if he was telling me, “hey what’s up…you left me back there.” We saddled up and headed home and I felt a lot better about where Rex wanted to be.
So it is today. I gather the saddle and head over the rise on foot wondering if this will be the time when he lets me go and runs off with the ponies. There is always that anticipation. Then I hear the hooves and soon his big nose is once again against the small of my back giving me that loving shove toward the house. I work the saddle onto his back, tighten the cinch, and mount up. Today for whatever reason, I turn Rex slightly back toward the ridge and there standing in a line in full array is the herd of wild ponies. I have never seen them this far over the ridge. Trust works both ways as it does curiosity.
As Rex and I approach the barn, I have a sense of renewal about life, freedom, and friendship. I know that this horse is here with me because he wants to be here and nowhere else as much. And I also know that if the day ever comes when he wants run wild with the ponies that will be okay too…sad but okay. There’s no greater sense of freedom for me that to see that herd of wild ponies and watch them move about. Come next week, Rex and I will be heading back out there to find that experience for the both of us once more enjoying every minute of it to the fullest. That’s what life is about and it’s the freedom that every true cowboy knows in his heart as his faithful pony should know as well.
©Copyright WBrown2012. All Rights Reserved.
6 July 2012