I feel really lucky to have a horse with me from a few different parts of my journey. This year, I finally got a hold of one of the horses that made the greatest impacts on me in my life, back when I was riding colts and packing mules for an outfitter in Yellowstone National Park. This palomino paint mare (Blondie, now called Maya because she finally became mine the week Dr. Maya Angelou passed away) is without a doubt one of the most brilliant animals I have ever met. I rode her for only a month packing in camps back in 2007 when I was at the very beginning of shifting my horsemanship to follow my intuition towards the path I'm on now. I had not yet met Harry Whitney, who has had a large influence on me since, but I had met Tara, my black mare who really started me on this path, less than a year before. Maya immediately struck me because she was so intelligent, had so much try, and was such an incredible partner. I could tell she had been treated roughly in the past, but when I offered her a soft feel as best I could at that point, she was remarkably willing and loyal with me.
I can't describe why I felt so strongly she was exceptional, particularly because I had none of the language available to me at that point that I do now, except to say I felt the same about her mind that I do Tara, and had the same immediate reaction to her. I can count on one hand the horses I have felt this from (Lyla, my newest filly, is maybe the fourth or fifth). I tried to make her mine back then, but was never able to. She was turned out in a big herd without medical or hoof care, with a herd of 50-70 horses, for the seven years since and as far as I know from keeping track of this herd I was the last one to ride her. I always monitored her, hoping she would come back in my life.
Then, last summer, at 18 years old, she was destined for the kill pens and I was able to bring her home! It was an exciting moment. Because of her lack of medical attention, she is not rideable and will probably never be again, but her mind is as sharp as I remember..if not more so! I half wondered if my memory of her perhaps was embellished, or if seven years of training horses later I would have a different opinion of her because my understanding of horses has evolved. But, the second I walked in the pen with her, that feeling came back and her eyes told me that was not the case!
She led the big herd for all of those years as the head mare and is as attentive as any wild horse I have met, yet her interest in me was immediate. I have no idea if she remembered me or if she simply appreciated the feel I offered her, but a number of people commented on her attachment to me in those first few days when she came into my care. I felt honored that she would trust me still, after all these years, whether because of a memory or not.
She is now a companion horse for my mom's mare, Chloe, and my mom is doing a little basic groundwork with her because Maya is so interested in being worked with. Today, the most remarkable thing happened. My mom was working her mare on the line at picking her up from the fence and presenting both her left and right side. Before she knew it, Maya, who had been watching, was lining up to the fence about five feet ahead of Chloe! To my knowledge, she has never been taught how to do this, particularly not at liberty in her paddock! She then followed my mom and Chloe around, backing when Chloe was asked to back, coming forward, etc. She would not let the young mares come in to participate and would send them off if they tried. This was for mature ladies only, Maya thought!
Maya can often appear cranky or shut down when someone approaches her, especially if it isn’t me, because of the ill feelings she holds towards people, but her eyes light up when she is being introduced these new concepts or simply mirroring Chloe's work. It is stunning to see her enthusiasm for participating and watch her search at what is being asked, even when the feel is being presented to Chloe, not her. While not every horse is quite as engaging and intelligent as Maya is, seeing her do this of her own choice, simply for the joy of working out a puzzle, encourages me to continue trying to figure out how to inspire every horse to have the interest Maya so naturally has. I am working towards having every moment of training, for every horse, feel like Maya working at sorting out what my mom was asking of Chloe, just because it felt good to work at it. I am lucky to have this mare in my life and am thankful that all these years later she came back to me. She will live the snowbird life for her golden years, hanging out with my mom and me and being treated with the respect owed to the wise woman, full of stories, that she is.