Whenever we went out riding, there would come a time when my pony would run home. Dusty, my spunky Shetland pony would get tired of the ride, or bored. He was a stocky little guy, pure muscle and covered with such a thick grey-brown coat that we often referred to him as our big teddy bear. His course, thick mane stuck straight up in the air around his face, giving him a striking resemblance to Albert Einstein. He often gave us the impression he was much too intelligent to be bothered with our simple little girl musings.
If my sisters and I were just hanging out in a meadow, watching the clouds, talking about nothing, he’d decide he had enough of the girl talk and it was time to go. He had several techniques for this. He could nonchalantly wander farther and farther away from us as we lay in the grass, thinking naively that since we were in clover he’d stick around. He was never bold about it. It was always sly and sneaky. He’d eat a little here, wander a bit, eat a little more there, and continue this until he knew he had enough distance between us that we couldn’t catch him – and he’d make his getaway.
Even if we were still riding him, he had several clever techniques to gain his freedom. He would suddenly come to a stop, dropping his head low, and let me go flying over his head, then turn and run home as if it was exactly what we had wanted him to do, leaving me there in the dirt scrambling to my feet in vain. Or, he would seemingly be cooperative, running smoothly along the road, only to run past a mailbox so tightly that it would catch my leg, pulling me off his back, and he would continue running as if there were nothing unusual about losing his rider, and head home.
Yup, he was crafty. And smart. I didn’t realize until I was older just how smart he was. Whenever the ride wasn’t what he had hoped for, he ran home. Now, you’d think this meant he wasn’t interested in riding, as hard as he worked to find ways to go home. But that’s not true. He was always the first one to the gate as we ran down the gravel road after school, whinnying for us in anticipation of the ride. I’d grab his bridle and he’d practically put it on himself as he nudged his head up into it. He was always so anxious that it made it difficult to get on him – he’d be in a hurry to go so you had to learn how to jump up on his back while he was moving. Standing still just didn’t work for him. And then, he’d run. Oh boy would he run! The little guy would pound the ground as if he could increase the spin of the earth just by tearing up the dirt with his powerful hooves. There was no point to using the reins. He had his own idea on where he was going and it was best to just use both hands to grab handfuls of his course, graying mane, and do all you could to match your movements to his and become a part of the freight train flying down the lane, rather than a part of the dust left behind.
Once he made his first initial sprint, he’d begin to slow, and at some point would give a snort and shake his head, as if you needed a cue to wake you up and remind you that you were suppose to be steering. Then, for as long has he deemed it interesting, he would allow you complete control and follow your every command flawlessly. His power would become your own, each step an extension of your wish, each turn a reflection of your vision. It was pure joy, freedom, and control. Until he was ready to run home.
And he always knew where that was. I remember once my friend and I had gone on a full day ride, farther than I’d ever gone before, miles from home. Dusty seemed to enjoy it. We went down roads we’d never been on, across cricks, bridges and through woods that were new and exciting. And then he was done. He pulled the head drop bit and next thing I knew I was picking gravel out of my butt and he was happily trotting down the road towards home. I spent the next two hours on the back of my friend’s horse, panicking about all the terrible things that could be happening to my poor lost pony. When we finally cantered onto my lane, we spotted Dusty happily eating the clover on the hillside by the barn. He looked up and gave what could only be described as a laughing whinny at her poor, tired horse who had carried us both for so far and who most assuredly gave him a growl and a glare in return.
I learned a lot on the back of that spunky pony over the years. He gave me a strength I didn’t have when off his back. For me, the movement of his muscles beneath me rippled their strength clear to my soul and was a much more solid place to be than the packed ground he stood on. On his back, I could yell at my sisters, and sometimes even my parents. I could show anger, frustration, determination and conviction. I sat tall in my saddle, even when sitting on nothing more than his thick winter fur.
In the years since Dusty was no longer a part of my day, I’ve often returned to those memories for strength. I’ve even been known to lay in a meadow talking to him as though he were still just feet away nibbling on the clover as always.
And it’s the holiday time, like today, that I remember his countless tricks and schemes to get me off his back so he could go home. At the time I took it personally, I thought he had gotten tired of me or what it was we were doing together. I understand now that it was bigger than that: it wasn’t what he was running from, it was where he was going. He was running home. He always knew how to get there, and he always knew it’d be there for him.
Shouldn’t we all be so lucky? To know that whenever life isn’t quite what we want it to be, that we can always find our way home. And that even though we need to be home now and then, that we also know it’s a place that will support us when we need to go for a run.
This holiday season, may you find your way home or be home for someone else and never forget it’s okay to run away now and then.