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I met my first horse when I could barely walk. Stumbling into a pasture with a young stallion, I gripped his legs and pulled myself upright....My parents found me later, and it was no surprise to them that my life turned into a career with the four-legged spirits that grace the grass.
In this book Teresa Martino tells the story of that career with horses. She writes of Casey, who jumped a girl over her mother's car as a rite of passage; of Pepper, who was embarrassed by his ...
I met my first horse when I could barely walk. Stumbling into a pasture with a young stallion, I gripped his legs and pulled myself upright....My parents found me later, and it was no surprise to them that my life turned into a career with the four-legged spirits that grace the grass.
In this book Teresa Martino tells the story of that career with horses. She writes of Casey, who jumped a girl over her mother's car as a rite of passage; of Pepper, who was embarrassed by his name; of The Corinthian, who defined what it is to be a champion. She also writes of horse people -- the riders, grooms, coaches, and students -- she's worked with over the years. In Martino's world, both horses and people are as "varied as the stars" and her tales about the ones she's known will speak to every animal lover.
The lives of horses and humans have been intertwined for over 5,000 years, as proven by the earliest cave paintings. Martine pays tribute to this tradition through her own mythic and humorous stories of these horses' courage, gentleness, and meaning in the lives of the people who care for them.
From classic dressage with its lessons from nature, to bone-breaking cross-country jumping that reflects the skills of survival, Martino lovingly recounts the equine lifestyle. Reminescent of The Black Stallion, Misty of Chincoteague, and James Herriot's books, yet written in the funny, touching, and larger-than-life style unique to this popular author, Dancer on the Grass will inspire horse lovers to enjoy the sport, culture, and art surrounding their favorite animal.
Teresa tsimmu Martino lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she writes, trains horses, and oversees Wolftown, a nonprofit organization dedicated to wolf and horse rescue. Her other books include The Wolf, theWoman, the Wilderness: A True Story of Returning Home (NewSage Press 1997), and Learning from Eagle, Living with Coyote (Orion Books 1993).
The colt spooked as I dismounted, a foolish colty spook. But I was half way out of the saddle and his twirling spin threw me off his back. I slammed into a fence post. The impact forced the air out of my lungs and I crumpled to the ground gasping. Slowly, I got back on my feet, but the pain on my left side felt like large sharp pieces of glass digging deep. I staggered out of the ring and sat on the grass. The colt's concerned owner, Dee, shouted across the ring, "Are you all right?"
"Oh yes... I'm O-wind knocked out of me, that's all." But something was wrong, my body felt strange. Suddenly, moments stretched out on the cool breeze and I slipped into unconsciousness. I lay in the tall grass dreaming as my body went into shock. In my unconscious reality, I saw a familiar figure-it was Harry, the short Englishman. He stood before me in his shiny black boots, and tweed coat. He knelt in the frosty, sharp, fall grass, and chided me: "God! Martino! That was a stupid fall! Didn't you hear me say, 'watch him?'" "Oh, yeah," I answered, "Sorry Sir."
Then consciousness woke me. In front of my nose, I noticed the grass and the little cold spiders clinging to it. Harry was gone. I felt no pain, only a woozy sweet lightness. Where was I? What had happened? I couldn't remember. Looking up I saw Dee standing over me. Oh! The colt! I had fallen. "Not again! Sorry Harry!" I said out loud to my dream Teacher. Laying there, I smiled. I always think of Harry when I fall. Before long there were sirens and volunteer firefighters. Even a tired sheriff. Strapped tightly to a back board, I knew I had broken ribs. That sharp ringing stab of pain I knew well. Possibly, I was bleeding internally. From the ambulance, I watched the sunset bleed down into Puget Sound and turn the snow capped Olympic mountains reddish pink like salmon flesh. The bumps in the dirt road jabbed at my broken body.
Smiling at myself, I asked Stan the paramedic, "Would you want to die doing something you love?" Stan said nothing. He was monitoring my blood pressure. "Uh oh!" mumbled Stan, watching my blood pressure drop. "Uh oh?" I weakly joked, "Stan that's pretty alarming bedside manner."
At the hospital the doctors determined that a number of my ribs had been broken. It was hard to tell exactly the number since I had broken so many before. Three friends sat with me as the surgeon explained my medical situation. My spleen was bruised and leaking blood into the sack that surrounded it. "We may have to remove your spleen if it doesn't seal," explained the doctor. "Try not to remove my spleen, OK?" I whispered, feeling out of breath. The doctor looked at me with a serious granite face. "If you move around you could die."
For four days I lay in intensive care, my body a knot of immense pain. I worried about the wolves and the horses. My world was filled with suffering and I could only view it from moment to moment. Often I considered taking a lot of the pain killers and then sleep free of this agony. But only when I felt I could bare it no longer did I take the drugs the nurses offered me. Riders get hurt. How many friends have I had that limped, walked stiff or ended up paralyzed because of injuries? Five? Ten? Two friends broke their necks, and one ended up a quadriplegic. One accident happened right in front of me while we were running steeplechase. Other friends have broken their backs. Two of my friends, both professional riders, had been killed while jumping cross country. Many times I asked myself, What is it that makes us risk this?
Horses and injuries are like the shadow of war. Equestrian eventing is a sport that comes out of the traditions of the cavalry; different than the quiet art of dressage or the sweetness of walking a mountain trail. Eventing comes from the idea that a soldier was given a message and he had to run cross country to deliver it to his commander. Accomplishing this feat under the threat of death was a challenge and a thrill that still echoes through modern cross country horse events.
For me, this dangerous risk-taking was a way back into wilderness where the antelope runs from the wolf in fear and joy. Did I want to go back to the wild? There are other sports that are dangerous, but for me galloping horses cross country gives me the electric feel of the elk running.
After the fourth day the doctors let me go home with the grave warning that just one jounce and I could start bleeding again. For the next twelve weeks I had to lie in my dusty trailer healing. My community came and went, bringing me food, company, and help with my wolf rescues. As I watched the shy wolves slink in and out through the cold of the open trailer door, day after day, I thought of many things. I thought of Harry, and of falling.
The Temple in the Fields(pgs. 1-22)
The Warrior(pgs. 23-34)
The Fallen(pgs. 35-44)
In Camelot There Were Horses(pgs. 45-54)
The Corinthian(pgs. 55-64)
Night Mare(pgs. 65-72)
The Buffalo(pgs. 85-96)
Gauguin's Truth(pgs. 97-108)
The Queen of Heaven(pgs. 109-124)
Ponokamita, Elkdog(pgs. 125-138)
The Immortality of Ice (pgs. 139-152)
A girl with an exotic face, golden skin and long brown hair, stood in the doorway of my cabin. Her face could be personified by an antelope or a young wolf. Dirty jeans, a spotted T-shirt, and muddy paddock boots spoke of life with horses. Sarah knocked too loudly and with my consent, stepped through the ancient cedar doorway, stirring up dust and slinking wolves who suddenly slipped outside.
I had become the older teacher, the one who left normal channels of civilization to talk directly to passion. In my simple life, I enjoyed the freedom of thought. Now, my life felt like drinking cool water in the heat of a stifling summer.
My specialty is eventing, teaching people and horses to jump cross country over solid obstacles at speed. Young people find me, drawn to danger and galloping hooves. They test their strength and bravery by jumping the wise horses. When I work with children and horses I learn about the kindness of life, awed by the generosity horses give with their strength and bravery. The children teach me hope.
Mostly, it is my job to listen. That morning in my cabin, Sarah was sixteen in confusion and joy. "T, you are the only person I know who does what she loves. What should I do?" Sarah tossed her long hair, the bangs falling in her eyes like the forelock of a colt. Inwardly, I chuckled and looked around my simple cabin where I had to carry my water daily. Sarah did not ask, so I did not say that freedom has a price.
As she told me about her life nowadays, I wondered, What will the world bring in 5fiftyyears? In that place in the future, sometimes I see emptiness. "What do you think I should do?" Sarah insisted, exasperated with my silence. Thoughtfully, I offered, "Plant trees." Sarah rolled her eyes, "Be serious." Silence answered her, but she did not hear it.
A wolf came in through the doorway, stared at Sarah and retreated. My wolf rescues lived with me and were nervous around strangers. Sarah stood with her arms wide, telling me of some great dream. As she talked I thought of the wolves. Will there still be wolves in a hundred years? What world do our children inherit? I stood over the black wood stove and stirred as she spoke, watching her vision fill the cabin like the steam from the pot of soup. Passionately, words escaped free from Sarah's mouth.
"I want to ask you for help," Sarah stated after awhile, strong and confident. I wondered to myself, What teacher can resist?
"What do you want to do?" I asked. Sarah's face was bright. "Not plant trees, but something wonderful. I want to jump my horse, Casey, over my mother's car."
"Does your mother know?" Sarah smiled, "Of course." To hear this girl talk you would think she was an Olympic hopeful, and there was gold shining out there on the other side of her mother's convertible.
Sounding the part of the responsible teacher, I responded, "Thank you for coming to me before running out to do it. You realize you will have to train, and teach your mare." She nodded. "It will not be easy." Her falcon eyes locked with mine. Inwardly, I felt the sense of the challenge, the hunt. Another wolf peeked inside the cabin to look at the strange girl. Perhaps the wolf sensed what had just transpired.
" When do you want to start?" I asked. "Now," she said. Her eyes added, I'm sixteen, there is no time to waste.
My life seems unbelievable sometimes with the difficult choices I have made. Now I stood in dirty jeans in a dusty old cabin with wolves. No clean breeches and boots shined with effort and spit; no arena, no assistants, no comfortable salary. It had been two years since I had left my job as the director of a two million dollar horse facility. I had traded my security for freedom and wolves on a rustic island in the Northwest.
The island allows for freedom of thought, but the island is a tricky place. From here, it's hard for the kids to compete in the horse world, or in the larger matters of the world. Yet, Sarah is the daughter of a mother who is strong and supports courage and challenge in her children. Hita tells them to explore, to take risks, and to make mistakes. And Hita takes her own risks as an artist, and I admire her.
All young things have a need to prove strength. The young wolf stalks big prey at first. The young stallion roams away from home and looks for coyotes to chase. This is the way to learn as quickly as possible what can and cannot be attempted. This testing helps prove the true trail of survival.
Sarah, and her friend, Jessie, had come to me once and asked about a rite of passage. In many cultures a young person needs to actually do something to be admitted into adulthood. I told them what I knew of such things in the Native tradition, which involved isolation and fasting in the wilderness. At first they were excited, then slowly, Sarah backed away from this idea, almost as if her blood called for a proving of her own making. Her European cultural traditions are forgotten, so she must make her own.
There was her mother's convertible. How wonderful! To jump her mother's car. How fitting! As the young must always rise up and take the place of the old.
Sarah probably was unconscious of all this, but her spirit forced her to find something to challenge. We have separated ourselves from the natural world; we no longer use our cunning and strength to escape predators. But I have seen the deer leap and play in joy after escaping the lion. And I have seen the deer meekly give-away-the graceful sacrifice that life gives for life. In today's world we are not allowed to give ourselves back to the earth. Even in death, if we choose to be buried, laws require that we lie in a cement cocoon, forever isolated from the earth. No butterfly will emerge.
What course will we choose? If we fear death and do not see the circle of life, we will not risk like the young buck. If we do not respect death, we will fall into the grasp of sharp lion claws at an innocent moment when our heads are down, drinking. But this is salvation to the lion. To find strength, Sarah had chosen this leap like the lion chooses her moment for the hunt.
Sun on sand, dust flew up in distinct particles, as the blood bay canters around the arena, tossing her Amazonian head. Perched on her back in half seat, the position used for jumping, was Sarah. She bobbed up and down in a graceful swing, half seat making her stand in her short stirrups above the mare's shoulders. Sarah and her horse Casey cantered the rhythm of a waltz.
But the mare had not been taught to balance herself correctly and in the beginning leaned for support on Sarah's hands. "We must reteach Casey to carry herself," I explained to Sarah. "First, we'll make it easy, no rider." So Sarah worked the mare on the lounge line, a long rope, teaching Casey to balance herself without tension on the big circle-walk, trot, and canter. "A horse is like a person learning ballet.," I continued. "It takes practice to move in balance." Sarah had to teach the mare to slow her steps and relax. Together, Sarah and Casey had to learn the intense communication of voice, sight, touch, and thought that runs between horse and rider. The goal is to make each movement in balance count.
Standing in the deep sand, the sun rested on my back like a living thing. The teacher in me instructed, "Sarah, remember where the art comes from. The horse must balance herself and her rider in relaxation and mobility. The rider uses her body to talk with the horse. In the olden days our hands would've been busy with a sword or javelin. You cannot pull the horse around with the reins."
Sarah laughed as she pointed with her imagined sword. She lounged the mare over small jumps. Casey was excited and occasionally leapt around. Perhaps she, too, missed the dangerous thrill of the lion. After a while the mare tired and we stopped, taking time to cool her out carefully.
For the next three months, Sarah continued to work with Casey, riderless. Sarah still didn't know that her test, her rite of passage, had teeth and claws. What could I do to inspire her? She told me she wanted to photograph this jump for her high school year book. Next year she would be a senior.
After training one day, Sarah and Casey returned home with instructions on walking for an hour the next day. And the following day to do flat work, no jumping. The day after that, walk. On the fourth day they needed to come back to the barn. Sarah sighed at my instructions. " What's wrong?" I asked. "Boring, all that walking." You won't be bored." I said. "Why?" Sarah asked. Giving my diabolical coach grin, I told her, "I want you to do all the walking in half seat." Sarah's eyes widened. "Sir, yes sir!" She responded firmly, then ambled off riding Casey without looking back, leaving me in the dust, in my boots, but on foot.
Back at my cabin, I was drawn to my big wooden trunk that holds the tools and the symbols of my trade. Years before, my jockey friend Dean had painted it white saying it looked scruffy. This trunk had followed me along many trails in my horse life. Originally from the multi-million dollar competition barn, it stood in a beautiful heated tack room next to a wall of ribbons and silver. Then the trunk sat in my pasture, and eventually moved inside my cabin. Now, I needed some symbols for Sarah.
Opening the trunk, I immediately found my black and gold cooler, a fancy wool blanket used to cover a hot horse. Black is the color of looking within, gold is the eastern light-a good symbol for Sarah. I continued to dig through memories, holding things up to the smoky light in the dark cabin.
Horse hair stuck to saddle pads, reins, and girths. When I touched the hair bodies came to life. Eyes flashed at me and heavy hoof beats sounded in deep mud, where my exhausted breath mingled with old partners. My cross country battles rang in my mind. Here is the Corinthian's smoke-gray hair-the one who brought me recognition in the horse world. And Alexander's hair, the deep dark bay who ran with wolves in the hills and helped me find my freedom.
A jumping bat poked at my memories. It was the one I carried without falling in England to the dismay of the instructor who hated my courage. At the time I was an eighteen-year-old girl on a horse chasing an Olympic flag.
At the bottom of the trunk lay my vest, streaked like the cooler in black and gold. This is what event riders use to protect themselves. It wasn't much. A symbol of modern knighthood. Yes, I was a knight, a warrior-a slender girl with long dark hair who, by luck, had been handed horses who were tough and brave. I was allowed to learn the lion's jump.
A cold black nose touched my leg, and startled me from my reverie. It was Mckenzie the gray wolf. I had traded my fences for her. Now I run with wolves. Instead of Olympic banners, I have hawk feathers and mountains. Mckenzie panted, smiling up at me,
Sarah and Casey continued to train with me through the hot summer months. Sweat ran in our eyes, and the mare's bright coat darkened with perspiration. Sarah was tough, she did not resist my thoughts, my criticisms. She was like an Osage bow that I molded to shoot arrows at modern life, but she didn't know this.
The warmth calmed Casey, who was a reschool horse who Sara had fallen in love with. Reschool horses are usually fearful or angry about their work, due to poor handling by previous owners or trainers. They require careful compassionate explaining about the life they live with humanity. Casey had a bright mahogany coat, and black points-her legs, mane, and tail all were black. She was tall with the proud, light walk of a predator, something that was looked for in a horse used for battle.
Standing in the deep sand, the sun rested on my back like a When I first met Sarah several years before, she was taking lessons from me along with six other kids. They had never met a coach like me, hardened by time and falls. These kids needed convincing, and most were riding reschool horses. The young people on that day were difficult. They gave me coltish abuse, cocky in their disregard for my instructions, and making sharp comments. I called them over, formed a line, and looked them up and down, seeing myself in their faces. Long ago, I had a similar look of belligerence with my own instructor. But he had taught me respect when I saw what his years of riding had taught him.
"You're tough?" I asked the kids, as I stood with my weight off my old injured right leg. "Yeah...Right...," came their sharp answer. "Good. Posting trot, no stirrups. I'll be back in thirty minutes." I turned on my heel and walked to the shade of a nearby tree, picked up a coke and swigged it after raising it to them in a salute. I wondered, Who was real in this group? They looked at one another. No one moved. "Oh, weak, eh?" I said softly from the shade.
That did it. With a sharp glare they turned back to ride the posting trot, the rise and fall to the alternate shoulders of the horse without any leverage from their irons. Horse hoofs made soft thumps in the sand, and leather creaked in the hot sun. After ten minutes the kids started getting weary, their legs wearing out with the effort. They were learning why event riders must be fit with tight leg muscles.
The kids often looked at me as they rode around the arena. First angry, then tired, then pathetic. Passively, I sat and watched. The young people were learning discipline and how to keep going even when it hurt. A good lesson for life, and certainly for eventing, which requires strength, balance, and courage. After about thirty minutes I called them back and we had a quiet lesson. Tired, they listened.
Later Sarah told me that because I had challenged them, this opened her eyes. The kids admitted that their other teachers had been afraid of them. I laughed out loud, and with a burst of strength, swung up on one gelding and jumped their course without stirrups so they would know that I was not just talk.
Training a horse is a slow process. Often I am surprised by a rider who does not think his horse feels as he does after a heavy workout. Tired, confused, full of the partnership perhaps, or exhilarated. "Empathy," my father had once said. "Have empathy for the horse." Isn't this what young people need to be taught? To feel their own pain and know they are not alone? To feel another's pain and learn compassion?
Six months later and the training continued. By now Casey had learned to stretch, to reach down with her head and neck, and to relax and lengthen her back muscles. She could hold a frame as she gathered herself back on her haunches, lightened her forehead, arched her neck, and softened her jaw. And finally, Casey had learned to do all of this with the weight of Sarah on her back.
Now it was time to jump. Sarah walked proudly into the sand arena. The mare's dark eyes were smoky and gleaming. They stood in front of the huge oxer I had built, which was a formidable fence, six feet wide and almost five feet high.
Sarah's jump over her mother's car is made in the mind, not really very difficult in itself. But the car was solid and unforgiving if Sarah made a mistake. Sarah had to be able to jump something much bigger than the car to prepare herself mentally. So over the next three months, we worked our way from single small fences of three feet high, to related fences and grids in a line. These exercises taught the horse and rider to communicate what stride to use and what degree of engagement. Both must know how much weight the horse must balance on her quarters to leap the fence.
Six days a week Sarah trained, but practiced jumping only twice a week. She also worked at dressage, the gymnastic flat work to strengthen Casey's haunches. These sessions were forty-five minutes long with an hour's walk afterward. Sarah rode half seat to strengthen her legs. Usually, I sat in the shade with a soda to rest mine.
Afterwards, the mare was cooled out carefully, rubbed down, fed, and put away. Part of Sarah's training was to ride with no saddle or bridle-a true test of the horse's good will and the rider's preciseness in communicating. Through all of this training Sarah learned commitment to a relationship and to a goal.
During the months of training the bond between them grew like summer grass in the wet northern meadows. Now, as I raised the oxer I told Sarah my pet coaching speeches:
"A cow can jump four feet."
"Don't let the height scare you."
"Visualize yourself and Casey jumping the fence."
And the trite hard comments used over and over again as well: "No guts, no glory."
"No pain no gain."
"Ride with the best, die like the rest."
I knew Sarah can do this. Sometimes she searched my face as if looking for herself in my gaze. I recognized that glance and showed her a reflection of confidence. The belief of one person can give another person incredible power. Strength for a lifetime. Through Sarah I was passing along the gift my father gave to me.
Sarah, I thought to myself, I want heroes for my old age. Where is glory nowadays? In the movies? Bought from the shelf? Lying on the streets in LA? If there is no true glory, how can there be heroes? The myth of heroes keeps us from insanity, and a hero can show creation in an open palm, looking between the ears of a horse. The horse gives consent and the hero rides the horse as the horse was born-with no saddle or bridle.
Sarah wiped her face between jumping. Concentration creased her brow. The bay mare lifted her feet and touched the dust, then they swept the air, clearing the four-foot oxer. I set the oxer higher. Four feet was nothing for someone who jumps. But when you do this you can feel a sharp pinprick of fear, beating heart, and sweating hands on the reins.
While Sarah worked, I fed her my philosophies. The rider must choose a horse as a partner or a slave. A partner has a say in the work, in the form the art takes. A slave is forced, but gives nothing away and hides intelligence and genius. A horse either wants to or doesn't. A horse either understands training or doesn't. The teacher of horses must examine her motive. Is it the love of horses? Or is it dominion over them? An artist does not choose slavery. And a horse can understand art.
Casey loved to jump. I could see it in the way she offered herself to the fence. She drew herself towards it, pulled towards the fence like a planet towards the sun. Casey's hind legs surged under her, her eyes bright and fearless, a meteor coming in with a great spray of sparks. This is what Sarah rode. Over and over I told her, "Thank your mare." Does the mare give to us because Sarah and I have taken so much time to explain the partnership to her? I think so.
After two and a half months of working over the big oxers, I got a call from Hita, Sarah's mother. She wanted to know if a date had been set. Summer was being pulled into autumn. It was time. Sarah set the date for August 28th.
In the midst of all this training, I recalled an incident from my youth. Stoat and Heinburg's truck. Many years before, a man had come to our barn to teach dressage. He was from Germany and very partial to European warm bloods. A good teacher but pompous.
Pop had been dead for two years. Stoat was learning his trade, eventing, and teaching me as well. One day while riding, Heinburg pulled up to the arena in a small pick-up truck. He got out, flipped on a peak cap and swaggered over to us.
"Ah, the little pony!" he said with a sneer of sarcasm. Stoat was an American thoroughbred cross, a little more than sixteen hands high, hardly a pony. I glared, but said nothing.
"Isn't that the pony I saw yesterday?" he continued. "This is not a pony," I said softly staring down at the man as Stoat restlessly moved his hooves. The man laughed musically and tipped back his hat. "Ah, yes! The pony and the kid I saw galloping yesterday!" He shouted to me as I asked Stoat to move on. Then he laughed again. Insulting someone is one thing but insulting horses has caused war in the past. Alexander the Great made war to get back his beloved horse, old Bucephalus, who had been stolen by his enemies.
Very well, I thought as I cantered up to the gate and stopped. Stoat quivered as he felt my trembling anger. Being the soldier that he was, he stood quiet. "Open the gate," I quietly, firmly commanded. With exaggerated courtesy, a mockery, Heinburg swung the gate wide and Stoat and I calmly walked out. In a silky, snide voice, Heinburg threw out one more comment: "You are angry that you ride a pony, eh?"
Beyond Stoat stood Heinburg's truck, shining on the grass. My boss wasn't around, the barn was quiet, it was just Stoat and me in the sun looking at the truck. Birds were singing, my face was hot. I turned and gave the man the look that later I saw burn in the eyes of hunting wolves.
Closing my legs, the gray thoroughbred rose under me, cantering. Like a hawk we flew over the truck, turned, stopped, and stared back at the startled Heinburg. His hands dropped to his sides, motionless, as the gate swung in the breeze.
When I looked at Heinburg with my heart in my eyes and a smoldering spirit, I knew I was a warrior. And he knew this too. Later, alone with Stoat in his box stall, I cried. I could not understand why a person would choose meanness. As an adult, I told myself it must be fear. Fear blown into a mind so hard that kindness is forgotten.
Sarah had heard this story when she was fourteen. That must have been her inspiration for jumping the car. Heinburg would get it twice.
Sarah's day crept upon us like the lion, stalking, hiding under the normal duties of the week. I wondered, Does Sarah feel its presence? I do. The feel of the cold chrome of the convertible and the swing of slender, fragile cantering legs. If Sarah and Casey did not clear the car in this rite of passage, death was a possibility, and at the very least, serious injury for both of them. Their safety lay heavily on me.
For years I had competed in cross country eventing. If the course was difficult I trained and trained, but the edge was belief. What is winning? The best course I ever ran was when Stoat took fifth place. That course was unforgettable. The memory will flash through me completely intact when I die. That was one of those experiences when the world crescendo roared about me and immortality galloped through my veins. This is what Sarah's jump was about. Not about a colored bit of blue ribbon that will fade to gray. The spirit must wear the medals. People will see them in her eyes.
Suddenly the day came, as bright and as clear as childhood. I drove to the sand arena in the woods. Sarah was already there warming up. A slight breeze promised to tickle the mare into excitement. Casey shone like a cathedral. There was power in Casey's gaze as she focused on the ground up ahead. Her legs lightly touched then swept up, flashing black, then russet. Her tail flew behind her like the grace of God.
About ten people, family and friends, stood around. Cameras ready, they waited to witness and document this rite of passage. Sarah had drawn the people who loved her into this mystery.
Now I was Priestess as well as Coach. Watching, then silently praying a moment for safety and courage, I lightly pulled out a few strands of my hair. Opening my hand, the breeze took the strands, my give-away, and they floated off to rest on the face of the Mother of us all.
I was left alone. Sarah and Casey cantered around me, the dust hanging in the air. The family did not approach; the moment was wrapped in a shroud. They spoke quietly and glanced around. Slowly, carefully, I built the warm-up fence.
Sarah said nothing. Her hair was tied up under her helmet, but a few golden hairs had crept out and swung around her face. My young Athena. "Jump over this small fence a couple of times," I told her. Sarah's grin was skittish, trembling, and stretching.
Hita drove up with the car, a white boat. Her silver hair free, her face smiling, She drove into the arena and I directed her where to park it. There needed to be a ceremony here, but there was only dust thrown up by black hooves, and a little curling breeze. Looking up I saw a red-tailed hawk. The red eagle, a sacred bird to the people of the plains. The hawk was big and dark, a woman bird for Sarah. The hawk screamed.
I blocked off the tires to keep the car still, and spread my black cooler over the seats. Then I turned back to Sarah, and raised the fence. Horse hooves pound ed with the beating hearts of those waiting to witness. First the canter, canter of the waltz, then a moment of silence as the horse and rider rode on the wind over a fence. They touched the earth and the dance continued. The oxer that Sarah and Casey could jump was much bigger than the car. The oxer with its slender poles could fall, but the car could not.
The family crowded together for support. They must have thought that this was insane. As insane as life or as insane as death? We do not choose either one. This is the Mystery I ponder.
Canter, canter,...silence...canter, canter. The meditation continued as Sarah and Casey jumped the fence in preparation for the car. Sarah occasionally looked at the car, locking her eyes on the object the way the falcon draws in prey with its gaze. Hita approached me as I motioned Sarah to let Casey rest. The mother's face was bright but cautious for her daughter as she looked me in the eye and asked, "Can she do this?" The little breeze curled between us. "Of course."
The mare walked, fretting. She caught the urgency from Sarah's body and her nimble feet stepped lighter on the ground.
Sarah's father, David, walked over, a big man dressed the part of an Englishman in a tweed coat and strange green rubber boots. He was nervous. "Uh, Teresa, can Sarah really jump that?" The bay mare looked my way with the light of holy things shining in her eyes. " Yes, she can."
Kaj, Hita's best friend, came up next. A practical question: "Where should I stand for the best picture?" My hand swept North towards the direction where wisdom lies. "That way."
After a brief rest, Sarah picked up Casey's reins and they trotted and cantered. The smell of sage spiraled around me. I had burned it that morning and the sweet scent clung to my wool sweater and reminded me of the hawk.
Sarah galloped up to where I stood.
"Are you ready?" I asked, knowing this was the moment.
"Sir! Yes Sir!" Sarah grinned a sideways smile meant to be wicked. I caught her nervousness and gentled it like a frightened mustang.
"Can I really do this, Coach?" Sarah asked, her voice now only sixteen. She was not yet a warrior. I waited, held her gaze for a strong moment. The mare moved in the dust, the breeze lifted her mane.
Softly, I answered, "Of course. Jump the oxer then swing around and jump the car." Sarah took power from me. My power of spirit.
Sarah and Casey swung away. Now there was nothing more for me to do. This was Sarah's leap, her rite of passage.
Cool breeze, the galloping rhythm, the puff, puff, puff, of hooves in the sand. Time is water. There are rivers and pools. All of us float into stillness when time slows in that place of dreams and power. Sarah's face was pulled down into clear focus. Easily swinging over the fence, they turned, a constellation like Casey's name, Cassiopeia, the Queen of Heaven. They turned around the pole star, my body, positioned as a marker in the ring. The arena was the universe and every particle of sand sent flying by Casey's black feet were stars.
Sarah and Casey faced life. Life in cold steel harder than flesh and bone, harder than anything but spirit. The mare was a canoe, a galleon, a star ship, a warrior's swift arrow falling towards an elk bull while the family waited at home, cold and hungry.
Four strides, time had stopped. We were at a clear spring. Two strides, pray for bravery. But warriors are brave. One stride, and the horse bunched like the lion and bolted over the white car standing as still and as pale as death.
Sarah's clear voice rang out. She madly galloped back to me, her hand stroking the mare's neck.
"Good girl! Good Girl!" I shouted rejoicing in her victory.
I stared at Sarah, the bow was now a woman. Her power shone in her face. She would have the strength to face the lion, the Heinburgs of the world. I caressed Casey's soft intelligent face, and leaned close to whisper, Thank you.
Grasping Sarah's thigh, hard with youth and months of riding, I praised her. "Good Girl, Brave!." She beamed at my pride. With a deep sweet breath, I draw her gaze down into mine. The eyes of the falcon met with the eyes of the wolf.
"Now do it again. Never forget." Her face filled with astonishment, then she grinned wickedly. "Sir! Yes Sir!"
Posted August 17, 2003
I have JUST finished this book about five minutes ago and imediatly came downstairs to my computer to go on the internet and tell all you horse lovers out there... READ THIS BOOK! It is by far the most beautiful book I have ever read. It tells about her life in such an exciting way that it's like a fiction book. With sorrow that makes you cry, humor that makes you laugh and statements that are so well put and so truthful it touches your heart. Read the book, I promise you won't be dissapointed. :D GraceWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2000
This book is truly an awakening for all of us. Somehow T manages to bring the readers emotions to a head while she reveals her own lifes trials. She allows us to know her life with her family and friends all the while never letting us forgot the objective which is the love she has for the horses, as well as, all the other animals that have been fortunate to have been part of T's life. This is one fine lady who has made a difference and continues to fight and protect these majestic animals be it horses or wolves or coyote. ete. Well, done and a must read. Be prepared for a wonderful story. Thanks T-AnuyiWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2000
I have finished reading T.'s book recently, and I would recommend it to anyone, of any age who is interested in developing and renewing their spirit. This book was so moving that I cried on several occasions. This book helped me realize why the human-animal bond is so important. I have been a member of T.'s Wolftown! horse and wolf rescue project for 2 years and found it to be a very enjoyable experience. I urge anyone who is interested to check out her web site (AOl keyword:Wolftown!) and join up!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.