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Breakfast With Mama - part 5
By Kathy Johnson, Executive Director, MHP
The Dawn Horse
Every morning when I neared the stables, I saw the horses, all standing outside their runs, all facing the same direction, all looking toward the east. Every day, together, in silence, they watched the sunrise. I met Mama in the round pen as the sun came up. I was the center and Mama circled me, the red horse of the Navajo dawn, hooves like flint, carnelian coat glinting. "Why the round pen?" I was asked. Horses, as circular thinkers, rarely moved in straight lines in the wild. And any other arena, paddock or pen, had corners, corners where Mama felt trapped, or, well, cornered. On the circle Mama moved forward when frightened. In movement, she found rhythm and in rhythm relaxation. I heard the horse's song in the beat of the hooves, a steady tick-tock tempo, the round pen like the face of a clock. Circles were natural to Mama, and hypnotic to all horses. Over 2000 years ago, ancient Romans discovered the magic of the circle for horses, the size of circle that every horse found most comfortable. It became the center ring of the circus (Greek for circle or ring). Later, the same circle became that of the longe line and the round pen.
The size and speed of the circle signified Mama's emotions. When frightened, she spun in small circles on the forehand. Her front end turned almost in place, and her haunches transcribed a larger circle. This not only allowed her to look for danger in any direction very quickly, it allowed her to kick instantly. When angry or frustrated in the herd, Mama ran her herd mates in circles, and when tired or itchy she turned in circles like a dog before lying down. But like many horses, at least this side of the equator, Mama was a counter-clockwise horse. She only turned left.
I directed Mama with a longe whip, a heavy whip about 4 feet long , attached to a light lash another 3 or 4 feet. I never touched her. She learned devilishly fast. She sped up, she slowed down. She spiraled in and out, following my smaller movements. To keep up with her, I pivoted on one foot, and my other foot made a larger circle around it. To prevent dizziness, I learned to look on one plane, the plane Mama was on. I didn't have to stare at one point on the horse, because I needed to see her head, her eyes, her ears, her tail, and each movement of each foot. If I watched the same plane, I would see the whole horse, but if I lost focus, staring out at the mountains, or watching a bunny hop away, I instantly became dizzy.
Mama spiraled in too close. I pointed the whip at her shoulder to move her out. I accidentally touched her with the whip. The shock ran through her body like electricity, back through the whip into my hand. I was jolted. Instantaneously, she wheeled and lashed out with her hind feet. I leaped back and threw up my hands and whip to block. I heard the whistle of her hooves. I felt the air blow by my arms. I was lucky she missed. Adrenaline surged through my veins. Everything took on a slow motion movie like perspective. Nothing seemed real, but everything seemed very important. Details flew at me randomly, the chirp of a bird, the start of an engine, out of place, out of priority.
I looked at Mama. She was terrified. I was terrified. We scared each other. We faced off in fear. Mama's muscles quivered with adrenaline. Her tail curled over her back, what the Spanish call brio. Her neck arched like a rainbow, her nostrils flared. She snorted a raptor noise, a pterodactyl. She seemed more bird than horse, of flock and flight, not stall and stable.
We had come undone. I, the center, could not hold. I watched Mama watching me, both of us breathing raggedly, both heartbeats racing. I breathed, in through my nose, out through my mouth. I breathed again. Finally, I gave Mama the signal to move on. She turned back to her circle. The adrenaline surge powered her. She trotted around the circle, added propulsion pushing her further from the ground with each step. She was a falcon on a gyre, a wild thing bent on flight. They gyre widened. Her trot suspended, and she floated over the ground, lightly touching down, then hanging in air. I clucked in rhythm and Mama added amplitude, hovering in a movement dressage riders called passage.
I felt an invisible tether between us, a pull from Mama. She focused in on me. She waited for my next command. I asked her to halt. She stopped. Then, for the first time, without food or fence, Mama turned and walked to me. She stopped, reached and stretched forward, trying to come near, but still afraid. And then, she tipped her nose to smell me. Gentle puffs of air touched my skin, then pulled my scent away from me, the scent always of sweet feed and sugar, of sunscreen and MyChelle dermaceuticals, and today, no doubt, of fear. Mama shoved my arm with her nose. She connected, like a hawk returning to the gauntlet. As the hot Colorado sun moved inexorably overhead, the rays fell down through the canopy of trees, dappling the red horse of dawn in a shimmer of light and shadow.
Chapter Index - Don't Miss The Other Episodes
Breakfast With Mama copyright 2011, 2012, Kathy Johnson
Photos copyright 2011, 2012, Tony Johnson