Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why do we go there?

Why do we go there?
Out there with our horses?

I was giving some thought to this question, considering the feeling of being out there at camp with our horses in the high country. I lost myself in the reverie of sitting in the warm sun, my back against a large, smooth rock with a book in hand as my horses graze contentedly in the tall grass around me at the end of a long day in the saddle. Together, dreamily, we watch the shadow of the sun slowly falling behind the mountain, inching its way across the valley towards us.

It is far away now, that picture, as our world is white and frozen, our horses still shaggy, and morning temperatures still sinking below zero. But the feeling is very close. It is inside me, something I cherish, something I will always have with me.

I’ve discussed the “how to” of horse camping quite often and in details here, but more important to me, I consider the “why.”

The “how” enables us. The “why” drives us.

That “why” is a clear picture to me. It is the picture of traversing a narrow cliff on a surefooted horse and descending the rocky slope into a lush green valley, my horse and I, worn and tired but elated to be there. We pause, look about to notice the elk scatter before us under the shadows of red tail hawk circling high above. Then my horse lowers his head to taste the high mountain grass, and I dig into my saddle bag to pull out a snack. We remain there a moment before moving on. We savor the mountain together.

“Why” is much more than a picture. “Why” is a feeling. It is the feeling of camaraderie, of connection with our horses. We remain with them, partners, a team. Out there, we don’t leave them behind, put them back in the barn or turn them out to pasture until we need them next. We stick together, work together, get tired together, rest together, stop and enjoy the view together. We face challenges together not so different than the knight in shining armor heading into battle on his trusty steed. There is the essential element of trust. Neither of us would be there if not for the other. Together, we can conquer. The mountain. Our fears.

We return a different team, together, closer, more compassionate, more efficient, clearer in our communication and understanding with and of each other. And don’t tell me the horse doesn’t see that view. And feel the fresh air and dewy grass and comfort of the woods at night and warmth of the sun in the early morning and the coolness of the clear mountain stream, and the gentleness of my cheek as I rest my head across the low of his bare back in the evening sun as he stands out in the open field, very much at home with our horse and human herd, together in these wild open mountains.

They feel it too. I’ve had my horses run jubilantly, kicking up their heels in an uncontained joy if allowed, when then know they are almost to “their” favorite camp.

For most of us, horses are no longer a means to an end, a mode of transportation. Those that still treat their horses that way get what they ask for.

The trip is but the excuse. An excuse to be with our horses in a more intimate environment than anything we can find or create back home, at the barn or in the arena. Being out there, together. It’s as much, perhaps more, about the relationship with horse than it is about the journey. The horse therefore becomes the journey, more so than the places we pass through and the camp we arrive at together.

That is why we go there. To be out there with them. Out there with our horses. Enjoying the mountain, enjoying our horses, building trust, learning a quiet communication, creating a camaraderie and building companionship.

And of course, all along the way out there we can share the view and the wideness of our hearts and minds as we stop and stare at it... together.