I lost an icon in my life a few weeks ago. Caballa, my special little mustang mare laid down in the late October, yet still green Black Hills field, and was unable to get her arthritic and tired hips back underneath her to pull herself up. It was a beautiful, warm day when we let her go to find her new journey. That little mare knew more about me than I did. Her big, brown eyes saw deep into my (and everyone’s) soul in a way that you knew there was no sense in hiding. She taught me so much in our years together; about horses, self preservation, confidence, and mostly about life.
Caballa came to me (or I came to her) more than twenty years ago when she was already six. She had previously roamed the deserts in Nevada and was a very opinionated lead mare. I was in Santa Fe, NM going to massage and natural healing school and asked if I could do part of my externship on horses. At the time, there wasn’t much available for training or schools in equine massage so the school agreed to let me if I could find some experienced teachers and complete an additional thesis. I managed to find a tutor from the racetrack in nearby Albuquerque and did some of my case study at the combined BLM / New Mexico State Penitentiary Wild Horse center. While there, a truck load of mustangs came in from Nevada and I decided I had to “have” one.
The horses were released into very large lots with tall concrete fences and I stood at the far end watching. I was both sad for their capture, their fear, and their confusion and awed by their power and presence. I chose a wiry, strong little bay mare who was running herd on everyone. She had every intention to keep all the other horses safe and in line all at the same time. When I arrived the next day, the inmate trainers had “my” little bay mare in a bucking shoot and had just gotten a halter on her. I stepped up on the bench to meet my new adventure and suddenly a half-dozen inmates were telling me to get down because she would hurt me. They continued by warning that she was one of the meanest horses they had seen and I needed to choose a different horse. Their warning just made me feel that I had to have her in my life even more. Something about her was just special.
I named my little horse right away – well really, I mis-named her. My Spanish leaves a lot to be desired. Horse in Spanish is “caballo”. My little knowledge of Spanish told me that male words end in “O” and female words end in “A”. Since my new mare was female, I mistakenly thought that a mare would be a “caballa”. I was wrong but I didn’t figure that out until she was already named. Her name fit her well in spite of my poor Spanish!
Within a week or so, I was loading her on my rickety little trailer and took her to an even more rickety pen in an arroyo behind the tiny little adobe cabin I rented for my daughter and I while I was in school . The next several years spent developing our remarkable partnership was life changing for me. We only made it through because we were both too stubborn to give up (and believe me, I was advised quite often to do just that)! She didn’t let anything come to me easily with her but she did make sure I learned the lesson well! She made me work for every step of our journey!
Over the years, that little bay mare became the best partner I could ask for. She let kids climb all over her, carried a bride in a wedding, packed throughout the wilderness and worked cows in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, traveled state to state with me and gave confidence to all other horses who lived with her.
Caballa was always the boss in a herd but she was fair and never hurt anyone. She had an immediate sense as to how much attitude a new horse in the herd would have and she would meet them with that much attitude plus a tad more. She never kicked or bit but would simply run a circle around the new horse (saying what, I don’t know) until that horse would drop their head in submission. She appeared to say, “OK, then” and would go back to what she was doing. There would never be a question again. In the early years, Caballa would jump barbed wire fences like a deer. If there were horses on the horizon, she would jump the fences and head out to round up a new herd. I got several calls from neighbors that my horse was trying to steel their horses. But, whom ever was in her herd was safe. She kept things in order and she instinctively knew what was needed.
When Caballa was about 20 years old, I gave her to a friend for a year or more so my friend’s son could trail ride with her. I had a big gelding who always looked to Caballa for a sense of safety and order. When Caballa left, the gelding thought he should take over the position. He wasn’t confident about his role and he worried and bullied any new comers. It was really hard work for him and he was mean. The day Caballa came home, the gelding met her at the trailer. I was worried he would be nasty to her as she was getting older now and I didn’t want her hurt. I let Caballa out while I kept him back but he instantly recognized her. His head went down and he made little sounds to her as if to say, “I missed you so much, this job has been so hard, I am so glad you are home – Thank God!” He was no longer mean and his confidence was re-established.
I was living with Caballa near Yellowstone Park our first winter after we moved from New Mexico. Many horses had a great fear of the large moose that travel by. One morning I came out of my cabin to find Caballa with a moose trapped against the cabin wall. The moose was trying desperately to get away and that little mare was cutting him like she was going for top score in competition. I had quite a time at calling her off. She was just one of those individuals that knew how to take care of herself and everyone else. She was stubborn and had her own way, but I always felt safe with her. There were times that I actually asked her what or how to do, even in my personal life. With Caballa around, everything felt grounded and like it would be OK, no matter what.
Although this isn’t really a massage story, Caballa has been a large part of my quest toward equine massage and healing and she is my story in so many ways. When I told my Mom that I lost Caballa she said, “You rescued her and then she rescued you many times over the years”. That was my beautiful, strong, elegant Caballa – my rescuer.