“Okay, do your thing, Nevada,” I thought, letting the reins go long. We were going downhill, it had rained earlier that day, and before us lay an extremely thick, sloppy patch of mud. I may have had disagreements with my last riding instructor, but there’s one thing I’m grateful he trained me to get comfortable with doing: giving a horse back their head.
Nevada carefully, expertly picked her way down, being used to this and much more. She would many times impress me with her goat-like precision of moving over complicated mountain terrain, and I would many times be reminded of how unsuitable equestrian norms would be here; were Nevada wearing iron shoes, it all would have been impossible. Neither would my jodhpur boots, which I had carried all the way from home, have served me well — it took Héctor one quick look to tell me that my trekking shoes were far more suitable, and it didn’t take me long to find out why.
I hadn’t ridden in a year, and hadn’t worn my half chaps for even longer — it took me three days to remember that I was wearing them the wrong way. The first day riding Nevada was mainly trying to remember technicalities, praying I wasn’t too rigid a load on her back as we faced steep uphills, one following another in what felt like endless succession. It took me a bit to feel through the saddle when one side of her back dropped — indicating her hind foot on the same side was off the ground — so that I could use my corresponding outside leg to ask for a half-pass (sideways step), remembering to open the rein and look where I intended to go. Nevada is a quick learner, and she soon figured it out; it came in handy whenever she neared bramble shrubs, endangering my limbs.
But I also had to remember to trust her judgement, too: Nevada knew the routes and terrain better than I ever could — no amount of pressure would convince her otherwise. Every moment I thought she came a little too close to the edge for my liking, I reminded myself that she was as disinterested in falling as I was. She and the other horses regularly follow cow trails winding up the mountain side; they know where to put their feet so as to avoid the precipice. It’s precisely where it looks most hazardous that you entrust your life to the horse.
. . .
The ever-changing weather of Asturias and its peaks have forever left an impression on my heart; I found the experience so enriching that I believe I’ll never be content with limiting myself to equestrian centres. It’s in the wilder places where both horses and humans can meet their need for effectance — to interact with one’s environment. It has instilled in me an addiction for high-altitudes and to return to how I began to regularly ride — going outside.