The Sweetness of Al

“What do you think, Al?” I am pointing
to a freshly fallen mesquite bean.
There are no ants on it.So he turns
and his gaze follows my fingertip.

Does he understand what I’m
saying? I contemplate my ego,
my smallness, my
desire to have this be so. And so

he nibbles and lifts the bean
between his strong lips.
How fortunate I feel to
love him from close distance.
Al savors
the sweet bean.


Three different friends rode by my barn today. Two were riding together, one was alone on a Spanish Barb gelding that used to live at my barn. We chatted over the fence, but not for long. The heat is just too much. They were all heading back to hose off their horses. This happened well before 9 am. Rocky and Sweet Al were both in their stalls having a little snack. They wait for me by the turnout gate when I show up, knowing they’ll get a snack, or a moment of freedom or a little walk, something to break up the monotony of their day. The Barbie Girls watch and sometimes Julietta comes over in the hopes that I’ll let her out, too, and yes, she did get to come out and have a snack once or twice while the other two Barbie Girls were gone to a more distant barn during the height of our Bighorn fire. Her owner is in Colorado, enjoying the green and the breeze. We miss him. He is an early riser and consistently makes it over to the barn to scoop all the poop when he’s here. While he’s gone I attempt to get over at least three times a week to muck. The lady who runs our barn is tough as nails, but she has scoliosis, and has a replacement hip because she was born without a socket on that side, and sometimes the work is hard on her. She’ll do it, and she doesn’t expect me to do it, but I like the exercise, and I like contributing to the care of the horses. And the mule. And the llama. And the donkeys.

When I let my horses out this morning they meandered towards their stalls, as I’d asked them to do, but my mare had to check my gelding’s stall first, then of course he followed her in, then left because she probably told him to, and went in to her stall. I told them both to return to their own stalls, and there was a moment where they were both in Rocky’s stall, but eventually they got to their proper places and we all shared a laugh. Okay, I laughed. They ate their Crypto Aero Wild Forage.

When they had finished delicately picking their feed out of the slow feeders, I took them each, one at a time, over to the round pen. Rocky first, because, well, it just kind of always seems to work out that way. She’s a lady. The yearling stud colt whistled as she went by and, even though she isn’t in season, she arched her neck and raised her flaxen tail, just a little bit. After I left her in the round pen I heard a scraping noise. I looked over my shoulder. La Roca looked at me, quizzically, perhaps asking why the half barrel in the middle of the pen was not filled with more snacks. Sweet Al came over with me next, pausing once in an attempt to stuff his mouth with dried pine needles. This morning I was impatient and encouraged him to continue on with me. Once all three of us were penned and ready, I asked my horses to take a walk. Rocky, no surprise, responded immediately and Al followed suit. I held a lunge whip, mostly to shoo my ponies back out to the edges of the pen if they decided to become rambunctious, though I didn’t have great expectations of bombast, given the heat. Al made me laugh as he walked along behind Rocky, teeth bared, threatening to bite Rocky in the butt. “Bite her, Al!” I encouraged him, but he knew I wasn’t serious. Rocky didn’t give him much mind. She didn’t appear to take either of us seriously. My heart soared as the horses volunteered to trot and Al continued to follow along just behind Rocky, with no noticeable favoring of his right forefoot. He’s been barefoot for the past two days, his abscess nearly healed, his Scoot Boots removed so I could replace a broken strap. Al decided to play-spook as they passed under a mesquite tree outside the perimeter of the round pen and he overtook Rocky. I would say we were all just happy. Rocky kept trotting along. Al broke into the prettiest slow canter, alongside her, and, although I recently spent more money than a sane person would spend on a dressage saddle, I had the thought that he belonged under a Western saddle. Earlier that morning as I mucked, he had spun on his haunches when he was surprised by a vehicle on the road and I had praised him because it was so darn beautiful. I thought about reining at that moment. His front end may be a little toed-in and wonky, but that boy is nice behind. He can really get those hindquarters under himself.

Yesterday I thought about not riding. I haven’t ridden since late March. It’s now mid-July. My back injury, a month of raging fire on the mountain, Al’s foot abscess, my posterior vitreous detachment, which is a helluvan annoying thing for some of us nearsighted folk, and that global pandemic that is keeping us all on our toes right now have conspired to keep me off my horses’ backs and you know what? They don’t care. I don’t much care either. We go on walks. We hang out. I was thinking of how bizarre it looks for a human to be perched on the back of another animal, and how we, a species that can outrun all others, feels the need to borrow the brawn and good nature of a fellow creature. Then I saw my friends on their horses and felt a twinge. I juggled the ethical and the mythical, and came down on the side of the consensual. We’ll see where this takes us.


This isn’t my first rodeo.

I’ve been roped before.

The cowboy didn’t mean any harm,

but I found the lariat


I didn’t appreciate

being threatened

with the electric cattle prod.

From atop the goose-rumped

black gelding

after-work words that were


by a purchase from Midway Liquors

flew around me,

spittle flavored with Happy Days

and Wild Turkey.

He didn’t mean any harm,


Today a vaquero praised

my hips and heart.

I think.

I don’t speak Spanish.

He didn’t mean any harm, either.

My husband had never


to a rodeo

so we went,

because he wanted to,

in Sonoita,

a few years back.

God Bless America!

I’m not sure he knew what to expect.

I cringed

and now he’s been to a rodeo.

We’ve ridden a few broncs.

I head,

he heels.

I’ve tied my goats

and he’s wrestled his steers.

And sometimes,

just sometimes,


we know

when they mean