Photo by Fred Haskell

Photo by Fred Haskell

Me and my crew, we know about big vented shifty boxes with 65 mile an hour diesel scented air conditioning. It’s all right. Me and my kind, we like air.

We like the way it smells on our way down the ramp at a tour stop. Sweet with cotton candy and kettle corn; sweet with music most of the time, too. We find the holding pens … our green room. Get a long, cool drink of fresh water and hang out. We mingle and find our best mates. Us boys might tussle some. Flex our muscles a little while we stretch our legs. The girls pretend to ignore us. We know they’re watching. The hawks back home taught them how to look sharp but be sly. When we’re bored, the people watching is always interesting.

Our tour people show up after a while with lists. They get us sorted into our teams in the on deck pens, set some organization in place for the contests to come. That air? That air starts to resonate a little … there’s a low reverb thrum. We can feel it and it’s good. Boys and girls, veterans and rookies … we all start to get serious. We’re warriors and it’s go time.

We step into the chute to get our gear on. The competition shows up to do a lot of that. That hum becomes a low buzz … like a wood bee hard at work. We get a sense of who our challengers for the night are.

The first thing I feel in mine is that very same low, throaty buzz. I can tell he hears it, too. He’s easy movin’, deliberate. Secure as he slips a halter on me, sets his saddle and bumps up his cinches. The saddle is light, the deep sheepskin soft and warm on my back.

I feel it all. Every adjustment and tweak. I watch him and he watches me. No hate, no love. All business. Game faces.

The solid door in front of me slides away and I step out under the arena lights, still hidden by the chutes from the solid wall of human energy that wraps the arena just past the bannered fences. The buzz is gone. So are the smells and sounds. As I step into my box, the only sound I hear is the strong, rhythmic throb of my own huge heart. While they’re tweakin’ and checkin’ our gear, I raise my head and look out over the gate into the crowd, the lights … but what I’m really seeing is that long stretch of good, manicured earth. Nature’s carpeting, carefully conditioned. A good place for planting feet. Well planted feet are important to what I do. That looks like the good stuff out there.

Then they’re all around me. My people, other people, my 8 second challenger, his people. I square up and listen to their talk. We’re all in this game. He settles on my back, I watch him get his stirrups out of the corners of my eye. I shift my feet around feeling for that perfect balance. I crouch as close to the earth as I can but even so, I feel oh so light. I feel him tense, hear him speak and the chute gate vanishes.

Air. I like it at 65 miles an hour. I like it scented. I like it drawn deeply into my lungs, but I like it best when I’m skyrocketing through it. I come from that crouch bound for the heavens. He’s there, but his weight isn’t much compared to mine. He’s nothing to carry into the floodlit night sky.

Besides, there’s a little pivot … a slight pirouette in leaving those latches. Let me just plant these big sharp bare feet one time to coil into the ground again and I think I can show that sticky guy a new oxygen level in the next altitude. Yeah. AIR!

I’m an A List guy. I’m the horse who’s four times seen the Big Show in that big, neon city. They call me an eliminator. They all know my name. I’m respected by all, admired by many, worshipped by some and cursed by a few. I’m in their dreams at night … and here’s why.

We look like one. He’s so balanced on my back we FEEL like one, but I’m about to change all that. I won’t be following the natural arc of this flight back to Earth. Me and gravity have a trick. It’s my speciality … the crowd roars when they see it because I can make them FEEL it.

At the top of my jump, I bury my head and look down. I fold my shoulders like a huge eagle diving for prey. I drop into the ground like a fire breathing comet slung to earth by God’s best pitch.

Air. I see him come off out of my right eye as he makes his solo flight down, a beaten warrior. He’s good. That was our first dance. Hope there’s another, but I’m not done with anything but him. I’m still on the clock and I just dropped 150 pounds.

Once more I fire into the air … clack my heels together way above and behind my head and drop like a bomb just to hear those empty oxbows crack together over the top of his saddle. That’s the sound of winning.

Here comes the help. It’s over. Quittin’ time. They thunder in to get his lost rein out of my way. The fuzzy belt at my flank disappears. Good, because it’s great help for that strong outward kick in flight, but completely uncalled for during the short strut out. I like to really set my hind legs up under me and pitch my front feet up and way out when I’m led out. Prideful. I saw my mama do that when she won. It’s a family thing.

Air. Deep lungs full of the stuff. I always eat well. Play with the mates on the vast, rough terrains at home. I’m plenty fit, but gave it everything in that 8 second trip. It’s good to just breathe while the adrenalin ebbs and the gear is taken off.

I feel good. Pumped. Winning is a rush. It’s good. And it’s over for a while. Maybe weeks.

Air. As the lights go down, the smells come up. There’s sweet molasses and the deep green of rich alfalfa. We gather in bunches and enjoy the company and the pen service. Nice.

Yes. We’re good with the road, me and my crew. We know about the big boxes that shake rattle and roll through the long, cool nights. We don’t know where the down ramp will bring us once we stop … another tour stop or back home where the skies are huge, the grass is deep and hawks and eagles meet our mirrored glares. Where the only thing between us and the farthest star, between us and The One Who Cast Our Souls in us is … air.