From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The View Between My Horse’s Ears

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

Eleonora Duse

My favorite thing to do is ride. My second favorite thing is taking pictures. I always have my camera with me. Many of the pictures have my horse’s ears in them, sticking up like an artist’s thumbs as he lines up his view. Even though I have been snapping pictures from horseback for years, I had never really thought about the significance of those ears until recently.

I had no agenda that hot August morning. I just wanted to get out of town and go riding. I trailered out to the Wilson Creek area of the Owyhee Mountains in Southwestern Idaho. I took my little Arabian mare, Rushcreek Hollie, and my only plan was to explore some new territory around the hills and through the canyons. I was continually scanning the countryside for wildlife as we went along the narrow dirt road. Although all the creeks and drainages were dry, there were still plenty of chukkar, rabbits, lizards, an occasional rattlesnake and even wild horses. I’d never seen the horses, but I’d come across their tracks and stud piles quite often, so I knew they were there . . . somewhere.

Hollie walked along the dry creek bank and I heard the chukkar calling to each other. There were at least fifty of them and they scurried through the sagebrush as we got closer. They had been enjoying the coolness of lush green grass surrounding an old, cement water trough that must have been spring fed. The wild horses also frequented the trough. Hoof prints were all over the place. Nice, unshod hooves, narrow toes and wide heels, even a foal track. Hollie wasn’t interested in water; she was busy sniffing the air, knowing she was not alone.

On impulse, we followed the tracks. The possibility of getting a glimpse of a mare and foal was really exciting. The tracks were hidden in the rocks but every now and then, I noticed one. I’d ridden at least five miles back into the canyons, far from civilization and I just kept trailing the tracks. Wondering as I studied the hillsides, if a wild horse was watching us, I whispered to Hollie, “This is just like one of those old novels I read as a kid. We’re tracking wild horses!” Hollie was busy sniffing branches and undoubtedly picking up the horses’ scent left behind as they rubbed the brush. We’d been following the tracks from the trough for about fifteen minutes, along the dry washes and through rocky gullies, and then the tracks veered and went up a hill. I kept scanning the country all around as we climbed up, thinking a horse could be hiding in that tall sagebrush. Just in case something might be near the top, we crested the hill slowly and cautiously, but saw nothing. Hollie started trotting again while I kept looking. She was on a mission and wanted to find those horses as much as I did.

Then, it looked like there was something in the distance, so I stopped her. It was just a big rock. So, off we went. But wait a minute; the rock swished its tail! It was a horse! Get out the camera. Then I saw another.We slowly walked closer and I could see a third horse. I’d never seen wild horses this close before. They were eating dry grass in an area with red clay soil and they blended in perfectly. I took a quick picture as Hollie walked closer. I marveled at how sleek and fat they were, such incredibly hardy horses.

Then one threw its head high in the air, on full alert, sniffing the air. A magnificent chestnut with so much presence and stature that left no doubt he was a stallion. His blazed face watched us intently for a couple of minutes, then he snorted and started toward us. I watched with complete awe as the three of them headed our way at a trot. I had ridden out alone that day and one horse and rider wasn’t too intimidating to this bold stallion. I got a bit anxious and stepped off the mare so the stallion wouldn’t get too close. Seeing a person standing on the ground, the stallion screeched to a stop and stared at us. Hollie’s gaze was fixed on the horses. Then the trio took off at a gallop, all the while the stallion had his head turned looking at my mare as I kept snapping pictures.

After a couple hundred yards, the stallion stopped again. Three more horses came galloping up and the foal was in the middle. They were all chestnut or dark brown, nature’s camouflage for the brown and red colors of the high desert landscape. The little band of six met up, paused to look at us and started to trot away. The stallion had to stop and take one last, long look at my mare, his head held high and proud. Then they were gone.

What a wonderful treat I had been given! To observe these beautiful animals, running free, was the greatest adventure I could have asked for. It certainly wasn’t what I had set out to do that morning when I saddled up. I experienced a million emotions, all beyond words and I was glad I had my camera to capture the moments on film.

It was time to find our way back. Hollie picked up a trot as I turned her in the direction of the trailer. I snapped a few more pictures of a small rabbit and some fascinating rock formations. I flipped the digital camera over to look at the pictures I had taken and chuckled at the tips of Hollie’s ears at the bottom of most of them. I rubbed her neck and told her how pretty her ears were. How wonderful the view is between those soft black-tipped ears! I’ve seen magnificent waterfalls, mountain streams sparkling from the moonlight and a variety of wildlife in many isolated places, with the focal point often being between my horse’s ears. It’s a blessing that I hope to experience for many years to come.

I felt very humbled and lucky to have watched the wild horses, invited by their tracks into their world. As Hollie trotted along, I thanked her for the journey that day and thanked God for the beautiful horses. These tough horses are part of our Western heritage. May they always be there for someone else to view between their horse’s ears.

Karen Bumgarner

off the mark

©1994 Mark Parisi. Reprinted by permission of Mark Parisi.

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