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Birds of a Feather

Excerpt from Each Wind That Blows

We come out of the valley at a walk to find a horseman’s dream of a plain stretch out before us. Flat, open, grass clipped short by hungry teeth. It’s on our way and we mean to cross it. If I know Tristan at all by now, it will be at speed.

I look ahead to where we are headed, scouting our route. A small herd of giraffe are passing in regal statehood off to our right, away from us, but ahead the land is sprinkled with zebra, tommies and the occasional impala. Tristan pauses and waits for everyone to gather up, then speaks the by now increasingly familiar words: “Shall we have a little trot then, maybe a gentle canter? We do have a lot of ground to cover before lunch.”

I have a tingling feeling this will be a good one. We trot the usual few strides and ease into canter. Right away, Libra feels different. It is as if he knows something I don’t, or has sensed my anticipation.

Although we are nowhere near nor heading their way, the giraffe begin to run, away from us and our direction of travel, but the zebra and tommies appear to want to join us. There is a sense of carnival in the air, with all the flashing stripes and outrageous headpieces and the game is doing the rhumba. They begin to run, bucking, leaping and kicking up their tough little heels, they are just ahead on a line that will leave them alongside us. Tristan is steering right along with them for they are on our way, and Cape To Cairo is pulling us along in her wake.

Oh. My. God. I whisper. It is a prayer, a blessing, a wish. An exultation. Here. We. Go. I remember the old adage about throwing your heart over the jump and going after it, and fling my heart across the savannah we are about to cross. I stamp out a brief thought on herd behavior, wondering might the horses not feed off this wild energy and join in with the beasts. That would make for one spectacular rodeo, never mind the rhumba. Then I pull myself back to the task of riding a horse who is clearly picking up on the excitement ahead. We are also picking up a head of steam, Libra is awake, wide awake and pulling. Faster, faster he urges me, eggs me on. Come on, let’s go, lady!

We are just off to Tristan’s left side and slightly behind and trying to stay that way, mindful he is the boss and akin to the Master of the Hunt. You do not pass the Master of the Hunt unscathed. Besides, he knows where we are going and I most certainly do not, though I threw my heart in the general direction. Libra and Cape To Cairo may well be in cahoots, for she is steadily picking up speed and Libra matches her, stride for stride, gunning for the zebra ahead.

Libra shows his true colors. He may be a kind and gentle soul who walks easily on a loose rein, but he is also a Thoroughbred. All Thoroughbred. He wants to get in front and stay there. I wrap my legs down and around him and sway with his lengthening strides, my hands resting on either side of his neck, following the pumping of his head. Time for a mental check. Breathe, knees down, toes up, stretchy calves, breathe, it’s all good. I give in to the pure sensory sensation of skimming across the pale sandy ground, with a slight concession to watching for Aardvark holes.

Libra is right there in my hands and my back, we are in it together even if he is more or less in charge - of speed anyway - and all I need is a little weight in a stirrup or a slight closing of a hand for him to respond as smoothly as power steering. We veer gently around holes and rocks, keeping Tristan ahead on our right. I would look back to see how the rest are faring but I don’t dare. We are not anywhere near flat out, but it is a nice fast hand gallop and I am not sure everyone is quite accustomed to that yet.

We are catching up now to the herds of zebra and antelope. They race alongside us and to the right. Further ahead, the front runners are arcing in a far-flung line that stretches in front of us and directly across our path, headed left at a flat out gallop of their own, kicking up dust that hangs in the air as the horns of the bounding impala glint in the sun.

The savannah is wide open and the game is scattered wide by our approach. I am wondering do we go through their line and what antics that might inspire in our mounts, when Tristan bears left on a soft curve. We are once more racing on an almost parallel path to the now disbanded wildlife. The giraffe are far off to the right on a tangent to our general direction, exhibiting a ‘gentle canter’ of their own in dignified stateliness, their heads and necks undulating above the clouds of sand kicked up by their heels.

A dusty haze is rising but we are leaving it in its own proverbial dust as the game finally clears off right and left and we are cleared for take-off. We fan out on a straight line in the direction of our travel, due west, the horses are running freely but not as hard as they can, for nobody quite dares to go there. I hear nothing beyond the whistling wind in my ears and Libra’s steady breathing, pushed from his lungs by the pumping of his legs as the tears are squeezed from my eyes by the wind. He is young and strong. I borrow from him all the joy and freedom in running he will lend me. We are birds of a feather, and the wind sings in our name.

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