Learning to trust at Kennedy Meadows
After asking for directions twice, we found the pack station where horses were lined up, saddled and ready. Beyond it in the corral were many more horses, altogether 200, we learned, lived at Kennedy Meadows during the open season. After the guides paired riders with their horses, beginning with the littlest rider and the biggest horse, we started our walk. At the sign “Emigrant Wilderness” the guide, Sarah from Louisiana, greeted the group and gave minimal instruction. “Y’all, if we stay in a single file line, we’re gonna have a great time today!”
The road at first was dusty. We walked beside a pond and a meadow of all different greens and the wildflowers that have since died out at lower altitudes. The ground before us grew rockier and rockier until we began to ascend stone steps. From trees and meadows, the surroundings changed to granite builders. We neared the river rushing with snow melt rapids.
Across the bridge, we walked our horses, or rather our horses walked us, across as we gazed in amazement at the waterfall, the blue sky, the pine trees and bright pink flowers along the mountain. I gasped at the sight of it.
We continued on, marching up stone steps, with the granite face to our right and a steep drop into the river to our life.
Trust your horse
“Trust your horse,” was the message shared from rider to rider at this time. “Lean forward when your horse goes uphill, lean back when he goes downhill.” The other adult and I knew what goes up must come down and we anticipated the difficulty.
At the top, we stopped at a clearing, in sight of the lake, the dam, where Sarah took us on food after lunch to “see a real pretty sight,” of a little creek running across colorful stones. The children explored farther and found its only minimal, magical waterfall. The sort of place wood fairies are so found of.
After the hour break of eating and geological musings, it was time to make our descent. The trail guides checked saddles, cinches, and such. We mounted and after some confusion over our line order, we began. The horses knew the way. They were ready to get back to their paddocks and picked up their pace.
“Trust your horse,” we said to ourselves. As we neared the stone steps, the guides reminded everyone, “loosen your rains, lean back, and let your horse decide where to step.”
I told myself, “the horse doesn’t want to die either,” and tried to trust but I wavered more than once. My left hand gripped the pommel of the saddle like a greenhorn, trying to take in the beauty around me rather than focus on the fear inside me as the other adult chatted away.
When we landed back in the dust, with the meadow stretching out to our left and fishermen casting out across the pond, and again at the depot where we hobbled away from the horses who worked so hard to go up and down the mountain, we asked the children, “did you feel scared at all?”
Eight out of the ten said, “no,” an emphatic, definite “no.”
How can this be?
Trust your horse. Trust.
Some of us fixate on the potential outcomes and forget to try to reassure ourselves. We tell ourselves, intellectually, why the potential outcomes are unlikely. But still, we are afraid.
But not the children. They were told to trust the horse and so they trusted the horse, open-heartedly. With loose reins and loose feet, they journeyed down the mountain.
And off the trail
Back at home, on flat land and in the wide valley of Central California, a friend told me of her attempt to reconcile with an old friend. She said the thing that had been bothering her, how the thing came across and asked if the friend could explain. “Instead of trusting me,” my friend said, the other reacted, “how can you think I’d think that?” Instead of trusting—past experiences colored the perspective, the filter through which words were interpreted.
Instead of trusting that she wanted to know the truth, that she believed in the friend enough to not simply interpret words the way they seemed, but to be open to an explanation. Because of her background, my friend said, her friend could not do it.
For adults who have fallen or been hurt by others, perhaps misshapen at an early age, the step to trust is complicated and sometimes painful.
We have to allow ourselves to quiet the assessment of potential outcomes inside us, and open our hearts and trust. Experiences tell us we should not, but if we never choose to trust, we will miss out on the lifelong friendships, the mountains, the trees and the woodland fairy waterfalls waiting for us when we do.