In the series of books I’m named for (The God Stalker Chronicles, by PC Hodgell), a major plot point is something called “the soulscape”. This is a weird dimension the reflects an individual’s soul, such as a garden, a walled keep, something that sits at the deepest level of the character’s psyche, and the race as a whole has a shared one. The main character, Jamethiel, can dance through these soulscapes at will. I’ve often fancied what mine would look like (hopefully not as dark and twisty as some in the books are), but Sunday I had a hint of where it might be.
The lower stretch of the Deschutes River, where it flows into the Columbia, might be such a place for me. It’s hard to pinpoint the simultaneous feeling of belonging, of peace and curiosity, on the back of my spicy chocolate mare, riding river bend to river bend. It’s not a normal trail ride for me.
There are so many shades of green, the wild and twisty river, birds galore, wide open vistas, knowing that every hoofbeat takes you deeper into the back country that calls me. I love being able to trace water’s movement over the landscapes, from the tiny springs crowded with deeper green growth, to the wind through the tall almost yellow grasses, to the deepest emerald of the irrigated crops at the hills peaks. The wind whistling, tickling and occasionally sprinting along the cliffs, the mesmerizing spiral of rock, formed over eons of unimaginable pressures and heat and upheavals. Wildflowers fluttering, yellow and blue and pink, sprinkled through like paint splotches. Stretches of grass taller than my head, mounted on my exactly 14.2hh mare. Taking our coats on and off, on and off based on the wind and the cloud cover, ever changing, moments of sun and blue sky moving into grey and back in minutes.
This year felt so much more rewarding, even as it was a stepping stone to the John Wayne ride. Last year, Tarma was willing, but still reserved. She hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted her to do, and I hadn’t clued in to what she needed from me. We were roommates, coexisting but not always on the same page. This year, I still may not always understand exactly what she’s feeling, but I know she’s feeling it. I know what a relaxed Tarma looks like, I recognize that eagle look to her eye, and we’re always 50 yards ahead for the first several miles, that quick walk unhindered by doubt. I can also tell just how much fitter she is, 13 miles barely sipped what was in her tank. Her trot out was the same cadence under tack and bare.
When I went into her pasture yesterday to check on her, she stood and waited for me. I poked and prodded her as I do after every ride, obsessed as I always am with saddle fit. I’m thrilled to report she showed no signs of soreness that I could find, and she’s not a horse that hides or pretends to stoicism. This is the best news, as we did 13 miles, mostly at the walk, with two full sets of saddle bags, our normal pommel bag and cantle bags full of lunch and extra water. To be open about it, she probably carried around 265 pounds yesterday, which is around 27% of her body weight. Afterwards I massaged her and asked for some carrot stretches, starting at her face and ending at her tail. I’m not great at it, but she relaxes and yawns and chews every time, so I’m adequate. After I was done, instead of marching off as she usually does, she just hung out with me for a few minutes, hanging her head near me and breathing, watching the world go by.
This weekend I finally feel I really nailed the balance, between adventure and relationship building that Tarma requires of me. It wasn’t just about the trip and the ride, and I spent enough time checking in with her to ensure she’s ready for the next outing. It’s a deeply calming feeling, just when the world is going to pot, to know my horse and I are more or less in sync. I know we’ll continue to have bobbles, I’m not the most sensitive and she is, but we’ve reached the spot where we can have discussions and I can ask stupid human things with no hurt feelings on either side. I still have a long list of things to prep and pack, but with my newly repaired truck home and my ankle almost back to full function, we’re ready for the Palouse to Cascade Trail.