Red Mare
by Leila Castle
Photos by Rychard
32 pages, 2005

He seduced me with her. It worked. I fell in love with Tenna before I met her. Joe showed me photos of his three horses, boarding at the time in Pagosa Springs , Colorado on a ranch with plenty of wild acreage for them to run on together. Carlos, Raincloud and Tenna—short for a Gaelic word that means flame . Her registered name was Kits Latin Lady, formerly called “Tina” by the Paint ranch breeders he bought her from near Cortez, the four corners area of southwestern Colorado. She didn't throw color though, a cinnamon red bay with a lightning bolt blaze—no spots. Her mama was a big sorrel quarter horse mare, her papa a gorgeous great black overo quarter horse stallion. Old-fashioned classic quarter horses—big, chunky, muscled—can take off like a stick of dynamite, stop on a dime, power haunches, good natured and calm.

Carlos was another story. A handsome dark bay Thoroughbred gelding Tenna loved. An ex-racehorse bred in South Africa , liberated from the Santa Anita track, then known as “Baby”—where he was not doing well as a fighter at the gate. Joe bought him from a trainer there. He also liberated Raincloud, a dark bay Mustang gelding—identical to Carlos though not quite as tall or fine, with a Barb looking head, from a reservation herd at the Taos Pueblo stable. Carlos was the prince, Raincloud his rougher little brother, Tenna—the babe.

On Joe's 51st birthday, we drove down from his Telluride land to Pagosa to get the horses, staying overnight at the Springs Motel. Joe was tired from the drive—hauling the long 4 horse slant load trailer behind his growly 4-wheel drive F350 Ford diesel over the mountains, though it pulled light as a feather. I went over to the restaurant across the river from the motel and got his requested birthday dinner cheeseburgers, and as a surprise some wicked chocolate cake and ice cream. We soaked in the hot springs late, Joe disappearing to the men's pool, the women's side deserted, except for me and a very old woman.

A beautiful Anasazi style fresco of horses is painted on the wall over the water. Poaching as long as I could in the intense sublime caldera, I dreamily watched as the old woman emerged naked from the pool robed in swirls of steam and bent over close to me revealing a full view of her yoni. In that moment came a vision from the mare goddess, her ancient yoni, horses galloping through the tendrils of soft steam, the echoing sound of the water, something primordial and otherworldly whispered to me that night full of portent.

In the morning we drove over to the ranch to load the horses and take them up to the Telluride land where Joe was building that summer. The plan was for me to catch Raincloud, he'd get Carlos, and Tenna would follow. They must have recognized the sound of his truck—and came galloping happily toward the barn as we arrived. Halter in hand, I slipped through the gate and Raincloud came right to me. Joe was amazed, saying Raincloud was very hard to catch. I think they wanted to go with us. As Joe started to load Carlos, it became clear he had notorious loading issues. We easily got both Tenna and Raincloud in, but Carlos, waiting, tied by the side of the trailer, spooked at the sound of the others inside and pulled back with all his might, scaring himself even more. I'd ridden all my life, but never loaded before. I was leading Carlos in, coaxing him gently as he was just stepping in—then reverse bolted, rope burning my palm open in a searing slash.

Joe unloaded the horses and we decided we needed help with Carlos. He called a nearby horse friend, no answer. So we drove over to the Parelli Ranch, not far away, to see if anyone could give us a hand. Joe had taken some horsemanship courses there, and Tenna had been ridden only once by a Parelli trainer. They were wonderfully friendly and helpful. One of their trainers generously offered to come with us, an older gentleman with a Montana style cowboy hat and beaming grin. I knew he had horse magic, and soaked in all I could like a sponge the little time he spent with us that day.

Right away he had Carlos moving in a circle beside the trailer, working his crazy energy out in a positive direction, soothing him with a calm voice, encouraging him with a carrot stick, alternately stroking his shoulder, and tapping his haunch lightly when he balked, until finally after about 15 minutes of this, without any further trouble, Carlos hopped in and settled down for the ride ahead.

The powerful truck surged flawlessly over the mountains, with the horses quiet behind, as Joe and I enjoyed the beauty of the road and each others company listening to Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. We'd pull over to check on them every so often, and they were fine. We got back to the land just before dark, and released them into the larger fenced area of the 40 acres where they had a snowmelt arroyo stream, pasture, loafing shelter, and an unobstructed view of wild mesa all the way to Lizard Head and Little Cone mountains to the south.

I credit my grandmother for my horse craziness. She rode a horse all the way from Missouri to California alone when she was only 16. Then my mother put me on ponies before I could walk. There is something hypnotic, trance-like about the rhythm of riding—the sway, the motion of ones hips, like dancing, or sex, not experienced otherwise.

We are first carried by our mothers, then on the backs of generous steeds for thousand of years of human history. The rhythm of cars is different, lurching, smooth, unfeeling. Horse scent—a mixture of sweat, manure, the gloss and warmth of their coats, the earth and weather, leather and hay is a deep connection for us with nature, and the land—not the civilized world of modern urban household life. My mom loved to ride, so she took me to Grizzly stables in the Berkeley Hills to lope the trails of Tilden Park , and I naturally assumed this was a part of life. This assumption formed an inner awareness of my own unquestioned strength as a girl, and a love of the freedom of riding in a noncompetitive atmosphere in an environment of natural wild beauty.

Over the years I got bucked off, kicked, fell, got sunstroke riding in desert heat without a hat, though not without pain--no serious injury happened, I did learn to have a respect for the dangers involved. I rode friend's horses when offered, and had my own when my parents bought a ninety acre ranch outside Grass Valley in the late 60s. We had a herd of seven, mostly quarter horse mares, my favorite a strawberry roan Appaloosa named April belonging to my sister. She let me ride her, and we would often disappear for afternoons off on a several thousand acre neighboring ranch exploring the manzanita covered hills and woods of black oak and ponderosa pine. She was a strong, smart, gentle mare, spirited, with a sense of humor, and I swear totally telepathic with me—which is why I loved her. She spoiled me. I knew what it was to be one with her, we were hooked up.

All around me though, I witnessed a macho world of western cowboying—domination of horses, through fear and force, and thought I must be a gypsy. I kept quiet, and enjoyed my own private horse world—until I went away to college, and the ranch was sold, along with the horses, and my life changed.

I became a dancer, traveler, an artist, then a mother, and though I fought against it—domesticated. I didn't ride much after that. Here and there the opportunity came, every few years—a friend's big Palomino gelding in Griffith Park, L.A., a trail ride near Taos, Jack—a black, chocolate-silk mousse Tennessee Walker with an uncanny smooth gait, a trail ride in the Sierras, a wild ride circling Tara Mandala Retreat land in Colorado with rainbows appearing, riding a brother and sister pair of fairytale white Arabians up to the top of Mt. Whittenberg in Point Reyes. The rhythm never left me. Somehow the merging of mare spirit with me persevered despite the ensuing trials of my very human life.

It occurs to me that the domestication of the horse into a beast of slavery and a tool of warfare is not much different from what has befallen women in the last five thousand years. The focus and driving arrow of my creativity and studies for as long as I can remember was first horses, then the sacred feminine leading a devotion to healing a world of suffering and violence under the urgent shadow of nuclear destruction and degradation of the global biosphere. I resorted to beauty and enchantment—powers of the fey, from borderlands edging where barbarian warlords spread dominator miasmas infecting all life everywhere. I cast prayers and sought visions; embroidering events with all the magic I could conjure, offering gifts of treasure given by angels, by the goddesses, by the færies.

Not unlike Amazon priestesses fighting to preserve the remnants of a once peaceful egalitarian realm's wisdom under siege, I went down, crashing from the sustained stress of battle fatigue. That is when Joe found me, and offered me Tenna. Somehow I knew she was the medicine I needed, though I got so much more than I bargained for. Red mare--the color of blood, passion, sacrifice—of the mother aspect of the triple goddess. Tenna is red, with black mane, tail, stockings, and one white sock, hoof, and blaze--the ancient goddess colors. She was a four-year-old filly then, untrained. Young, wild, strong, full-bodied, voluptuous, affectionate, fast, curious, willful and quite silly at times, her coat shone iridescent in sunlight.