Mustang, a short story by LT Parrish at



written by: LT Parrish



Mustang, a short story by LT Parrish at Spillwords.comIt’s easier to imagine an experience rather than fail at it, so like an enlarging pothole in the middle of the road, I sideswipe it, hoping to avoid it altogether. For years, I dreamt of visiting a cattle ranch, but like those roadside craters that jar the chassis of my car, I’m reminded, time waits for no hole.

My riding years are far behind me but I have faith in my equestrian experience, but it’s one far removed from a riding arena or dressage lessons. As a girl, I learned to hang onto the back of a stubborn mare, unridden for years, determined to be rid of me early in our relationship. Nothing taught me more about riding than dodging low-hanging limbs while clinging to a swath of mane, my thighs gripping her sides for dear life.

The elusive pothole of responsibility and life threatens to gobble up this one item on my bucket list. Riding a horse requires strength and agility, so I figure it’s now or never. Menopause has diminished both, but at least I can still hike a leg up into the stirrup. Or at least I hope so.
Determined this will be the year, I pen the word “ranch” on my calendar. If I write it down, the odds are in my favor I’ll go. But first I need a buddy. Someone to keep me honest.

“Beth,” I phone my friend. (Yes, I call her. Not text). “Wanna’ go to Wyoming with me?”

“I love Wyoming,” she says. “What are we gonna do there?”

“Ride horses. Drive cattle.”

“Count me in.”

Beth is the perfect companion for this foolishness. She runs thirty miles in the mud and muck, for the fun of it, and her bright hair matches her spunky personality, waxing coppery in the sunshine.

It’s a two-hour trip from the airport and we drive for miles on open highway, gazing at endless fields of roaming cattle. The Dixie Chicks once sang “Wide Open Spaces” and no song, photo or words can prepare me for the incredible landscape of Wyoming. Lacy white clouds scatter across vast blue skies, a sky so boundless, patches of farm seem to reach up and touch it for a moment before the infinite atmosphere soars into space.

At the end of the drive, we arrive in the middle of nowhere. And it’s perfect. The ranch is understated, nothing fancy. A row of cabins, the main house for meals, a plank wood barn, and a saloon with a sign that reads “Come as friends, leave as family.” But I’m the kind of family that would live on the other side of the country, so I leave it at that.

In the morning, I’m ready for business. Beth chit chats with the other guests, but I focus on the first ride of our trip. No matter the challenge of the terrain or horse, I have to get my rear end back in the saddle and stay on, or this will all be for naught.

Riders stroll past me, the swish-swish of their fringed chaps a temporary distraction from the familiar surroundings. The odor, an earthy combination of cut hay, horse sweat, and leather connects me to the barn and something deeper. The real meaning of this journey.

Which is?

It’s got to be more than riding a horse because I could do that anywhere. No, here I will resurrect a part of me that has laid dormant for too long. The part that ventures into unknown territory and rejoices in the primal connection with nature. A rejuvenation of spirit and earth best achieved on horseback.
Eager to bond with my chestnut mustang, I nuzzle his ears and nose, but he’s more interested in my pockets, sniffing them out for potential treats. If Mustang had to choose; he’d rather have food than rubs, but since I slip him a few snacks, he’s grateful for both.

Already nervous, I’m self-conscious in my green riding leggings and Keen hiking shoes. Beth considers herself a novice rider, hoping for a simple ride without a challenging horse, yet outfitted in jeans and boots, she appears the experienced rider and I look like a rookie.

“Everyone ready to go?” Arkansas asks, the senior cowboy on staff.

Most guests are European, here to appreciate the American West, and some have driven cattle before. Arkansas will teach the rest of us how to move livestock without injuring ourselves or the animals. An important task if hosting paying guests. But then again, everyone signs a waiver that basically states, in case of death or dismemberment, you’re on your own.


After an hour of riding, we get the go-ahead, and Mustang and I streak across the Wyoming plains, embracing the open fields without gates or fences. Whether due to age, lack of practice, or Mustang’s gait, my rear repeatedly smacks the saddle, thus reducing the pleasure of galloping. Despite my extensive experience of bouncing up and down on the back of a horse, I’m stunned that it hurts like hell.

“Drop your heels. More.” Arkansas advises.

I grew up riding bareback where my heels flopped around, but I’m game for anything that will stop the shock waves of pain shooting up my sides and lower back.

Arkansas’s riding partner raises his hat and squints. “You’ve ridden before?” The Italian accent softening the blow.

The hiking boots didn’t sell me out as a rookie. My riding skills did.
After the five-hour ride, I hobble to the main house, each cautious step a reminder I chose a no-frills ranch (think no hot tub). Upset with the zealous reintroduction to riding, my ligaments retract and twitch, like the snapping of a rubber band.

Despite achy muscles, I’m thrilled after our first ride. Unlike my cantankerous mare of childhood, Mustang is a well-trained partner, sensitive to the reins and cooperative with my initial clumsiness in the saddle. In perpetual good moods, Beth and I are dubbed the “Georgia Peaches,” since we burst into fits of laughter peppered with twangy accents and “y’alls.”
“You’re sparkly,” I say to one of the German ladies, a repeat guest and experienced cattle woman of nearly twenty years. Pale blue gems twinkle in her earlobes while shimmery pink beads and pearl buttons weave a circuitous path throughout her brightly-hued western shirt.

“I’m sparkling?” She laughs.

“You are.”

The next day, I exchange the hiking shoes for western boots and leggings for denim jeans. This time, I approach the barn confidently as I gather Mustang and gear for the day’s ride.

No matter the trappings, it’s all about the relationship between rider and horse. I brush Mustang and he bobs his head up and down, acknowledging I scratched a spot just right. With a large doe-eyed look, the chestnut horse shows me pure affection, in a way only animals can, and I slip an arm around his neck, breathing in his tangy sweat and nuzzling the soft spot at the end of the nose.

“I’m not riding today. My two feet are staying on the ground,” Beth announces, intending to run instead of ride.

“You sure?”


Each day, the ranch sends a group via trailer to round up cattle from pastures farther away. Wyoming’s fence-out laws compel landowners to protect their property from roaming livestock, not the other way around.

Arkansas describes these drives as challenging since the terrain is “difficult” and the days longer with little room for error.

“You gotta keep up,” he says, “or you’ll get left behind.”

I’m going with them. Beth has no qualms about not traveling with this group, but for this visit to be a success, it’s something I must do. Call it ego or the grappling of last chances to do something I used to be good at, either way, — I’m going.

Mustang hops in the trailer, eager to head out with the group, and I scramble in the truck, praying the entire way I don’t flub it up. After an hour of highway and dirt roads, horses and riders await in waist-high grass for further instructions. I’d never ridden with these cowboys, so I have no idea what to expect. Arkansas is a calm and patient instructor who directs us to “stay here,” or “don’t chase the cows!”

Sparkly cowgirl shifts into position, gussied up in chaps, spurs, and a wide-brim leather hat. If the cows aren’t impressed, I sure as heck am.

At first, the fields are notably absent of cattle, and like Apollo 11 searching for the Sea of Tranquility, I hope we’re in the right place. I have yet to see a cow, but then I hear the sounds of incomprehensible yelling followed by indignant moos. Mustang perks his ears forward; he knows something I don’t. The location of said cow.

Then out of nowhere, swarms of fuzzy black cattle scramble up and around the trail, moving about in a disorganized fashion. Bovines aren’t intelligent animals, but I’ve got to hand it to them, they are smart enough to elude us, slipping in and out of gullies, and slithering between dense brush. Since all our meals include beef, I’d do the same darn thing.

My heels dropped low, Mustang navigates the choppy slopes and eroded trails behind a chorus of moos, swishing tails, and slushy poop, and I’m pretty proud of our progress until a red-faced cowboy zooms past me, thrusting his horse into a sudden drop-off.

Moments later, he bellows out the first intelligible instruction of the day.

“Move the fucking cows!”

I’m the only American on the trail, so I pause, glancing left and right, wondering how the Europeans will react. They don’t. Instead, I laugh because I doubt the f-bomb is a universal vernacular for cow commands.

And if that cowboy thinks yelling one-liners is going to help me drive cows, he doesn’t know his audience. It took days for me to get my outfit right.

“And make some fucking noise!”

My laughing doesn’t probably count, but it is noise.

Mustang is all business, focusing on the cows ahead, and I pat his neck, hoping he forgives my lack of experience, especially since I require a wee bit more guidance than what is given. It’s not his fault I don’t understand the finer points of driving cattle.

By this point, I’m grinning stupidly as a gal trots up next to me and asks, “You got a horse at home?”

“No, not for many years…” My mouth speaks but my goofy smile transforms into a genuine smile. Perhaps I have regained some of my old riding skills after all.


Back home, I mentally check “cattle ranch” off the proverbial bucket list after it rattled at its bottom for too many years. Then I frame a photo of me and Mustang, an arm slung around his neck, my head touching his.

As I stare at the photo, I rejoice in the memories of Mustang. The warmth of his coat, the pitch of his whinny, and the creak of the saddle as we explored the Wyoming landscape beneath blue open skies. And I’m reminded once again, that while time waits for no one, there are times no one should wait, and time with Mustang was one of those times.

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