Sunday, April 29, 2012


Today I ran in the 30th Anniversary Cherry Creek Sneak, along with 10,000 or so other participants.  It is one of my city's favorite 5k races and it is a fun and festive atmosphere.  I finished in 31:44, not my best time ever, but my best for this race, and a time I was thrilled with considering I was stuck in a bottleneck of walkers and stroller-pushers for much of the first mile.  I zigged and zagged my way to a clear path, was finally able to strike out at a comfortable speed, enjoying one song after another that seemed queued up by my own personal DJ but in reality were being doled out by chance.  I have been trail running through some steep terrain for the past month or so, and I could feel the benefit it's given my endurance and the faith, especially on the downhill, to let my legs carry me.  I finished grinning like a fool and telling my boyfriend how much fun I had - even he could see the difference as he's seen me at the end of many a race.

But...I'm a rider, and isn't this supposed to be a horse blog?  I have been riding far longer than I've been running, and I still don't really consider myself a runner.  Running is something I do, along with weight training, to stay fit and balance out my adoration for cooking and fine dining.  My boyfriend is a serious runner who has completed half and full marathons and is training for more this year.  Running is another way we can spend time together, although most of that time I'm far behind and we reunite at the finish line.  What does all of this have to do with riding?  I'm telling you, it's all connected...

On Friday I had a lesson on Coro.  It was not the lesson I or my trainer had planned, and it offered its own challenges, but it turned into the lesson we needed, for Coro clearly had something to show me.  Warm days in Colorado often bring the unwelcome companion of strong winds, and since voices are carried away and unidentified flying objects prove distracting, we opted for an indoor session.  Coro spent all winter learning to swim in the deep sand footing, but having our last few rides back on more solid ground meant a tougher return to the soft stuff.  We got stuck in the corners, Coro was sluggish and was getting a little too fond of the 'stop and discuss' portions of the lesson.  We had absolutely no shoulder-in, and a wandering, on-again, off-again trot.  The real magic of Friday's lesson happened on a loose rein, at the walk.  As we cruised the perimeter and I gave my hands forward, Coro's topline lengthened and lowered.  I could see the beautiful arc of his crest, and felt his back rise beneath me.  He sighed and blew.  I tried to connect soft elbows to the corners of his mouth, and while we lost this balance for the most part when we next picked up the trot, there were moments here and there when it came together again and we floated.  It was enough to hold on to, or rather to let go of, to send dancing into the realm of what is possible.

Today wasn't the first day I've let Coro be my inspiration to keep running, to do more than I thought I could, to push harder.  Whenever the weights seem too heavy or the distance too far, I think of Coro, bending for me when he may be stiff, trotting for me when he may be tired, taking the bit in his mouth when he knows it means hard work.  All the while carrying me, an extra fifteen percent of his body weight, with a structurally imperfect heart and less-than-ideal airways.   Today, though, was different.  I was thinking not of what I could do, but how I could do it.  I wasn't struggling just to get there, so how I could I get there better? I let my muscles relax and lengthen, I imagined myself lighter, the ground not something to push against, but something to lift off of, even something to lift me.   I thought about the free swing of Coro's walk, the lilt of his trot.  I practiced lightness, impulsion and self-carriage.  Coro's name, with another "r", the Spanish corro, means "I run."  The miles seemed short today.  I felt energetic and graceful.  I didn't let the pressure of the visible finish line change my rhythm or my breathing.  I stopped looking at my watch.  My happiness at the end honestly had less to do with my time than just how great I felt in my own body, on my own two feet. Movement doesn't lie.

We can't know what each day will bring - not always what we planned, but sometimes...something even better.

And now...I'm off to ride.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Feet

We had quite the entertaining ride on Saturday.  Coro had "Happy Feet" as my barn manager likes to say, and we zoomed around the arena for the better part of an hour.  I dropped my whip after the first twenty minutes or so -  forward was not an issue! I finally got to listen to some of the music I've been collecting for riding to, and while Coro was initially suspicious of the melodies emanating from my arm band, we discovered some songs that work especially well for his gaits if we could ever attain some consistent rhythm.  I thought if I let him trot and trot and trot enough with lots of circles, loops and serpentines, I might tire him out enough for a little bit of focus but this was not the case.  In evaluating my sore legs later, I realized that we trotted for nearly a solid hour, with some cantering and very few walk breaks.  My horse was FULL OF GO.  Unfortunately, this also means choppy-scurry-trot and straight-up neck, but we did get a few nice circling moments of elastic and round for which he was lavishly praised.  The loveliest happy accident was when I was containing his turbo-trot into a tiny circle (a volte if we're being fancy) and he ever-so-softly-and-slyly picked up the canter like "maybe she won't notice if I canter reeeaallly slowly?" so there we were in this unreal molasses canter around a diminutive circle.  I won't call it a pirouette BUT IT WAS AWESOME.  I had hoped to do some pretend jumping (this is what I call it when I let Coro trot over ground poles set between jump standards and he pretends they are 2'6 verticals) but I only let him go over once because he was way too excited.  As expected, it went trot trot trot WAAAAHOOOO! I laughed. I think Coro did, too. Oh, he is a funny boy.  Sometimes I think I should let someone braver than I take him over some real jumps - he so obviously loves it.  After our ride I curried all his sweaty itchy spots and then we shared an apple while he grazed.  Heart my horse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Horse Storm

the heavy tongue of summer rain
licks away the mesa heat
the pewter sky rumbles
its long low grievances

the young gelding trembles
his rich pasture criss-crossed
with silver rain-threads
nostrils flared, eyes unblinking

in a quick flicker of bit and rein
she has caught and clasped him,
steel black, wet-backed
and seal-slick beneath her

as he moves, liquid muscle
the sky breaks open - a mirror shard
splintering of magnesium white
thunder's pulse shudders

she imagines sparks showering
into the soaked ropes of his mane
neither afraid, he gathers
rolls and churns, a sanguine cloud

(c) 2006

Monday, April 16, 2012

Weighing In

I started boarding Coro in September of 2011.  While I've been riding for most of my life, studied equine science in college and even worked at two different barns, in many ways I was like a new horse owner - I'd never been solely responsible for their care and had a lot to learn.  The two horses had never needed anything beyond hay, although they got to be on pasture for part of the summer and my mom gave them a little bit of bran mixed with oats as a treat.  I will also guarantee that they were eating the best hay in the county.  Between the move, the new hay, and getting older, the horses did not come through their first winter with me very well.  Through research and some trial and error I started supplementing their feed regimen - Notchee (Coro's Arabian mare companion who was my mother's horse) actually had to be cut back last fall as she started to look like she was expecting a foal any day.  Coro now gets seven pounds of Triple Crown Senior and one pound of Envision in addition to the grass hay provided by my barn.  I was really pleased with how he was looking last year, and happy that even under the sometimes-deceiving winter coat layer he came through in great condition.  On Friday I had the vet out for spring shots and dental (Coro did not have his teeth floated as his heart murmur makes him a compromised candidate for sedation and as long as he is not losing weight we are trying to be conservative).  Dr. C put the weight tape on Coro and chuckled - he knew I had been working really hard to put weight on him.  "You're not going to believe this," he said with a grin.  By his estimation Coro has gained about eighty pounds in the past year!  It's nice to know I'm doing something right.

So, although Coro would like visitors to the barn to believe otherwise and is always begging through his window, he is in fact getting enough to eat.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Toward the Within

Later this year, a dream is coming true - a dream within a dream, a serendipitous culmination of passion and music, aptly, in the year of my twentieth anniversary with the source of that dream.

In the time Coro and I were separated (sadly longer than the total we have been together), when he lived with my parents across the state from me and our summer-long reunions dwindled to extended weekends and the plans of having him near me were dashed on the rocky shores of adulthood reality, I dreamed of him.

In the most vivid of these dreams, I was leading him through a crowded gypsy market, the air filled with spices.  I saw a woven tapestry in floral swirls of burgundy and black in one of the vendors stalls, bartered for it to drape across his back, then continued to walk with him through the narrow alleyways.  Nothing more...but the way we negotiated the exotic setting together, the way he followed and wore his gifted mantle...something I have never forgotten.  At the time I was taking Spanish and had enough command of the language to write a poem about the dream in another tongue. My mother helped me to be sure I had all the translations right.  I learned then of the Spanish word canela, which means at once "cinnamon" and "something exquisitely perfect." Coro had looked, when he came to me in his dark transitory grey phase, right before the burst into starry dapples, like he'd been sprinkled with cinnamon (and does again, though it bears the unflattering name "flea-bitten"). The Spanish poem was published in a horse poetry anthology, Cadence of Hooves, many years after it was written. 

Sometime after the market dream, I became involved in the Goth scene  - not, as so many assume, because I was obsessed with evil and death, but because the strains of the music spoke to me in a deeper sense, because there was actual dancing at these clubs, the focus on slipping into that place where only the song and the way your body experiences that song exist.  One of those songs stood out in a way that was uncannily profound - from first listen, it was the soundtrack to that dream of Coro.  It's slow percussive opening like the beginning of trust, then swirling into an intricate chanted dance.   I could never hear that song without thinking of him, however far apart we may have been.  It was this song:

Once I could finally approach description of the amalgamation, I wrote another poem - for the dream, for the horse, for the song:

(for Coro)

That lead rope goes straight to her heart, don't it?
~ K.R., farrier/philosopher

In dreams,
we have woven silken corridors
in labyrinths of cobblestone,
swirls of coin, changing hands like music
while our feet found Slypner’s eight prints
through streets as narrow as eyelashes.
Is there a bit of myth in your heart?

Over road and mountain,
While your ears tilt miles away
at the interrupted hush of deer-steps,
while the blackbirds rustle into sleep
in the eaves of your stall,
I am crushed and spun in the
smoke and the pulse
of a Denver night club.

As I dance to the thread of a lonely voice,
A card turns over like a memory,
the woman’s baubled hand offers, strung 
with silver horses, The Chariot.
Music powders into marketplace spice.

The ghost of you
steaming and pawing like a rainstorm
slips somehow through the door.
Had I left you tied outside?
Dancers become merchants,
the dance becomes a caravan’s bolero.
A white glimmer,of your mane twines 
between my fingers.If cinnamon 
were a jewel, your body bedecked 

in riches. Gypsy boy,
with dark eyes like the
ripples of a mandolin,
did you gather all of your gallops
into a cirrus cloud and wisp through city streets, 
nets of strangers, to dance with me here?


The band became one of my favorites, outlasting my blood-red hair and black lipstick, but had already begun to dissolve by the time I started listening to them. I didn't ever think they would tour again, let alone come back to our city on the plain.  Earlier this spring, they announced a reunion and world tour.  On August 19th, beside my love, I will sit mere rows away from Dead Can Dance as they perform at the Temple Hoyle Buell theater in Denver, my home.  Perhaps the day after,  I will drive a mere thirty minutes, saddle and ride my horse in an arena on a canyon rim, with the sound of "Rakim" ringing freshly in my ears - two things I never expected, never dreamed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Feliz Cumpleaños

Twenty-three years ago today and three years before I would know him, a little bay colt was born to a sturdy black mare amid the rabbit-brush, juniper and pinon pine in southwestern Colorado.  His heritage traced back to Puerto Rico and Colombia, his ancestors were spoken to in Spanish.  
I am so thankful his story became mine to tell.  

Happy birthday, beautiful boy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Becoming Centaur

While our first attempt was a misguided flop, I started riding Coro about a year after I got him.  Our riding relationship would be the longest and most influential, carrying me into adulthood and inspiring my education.


I first tried riding him in January, 1993. It was the day of my grandfather's funeral, and wanting distraction and perhaps all feeling a bit reckless, we decided on the way home in the car that I should get on him. I hadn't been working with him as often through the winter, but we reasoned that I'd at least have a soft landing in the deep snow that covered our pasture. It was a family project: my mom held him, my dad boosted me up onto his back...and Coro hunched up and launched me before I even had my leg all the way over. I landed softly, sure enough...about five feet from the tractor's plow blade. Coro knocked my mom down and gave her a black eye, probably with an errant hoof.  It was admittedly stupid, but it was certainly a distraction, and it gave us something to laugh about, even years later. I didn't get on him again that day, or even soon after. I didn't let him "buck it out," I didn't "break him."  I understood that neither of us were ready, and re-focused on his ground work.

I spent the spring saddling, unsaddling, long-lining, leading him through mazes of ground poles and leaning over his back. We played hide & seek and I got him to follow me over ditches and small jumps in the pasture. I remember one day when he trotted alongside me as I jogged down the driveway to get the mail. It made me so happy that he liked my company and wanted to be near me when he had freedom of choice. I took him on walks around the neighborhood and my rancher neighbors would chide "When are you going to ride that horse?"

 Winter walk

We did have some setbacks and mishaps. Coro was a handful (still can be) - he could be spooky, he was stubborn and was, simply, a four-year-old.  He broke enough hitching posts, halters, even pulling a section of a telephone pole out of the ground that finally I gave up on tying him (he hasn't been tied since).  Many would say I should have put him in cross ties or tied him to an inner tube wrapped around a tree – put him in a situation that he absolutely could not get out of, and force him to fight until he was exhausted, or worse. They would have said “good riddance” if he injured or killed himself in the process. I couldn't take the chance of him getting hurt.  In my mind, Coro told me, time and time again, that he could not be tied - that it struck fear into his heart.  . I remember a lot of evenings sitting in his corral crying, wondering if I really ever would ride him. We considered sending him to a Paso Fino trainer in Farmington, NM, but when I saw the dim little stall he'd be kept in and imagined anyone but me on his steely silver back I couldn't go through with it. I kept wondering dreamily what his canter would feel like. I read Dominique Barbier's book, Dressage for the New Age, which I'd ordered through inter-library loan and was unlike anything else I'd encountered. It talked about riding visually, letting the horse's personality and mindset guide the training, and it inspired me to press on through the frustration. Training Coro myself, however unconventional and flawed, remains one of my proudest achievements. 

Finally after working with him all year, listening and strengthening our bond, I felt like we were ready.  By the time I got on him that summer, it was completely uneventful and our real partnership began. He was so comfortable with me on his back that he would startle when I dismounted or the few times he "accidentally" ejected me. He would look at me with alarm as if to say "What are you doing down there?!" Our rides got longer and longer, he was happy and bold, going wherever I led, and soon I was taking him for gallops on the clay where I'd once raced with Misty. Watching the world race by from the back of my silvery horse became a reality at last. 

 First real ride - what a happy day!

First on his back, and still mainly the only person to ride him -  my perpetual favorite, always making me smile with his sweet expression and playful attitude. One of my favorite memories of him is riding bareback during a thunderstorm - not the smartest thing, but I was determined to ride that day and we traced gleaming circles in the wet pasture under dark flickering clouds while rain sprinkled his coat. He was trusting and unafraid - it felt as if we were part of the earth and sky. Our journey together, like his coat changing from gleaming pewter to speckled platinum, is ever transforming. 

 Good Boy

Monday, April 9, 2012

The One

This is the story of how I came to be Coro's:

Before I knew him...a baby picture of Coro that his seller gave me.

In the spring of 1992, when I was 15, we lost our "young" horse: 22 year old Kishta Amira Lau (“cream-colored-princess in Arabic). Kishta had been my grandfather’s favorite, and she was the daughter of my mom’s palomino Arab/Quarter mare, Taffy. Kishta was the baby, and the brat. Beautiful though – big boned, for being ¾ Arabian, buttery yellow with big expressive eyes and long white lashes. Papa went out to feed one morning to find Kishta lying dead in a pool of blood. She’d had a pulmonary aneurysm in the night. Just weeks before her death, I’d finally been given the long-coveted privilege of riding her. My mom, knowing that I was outgrowing my pony Tinkerbell, thought I was up to the challenge of Kishta’s spunky, spooky, hot-headed antics. I still think about the night before she died with regret. I had ridden Tinker and was feeding her grain through the barn door. Kishta was sticking her head in the barn begging for treats, and I teasingly told her “you don’t need any goodies – you didn’t do any work!” I’m still sorry I didn’t give her that last handful of sweet feed.

I had been begging for a new horse for years, but losing Kishta prompted me to shift my efforts into full gear. She had been my last hope for a spirited mount. With summer approaching, I’d been saving money for our annual Vegas vacation, and in a desperate teenage moment, I went wailing melodramatically to my mother:

“Is there any chance of me getting another horse? Because I have all this money, and I want to put it towards a horse if it’s at all possible….” She must have known, at that point, that I was terminally afflicted with horsecraziness, and she might as well relent. I started perusing the classifieds that day. My mother’s only stipulation was “NO GELDINGS!” The first horse we looked at was a young Quarter Horse with a colt at her side. While the prospect of having two new horses was an exciting one, there just wasn’t any connection with the plain chestnut mare. I wanted fancy, I wanted flash.

Next we found ourselves at the Greer Ranch – breeders of fine Tennessee Walking Horses. After growing up around delicate-faced Arabians, the big, unrefined heads of the Walkers were less than appealing. Still…there was one chestnut yearling with a flaxen mane and tail that caught our eye. She was a little spitfire and I loved her instantly. My mom reminded me that it would be at least two years before I’d have a riding horse, and I found myself trying out a well-broke black mare called Joanie. The rolling amble of the running walk was fun – I pictured myself riding the county roads on my tall, coal-black horse. I wasn’t the only one, though, whose heart was still set on the feisty filly. My mom made Mr. Greer a 2-for-1 offer on Joanie and the yearling. We arranged to have them delivered the following week. When we got home I called all my friends to tell them about my new horse. I was just about to burst with pride. Once Papa got home from work we took an evening drive out the ranch to show him our purchases. The horses were turned out – the sunlight was slanting across the green pasture, and there she was – My black horse! I walked toward her…and she turned her butt to me and started ambling away across the pasture.    I called to her, thinking she was going to come cantering loyally up to greet me.  She was mine now, after all!  We were going to be inseparable, unstoppable!  She ignored me, swished her tail, and ambled even farther away.   We stood there as the sun set, and my heart sank.  I was quiet in the car on the way home, but kept up the pretense of being excited. The truth was, I was crushed. I thought I was getting a partner, and she didn’t even seem to like me. Cleaning the corrals the next day, my mom said “You’s not a done deal yet…we can keep looking…” and I burst into tears. Joanie was not the one.

We took a few weeks off from horse shopping to give my delicate adolescent emotions time to assimilate. On a whim, I called up a Paso Fino breeder that I found in the phone book. Years before I had ridden a buckskin Paso mare named Duende, and fell hopelessly in love with their Spanish regality, and fancy footwork. Duende’s price tag was $8,000 and I promptly filed that particular dream under “not in a million years.” Sue, with Mesa View Ranch, told me that they were liquidating their herd, but they did have one unbroke 3-year-old gelding left. My heart sank. Mama would never go for a boy horse. “What color is he?” I asked. Sue told me that he was almost black, but would be gray. "How much are you asking?" I said with trepidation. The asking price was $800. I just about fell on the floor. I could pay a quarter of that with my own money! I relayed the information to my mother, and much to my surprise, she said we might as well go and look at him.

Coro's sire, Azoras

I had my learner’s permit that summer, and so I drove the fifteen miles to the ranch, babbling excitedly all the way about what I would name him. I wanted him to have a Spanish dancing name – and liked the sound of La Bamba or Bolero.  When we pulled up the drive, Sue had him standing in front of the barn. He was a dark pewter color, gleaming in the sun, ears pricked, nostrils flared, with a haughty gleam in his eye. It was hopeless from the moment we saw him. She told us his name was El Corazon – and he had already stolen mine. I led him up and down the driveway a few times – he nudged me with his nose and jumped three feet sideways when the copy of his papers that Sue had given me rustled. “We’ll take him!” my mom announced without needing to consult me - I was obviously enamored.  Never mind that he was only halter broke. My heart leapt. He was delivered just a few hours later. (giving us barely enough time to stop at IFA and buy him a burgundy halter with brass fittings which he still wears today) I proudly pored over his papers while we waited, using a Spanish dictionary to translate his lineage. His father’s name meant “Trouble from Spain” – his mother’s “Rascal”...uh oh.  He was a grandson of Hilachas, three-time Sire of the Year and ten-time Top Ten Stallion. Further back he had another foundation sire, Mar de Plata, or “sea of silver” and Zaraza “chintz”. A registered Paso Fino! To this day I hear Spanish trumpets heralding as I remember him being backed out of the trailer into our driveway. Sue handed me the rope. “He’s all yours.”

The day I got Coro, July 1992

He was wildly handsome. I stood in the corral admiring him for hours as he paced back and forth, snorting and looking to the west. His skin quivered with excitement. I couldn’t stand to leave him. I thought he might disappear, like a dream. I tangled my fingers in his silver mane. I ran my hands over the sleek arc of his neck muscles. I gazed in wonder at the colors of his coat – born a bay, the dark steely gray was sprinkled evenly with lighter dove gray and cinnamon hairs. Although he seemed to like my company, his eyes were alight with arrogance, and perhaps a little fear. I saw in him all that we might be – I vowed to earn his trust, his love. He was so stunningly beautiful, that I can honestly say that I couldn’t even imagine riding him at that point – it was enough to be near him.

I called him Coro, which also means “chorus”. I was taking Spanish at the time, and I would sing him the songs we learned in class. I called him “mi carino” – my darling. We played. I would hide in the sagebrush with a treat and call his name – he would trot and prance toward me and ruffle my hair with his muzzle. He would chase me in the pasture – follow my leaps over the ditches and mirror my every turn. I walked him like a dog around and around our circular road. My cowboy neighbors made fun of me “When are you gonna ride that horse?” – they teased. I read every training book I could get my hands on. I spent every minute I had with him that summer, getting to know him, falling deeper under his princely spell every day. I didn’t even think about riding him yet, but I began to imagine. I had dreams that we were cantering effortlessly through yellow and purple fields. The idea of riding him began to take on a mythological reverence.

 Handsome boy

To be continued...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bareback Beginnings

 Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

With Mama, Grandma & Ginger, 1977

I've been riding all of my life. Love of horses is in the blood on my mother's side.  I remember my grandpa telling me about working on a dairy farm in Arkansas where he grew up, the best part of his day being when he got to ride a horse there called Surprise.  My grandpa was noble and gentle - you can see the admiration in his eyes in old photographs, especially those with his favorite horse, Kishta.  I was so proud when he told me how beautiful he thought Coro was - their trip to our house after I bought him would be his last.

Kishta, Grandpa's favorite

I wish my mom was still here to share all the details of getting her first horse, Taffy, a palomino Arabian cross.  I never tired of those stories.  They got Taffy for her after it was apparent that Nitro, the black colt, was going to be too much for her and instead became my grandfather's horse, although they eventually sold him.  After my mom had Taffy a while they bred her to a stallion called Amir Batal at Joder Arabians.  When we were going through some of her things last summer we found the receipt from the breeding and a note from Mrs. Joder that said to "ride Taffy on down" for her re-check to see if she was in foal.  She was, and gave birth to a filly who would stay with her mother for her whole life.  They registered her as Kishta Lau Amira, "cream-colored princess" in Arabic.  My grandpa broke and trained her himself and they had a special bond.  I think my mom was happiest when Kishta was weaned and she and Taffy were free again!  She rode all throughout her childhood and college, bringing friends to ride, taking the horses on camping trips and once riding all the way to Golden.  When my aunt Shelley, eight years younger than my mom, was old enough to ride, they got Ginger for her, a dark bay Shetland pony. My grandpa also trained her to pull a cart.

Mama and Taffy with Ute Mountain in the background. In my family, horses are for life.  Taffy lived to be 36.

My mother held me on Ginger's back as soon as I could sit up.  I also had a little butterscotch-colored horse with four red wheels that I named Taxes.  It was a word I had heard my parents saying, and it seemed like a good name for my mount!  At some point I graduated from being led to riding Ginger myself.  Ginger was a typical sassy pony but she was happy to tag along with the big horses for family rides.  We spent many afternoons on the steep and winding roads of Coal Creek Canyon, always with my mom's three-legged dog, Om and my grandparents Airedales, Cinder and Tio-Keet, in tow.  My mom usually led the way on spirited Taffy.  Papa or Grandpa would ride Kishta, a stout buttery powerhouse with a tendency to buck.  My grandma rode her bright chestnut Welsh-Arab mare, Tinker.  Tinker was certainly the most tractable of the horses, never spooking or acting mare-ish, but Grandma still insists she was always afraid of the horses and I have heard the story of Tinker dumping her because of "The Penner's pigs" many times over.

Horses have always equaled independence for me and maybe that is why I still prefer to ride alone.  I remember trotting ahead on Ginger and pretending we were on an important quest or making a perilous escape, even though the grown-ups were close behind.  I also remember my first fall when Grandpa was leading Ginger to the schoolyard across the street and I was riding with the faded red bareback pad.  She stopped abruptly on a steep hill and I tumbled to the ground over her neck, unharmed.   I remember my grandma being worried, while Grandpa and I exchanged amused smiles.

When I was nine, my grandmother's health declined and they decided to sell the house on Ranch Elsie and move to New Mexico.  By this time we had moved to our property in Vista Grande Estates, where I spent all my school years.  We had five acres and a one-of-a-kind home that my dad designed and built.  My mom later told me that it was my dad's idea to bring the four horses to live with us.  Grandma and Grandpa had welcomed him so warmly into the family, and Grandpa did all the electrical wiring in our house. Papa felt indebted to them and also knew how much the horses meant to my mom.  And so Taffy, Kishta, Tinker and Ginger all came to spend their senior years with us, and the family rides resumed.  I'd grown too big for Ginger, so sensible Tinker became mine. As the horse bug took hold, weekend outings soon weren't enough for me, but I wasn't allowed to ride by myself.  My dad was still building  the house, they were both working and they maintained an enormous garden, so I had to make do with the time they had to ride.

Luck was on my side, however;  one summer a new family moved in down the road - a girl close to my age, with horses!  Misty had a red roan Tennessee Walker mare named Rosebud, and a bay Appaloosa with one spot named Baby.  With horses in common we became fast friends, even though she was a year or two older.  I wasn't strong enough to lift our old Western saddles, so if my parents weren't able to help me tack up, I rode bareback, and really preferred it.  Misty and I played outlaws, pioneers, jockeys, and spent hours in the woods and on the country roads.   Often we'd be struck with fits of giggles so outrageous that we could hardly stay on as the horses trotted faster and faster.  I remember once we were riding Rosebud double bareback and fell off in tandem.  We rode to the end of County Road T. which opened up to beanfields on both sides and raced on the clay lanes. We tried to teach the horses to barrel race in Misty's pasture and Tinker ran away with me into Misty's pond.  There was a herd of "wild horses" in a nearby pasture that we would visit and admire, naming every one.  Our favorite was a curious chestnut we called "Jacket" because he liked to nibble our pockets.  Tinker went lame for a while and Mama let me ride Taffy while she was recuperating, who I renamed Gold Rush and injected whole new story lines into our adventures.  Misty started riding less and less as she became more interested in junior high boys, and eventually moved away.

During this time I begged my mom to let me ride alone, and I was finally allowed when I was twelve.   Tinker was a perfect first horse, enduring everything from my attempts at circus tricks to equine hairstyling sessions.  I would ride in cutoffs and laceless Keds, sometimes abandoning my shoes on a tree stump or fence post, and didn't own a helmet.  My favorite memory of Tinker is coming home one summer evening through the marsh, just after dark, fireflies dancing around our legs.  They were uncommon in that area, and that summer was the only time they lit the meadow.

Lara and Tinker, 1990

By then, Stacy and I were best friends, and she had a palomino mare, also named Ginger, who she showed in 4H.  I was so jealous of her ribbons!  I began to enter Tinker in photo horse shows, and spent hours bathing and grooming her and taking pictures with my little pink 110 camera.  Soon I had my own wall full of ribbons.  I also registered her with the Older Horse Registry, and had a story about her published in the member newspaper. I asked for an English saddle for Christmas, and my grandparents delighted me with an enormous box containing a cognac-and-tan all purpose saddle they'd found used, which was a miracle in cowboy country.  I tied red and green ribbons in Tinker's mane and felt so proud as we took a holiday ride around the neighborhood in our exotic new saddle.  I bought horse magazines every time we went to the corner store,  videotaped the Rolex and Budweiser jumping events and watched them over and over, dog-eared our tack catalogs and pored over the farm and ranch classifieds in the Cortez paper.  Tinker was then 28 years old, and couldn't quite keep up with my ever-increasing ambitions.

Tinkerbell, 1992

To be continued...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What It Is

I have been wanting to start a "real" blog for a while now, and what I most often find myself writing about is horses.  It only makes sense that I dedicate this one to Coro, short for MVR El Corazon, my non-gaiting Paso Fino gelding who I have loved since I was fifteen years old, as they say, at first sight.  Here is what I have been thinking about...

I'm feeling really emotional about Coro lately. We had some ups and downs riding-wise over the past couple of weeks, but ultimately I still feel so happy and proud that he is mine, still, after all these years, and so grateful that we've had this second honeymoon together. He will turn 23 next week, my silver love. This time last year it was unknown whether I would be able to keep riding him as I worriedly awaited his heart ultrasound appointment at Littleton Equine. The results were primarily positive, although he has valve degeneration that is going to continue, and we went on to have the most amazing summer and fall, more than I had gotten to ride him in over ten years. Last September we had our first lesson with my trainer, who has been such an encouraging support, and while we haven't made any grand leaps in progress, he clearly enjoys the work, and between that and the right feed & supplement equation that I finally landed on, he is more fit and flexible and our communication evolves every day. He has never been an easy horse. We still have moments that he gives me the proverbial "middle hoof" and insists that he cannot possibly give me any bend to the left, move his butt over, or walk calmly home from a trail ride. Then there are the moments where he leans his head against my chest, practically puts his halter on himself, circles when I've only just begun to think about circling, lifts off so delicately into a beautiful canter. I told my trainer last week that the day I got him remains, through everything, one of the best of my life.

 He came back to me through tragedy, my mother's last gift to me. In an inscrutable circadian twist that I may never make peace with, the day Coro became mine and the day my mother left the earthly realm are the same, eighteen years apart. The best day and the worst day irreversibly intertwined. "We'll take him," she said, the dark pewter youngster spooking at his shadow. "Maybe Lara will want to keep Coro," she said, in those last weeks as we planned for her absence. Our two horses were born a mere day apart. Forever bound by time and the blood that runs in horse and human veins. If not for the distraction of finding a place to keep them, arranging their transportation, the responsibility of managing their care and feeding, the impetus to get dressed and leave my house every weekend and immerse myself in the landscape of Lost Canyon and the reformation of my bond with Coro...I don't know how I would have managed those first months, that first year. You see what I mean about the profoundness of things lately? This was meant to be a record of my last few rides - it's become a map of these almost twenty years I've shared with El Corazón, mí corazón, my heart. If you've shared your life with a horse, you know. The relationship with them is unlike any other. They send us into elation and despair. We keep coming back. We have to. Something in their eyes and something both primal and refined draws us back to the beginning. They meet us there. They carry us. They carry us home.

~ L