While in Bolivia in my early twenties, my friends and I decided to visit a valley near Sucre. The guidebook suggested that the best way to see this valley was on horseback. While I remember the golden sunlight of morning turning into afternoon, a slight chill in the air, and the wide trickle of the river below, my attention was captured by the horses. As my friend negotiated with the guide, I noticed the horses seemed to sag in the middle even without carrying anything. These local horses seemed small and weary. This was my first time riding a horse. My stomach was upside-down, and I was nervous.
We joined a larger group that included German and American tourists. The lead guide rode in front, and the other horses followed. A 10-year-old, small for his age, was in charge of my horse. The lead guide said there was nothing to worry about because this was his son. He flashed a proud smile that had a few teeth missing. The boy rode his own horse and held the bridle of two other horses in his hand while occasionally yelling out instructions to the horses in Spanish. There was a bit of panic when I realized the horses “spoke” only Spanish. I don’t know the Spanish words that horses use! I listened to him carefully, straining to concentrate, just in case I would need those words later.
My horse was tan brown with a flowing mane and a beautiful woven blanket below a worn, leather saddle. All was well as we crossed an open plain scattered with trees before descent into the valley. However, the road down the mountainside was steep with winding switchbacks. I began to feel like a heavy burden to my horse. My saddle and I sat sagging in the midsection, as the animal seemed to saunter down the mountain. The horse trotted, precariously close to the edge. With each sway towards the river, my heart leapt up into my throat and would have left my body if it were possible. My anxiety seemed to be increasing. My body felt like it was trying to climb out of the saddle and onto an invisible ladder as I willed the horse not to fall off the edge with each step. I looked at the others, tried to distract myself, watched their bodies sway with the horse from one side to the other. And then the thought popped into my head: “Trust the horse. This horse does not want to die any more than you do.”
I took a deep breath, settled into the horse, became one with the saunter and let my body sway to the opposite side for counterbalance. As I settled in and relaxed, I began to feel the step of the horse, feel the earth underneath me, and connect into this beautiful valley that surrounded me. I actually saw the valley for the first time. I realized that if I could trust one thing, I could trust this horse. Just like me, the horse did not want to die falling down the side of the cliff. He had done this many times. We would get to the bottom safely. “Trust the horse,” I repeated to myself.
As we left the valley behind and entered the plains again, I was sad that this ride was coming to an end. I soaked in the surroundings. The afternoon sunlight danced between the leaves of the trees. The smells of earth and animal wafted across the air. The pleasant chatter of my friends — old and new — scattered into the background of footsteps rustling the fallen leaves across the ground. I could feel the methodical rhythm of the animal beneath me. Suddenly, the horses in front of me began to trot. That’s strange, I thought. Then, my horse started to trot. Then we started to gallop. My heart leapt back into my throat again; my eyes seemed to bulge. I held tight to my racing horse.
“Trust the horse,” I said to myself. This time, the lesson was how powerful that drive to go home can be, and the real comfort was that this would end when we arrived. I knew where we were going. The horses were going home.
Today, if things seem out of control, I look for the horse that is carrying me. And I whisper to myself: Trust the horse.
I take a deep breath. Trust the horse.
[Originally posted Feb 20, 2014, at opendreaming.wordpress.com.]