Three riders moved slowly across the landscape, deliberately but unhurriedly they paralleled my path in the opposite direction. I watched the horses with some envy as I continued on foot.
It was July in the Pueblo Mountains. It was hot. I had been walking since dawn; it was midday now. I was out of water, out of food, and out of patience with the shadeless glare of sun-soaked sagebrush.
From a long way off I could see the horse. Even from a distance, I could tell it was a big horse. The rider was just a red dot. Eventually, the red dot became a person, a boy. He rode a few loops, lazy figure eights. He backed up the horse, made it stand and side step. Then he just sat and watched me approach.
“Where’s your horse?” the boy asked with unaffected curiosity and genuine concern.
“I don’t have one.”
“How far did you walk?”
“I don’t know. Several miles. I started at sunrise.”
“That’s a long time without a horse.”
“Yes.” We stood a minute, he on his horse, me looking at the ground. Then, diverting him from my obvious failing, “That’s a big horse.”
“I know. 17 hands. My dad told me I had to grow enough to get on him by myself before I could ride him. I’m only 7. I can’t grow that fast.”
“But you’re riding him.”
“Yup. I told my dad he better build me a ladder.”
“I saw three riders earlier. Was your dad one of them?”
“Yup. And my mom and sister. They said I wasn’t big enough to muster so I had to sit here and wait for them to push the cows to me. Then I can circle and ride them down the hill. We’re moving them to water.”
“You’re not big enough to muster but you’re big enough to sit this giant horse out here by yourself for however many hours it takes for them to come back?”
“I know. That’s what I said. But I lost that argument. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have anything to do.”
“You need a book.”
I had miles yet to cover and parted company. He sat his horse and watched me walk on.
Later in the afternoon, I watched from a slope above as the cows came, moving ahead of the three riders. The boy rode to meet them, swinging far to one side of the cows and then falling in with the other riders. He waved as he passed below me. And I took this photo of him, his mom and sister, the dust, and the cows, a scene of the west.