I was a horse crazy kid. I will say, in fact, that I was born loving horses. I grew up on Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion series, and Marguerite Henry’s great books about horses in history. Like many horse crazy kids, I dreamed of taming a wild horse who would love and trust me and our inseparable bond would be legendary.
As my experience with real live horses grew, my expectations became more realistic. I gained a better appreciation for the hard work that goes into bond-building, the number of spills that occur along the way to improved riding and horsemanship, the unglamorous chores like stall cleaning, fence fixing and water hauling that are part of horse ownership.
And I also experienced the addictive magic of a forest gallop on a fast horse, the companionship of hanging out while horses graze nearby, the thrilling moment of perfect sync between horse and rider.
But despite all that, I never lost that romantic notion of a close, voluntary encounter with a wild horse.
The wild horses around Ruidoso, New Mexico are a mixed lot of recently feral and born wild. They are accustomed to people. Like suburban deer, they don’t spook at the sight of people, they don’t worry too much about being in plain sight of a house… or a baseball diamond with a game on.
My first sight of the bay stallion’s Ruidoso herd had me breathless. As they were at the entrance of the mountain cabin community where we had our Air BnB, I got out of the car, assured my family they could go on without me when they were ready, and settled in to observe.
I had no intention of approaching. A bay mare was particularly curious and seemed to respond when I talked to her. I moved for a better view, and the horses came nearer. The bay mare was within 10 feet of me.
When they moved away toward our cabin, I chose a route that took me close to them but not directly in their path. I paused a few yards away, watching. A roan foal and a bay foal paired up to come closer to me – clearly expecting me to give them something. I reached out my hand and they nuzzled my palm, both of them – and a third foal that crept up during the encounter.
I told them I didn’t have anything, but if they followed me to the cabin, I had some carrots. I turned from them, rolling my shoulder in the horse person gesture of “follow me.” The little stinkers did!
When I was below our cabin, my partner Tim and our boys, Dylan and Will, were on the deck watching the whole thing. They tossed carrots down for me to feed the three foals and also the curious bay mare. I kept my eye on the stallion in case he didn’t like the situation. We had a moment when we regarded each other, and he decided I was no threat.
I confess I got a little bit weepy here and there during the encounter. The flash of understanding with the stallion, the friendliness of the mare, the frank curiosity of the foals – it was the sort of interaction I’ve had with horses plenty of times. But these guys were wild ones. Not mustangs, necessarily. But wild all the same.