To All the Horses I’ve Loved Before

When I took riding lessons as a girl,
Mares liked my hair: they muzzled it,
Mistook it for hay, nosed the curls,
My long blonde wheat fronds
Nuzzle-lipped and pepper-minted
It was all innocent horse-play.

Jumping fences, I dreamt
Meadows and willows, shady
Glens where I was never meant
To wander; no boundary made me
Slow long enough to see how far
I’d strayed, or where I went.

When I rode rodeo horses
In Wyoming at a calf ropin’,
We galloped toward the other
End of the arena at full speed;
I learned why cowboys often
Walk bow-legged. (How I love
Bow-legged men.) One of them
Propositioned a seasonal position
On his ranch: “You may not go out
A cowgirl but you’ll come back
As one,” in a broken John-Wayne
Affectation. He served me a bowl,
‘New England clam chowder.”

Vibrating in the saddle,
Reins between my fingertips,
I communicated—a slight pull,
A nudge of my leg, the cowboy
Insisted, “Be one with the horse!”
Utilizing my natural weight, I
Tilted forward and felt seized
By the animal’s innate power.

One arm raised (to practice)
We darted and dove, a game
He demonstrated; I relaxed,
Centered in my hips; the horse,
Mid-conversation, urinated
On the spot—this quarter horse,
A seasoned athlete, made me…
Wait. A roper asked, “What did
You do to that horse?” with coarse
Laughter. Tamed manes, the horse’s
And mine, flagged in synchronicity.

For Those Wyoming Boys 

Poet’s note: This is part of a 30/30 Poetry Challenge in support of the nonprofit Tupelo Press. If you would like to support me in this fundraiser, please donate here and mention my name in comments or in the “in honor of” field that comes up with PayPal. Thank you, friends. -Leah Stetson