For Courtney A new Odyssey
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
Once upon a time, there was a young maiden named Courtney. She was tall for her age, thin and tall, limber, and strong. She loved the countryside. And she dreamed of having a horse. She dreamed and dreamed and wished and wished. She saw this horse clearly in her mind. While her mother could see the horse too, she was not rich. No Noble birth offered up the chance to purchase a mount for her daughter.
One fine day, an old gentleman came down their road with a beautiful brown mare. He needed a place to sleep for the night, which Mistress Courtney and her mother offered. The mare got to sleep in the stable, where no horse had slept before. Mistress Courtney could not resist her big brown eyes. Her hair was soft and she smelled of heaven. They slept next to each other in the hay. The damsel and the horse were content. So was the old man, who stayed on and helped with the unceasing, tiring work of running the tiny farm.
Life was good. Mistress Courtney spent a lot of time with the beautiful mare, who became more and more rotund despite working hard for her keep. Then, a miracle happened. Stella was a bony, leggy, brown baby with two white socks in the rear. Tall and beautiful. Thin and strong – like Mistress Courtney. The old man had no need for another horse, so it seemed that her wish had been granted. The young girl at last had her steed.
Stella grew and grew, and Courtney loved and nurtured her, teaching her the things she needed to know to be a good friend. They started riding together, exploring the woods and pathways and enjoying the sunshine. Hours of companionship: Mistress Courtney and Stella.
When at last Courtney decided to seek her fortune in the wider world of men, she and Stella arrived at the Estate of Sir Charles, the Kristull Ranch. She was offered lodging for the night and, like the old man before her, she was asked to stay on to lend her talents to beautifying the Estate. At last Stella had friends like herself: 3 paddock mates. She loved the Kristull. Mistress Courtney loved it so much she built a small dwelling right on the land and moved to the Kristull too.
But horse friends were not like her easy-going Mistress. Sometimes they were rude. Sometimes they were pushy. They nipped and occasionally kicked. This was a surprise to Stella. Soon, she decided to put her foot down. No, she was not moving away from the hay bale. No, she was not giving up her spot at the first grain bucket. In fact, a well-placed nip made Moon skedaddle. Ears laid back sent Velvet to the other end of the line. Even a small kick was effective if Smoke would not move away to a comfortable distance. Stella stood tall and felt like a Royal. Why hadn’t her Mistress taught her all of this before?
Soon Stella put two and two together. If her nip moved Moon, perhaps it would deter Lucia from putting her into the paddock when she would rather frolic in the pasture. Maybe it would keep Allie from brushing her tail when she really wanted to be grazing. Perhaps she could move people around as the pieces on a chess board. A threatened nip here, a threatened kick there.
Our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
But Stella’s new-found status wasn’t fun for Mistress Courtney or anyone else. Finally, Courtney needed to put HER foot down.
One day a stranger came to the Kristull. He looked like a man, but he acted like a horse. Who was Jamon? WHAT was Jamon? What did his arrival portend? He was different. He certainly wasn’t impressed by Stella’s ill manners. He moved slowly but was muscled and full of confidence. When he asked Stella to follow him, he quietly expected her to do so. She’d never met a man-horse quite like him.
But rules are rules, and the laws were of Stella’s making. She didn’t take orders from anyone.
Woosh! Jamon walked over to her and, with no warning at all, gave her a well-placed shoulder-shove that took her by surprise and sent her reeling off balance. Who did he think he was? Stella was vexed.
As she recovered from the shove, she kicked out at him: just a little reminder of who ruled this kingdom. He stayed with her. His body was quiet but powerful. Maybe she could just ignore him away; Just not look at him. Put her head down and graze, pretending he wasn’t even in the round pen with her. Surprise! When she took her eyes off of him, he ran after her, making her circle the pen. His rope was like an extension of his body. It reached out and tapped her. He wasn’t someone to be messed with. He was demanding that she honor him as a god.
Was he a god? She didn’t know. But she was having no part of this. Her tail swished hard and fast. This was unacceptable!
Jamon and Stella spent 15 minutes alone in the round pen. Somehow a man-horse didn’t need to move very much to make Stella canter and trot around the edge of the pen. It was hard work for her, but he wasn’t even distressed. She didn’t trust that he wouldn’t do something unexpected and crazy. After all, he had almost knocked her down when he shoved her. She was compelled to keep her eyes on him. He said run, she ran. He said stop, she stopped. He was no ordinary horse! No ordinary man!
Feelings started to well up inside Stella. Maybe she’d like to impress him instead of get rid of him. Maybe she’d like to understand him. His eyes were soft and brown like hers. But they drilled a hole in her when he waived his arms and told her to move. What muscles. What authority. He really was quite striking. Her heart was beating hard but she felt her will to resist him weakening.
As Stella was ruminating about joining the man-horse’s herd, Mistress Courtney entered the pen. She, too, seemed impressed by Jamon. The two ignored Stella for a minute. They huddled, and Jamon worked some secret magic on Courtney. She stood taller and straighter. Her gaze was direct, and her eyes had taken on an intensity they had never had before. Courtney picked up the rope and motioned Stella to move around the pen. What was this? Mistress Courtney acting like a horse too? Neither the man-horse nor her Mistress had uttered a word. This was all new, but Stella was getting the picture. Courtney had joined Jamon already, but he had told her secrets that Stella had not been told.
Mistress Courtney was not the same person she had been an hour ago. She seemed to know all of the tricks Stella had practiced with the other horses and her caretakers, and she was not being moved by them. Changes were in the wind.
Disappointment. Confusion. The sound of thunder in her head. But there was no time to think. The tall, young woman directed her around the edge, faster, slower, stop, turn. If Courtney let Stella get away with anything, the man-horse got after Stella and sent her around faster. This was hard.
But then Stella realized something. If she complied easily, if she stopped when they said stop and kept her eyes on her handler, she could rest. She could stand and think for a minute or two. The next time Courtney asked her to circle, she realized that she could circle with less anxiety so long as she stayed on the fence line, looked at her friend, and kept a steady pace. Her Mistress would relax. In fact, Stella began to relax too. Let Courtney do all of the thinking. Just trot when she asked, and Courtney would be Sweet Mistress Courtney again.
Stella’s heart began to swell with the joy of belonging. Her feet nearly flew with the desire to please Courtney and the man-horse. A new herd began to form. It felt good. It felt natural.
Stella breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t realized how stressful it was to always be the one in charge. So much easier to sleep, graze, frolic knowing that someone else is looking out for you. Her Mistress had always taken care of her before. When had Stella decided to take charge? It wasn’t natural.
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
In the years that followed, Stella took her Mistress down miles and miles of winding roads that surrounded the Estate. Courtney kept her coat shiny, her belly full and told her which turns to take. They talked often of the man-horse and the day he had arrived. As Stella looked back, she knew that Jamon’s arrival had forever changed her life for the better. Life was good. No stress. No worries.
When last I visited the Estate, I saw a dark-haired young woman riding a brown horse with two white stockings. In the distance a Centaur on the hill. Say what you will. Stella is content to grant her mistress’s every wish, and warm sunshine bathes the Kingdom over which the man-horse watches. There is peace and harmony across the land.
* The quotes are from Homer’s Odyssey
Epilogue: This could have been titled, “An Ode to Round Penning: Joining Up” It is an easy-to-understand narrative that young students who want to start their horse riding or training careers can use to understand the theory of taking a leadership position in their partnership with their horse and how to do it. Jamon is their mentor and Mistress Courtney their guide.