Horse Bones

My friend and I creep along a dry wash surrounded by Joshua trees, their prickly arms reaching to dance with apparitions and wild things, alive in the shimmering light of the moon. We’re collecting bones, gnawed clean by hungry coyotes, bleached by desert sun.

Weeks later, a circle of sleepy-eyed steeds stand in the early morning mist a rope’s length behind their riders. My students gather around the table, eager to touch the skeleton retrieved from its open grave.

I hand out a stick of chalk to each, white to owners of chestnuts, blue for grays, then point to the chart on my easel, a horse’s structure drawn in black. Mark these lines on your horse, I tell them.

I guide a girl’s hand along the seven vertebrae deep in her stallion’s neck. From the withers, we trace the shoulder blade’s spine. I move her hand downward. The elbow is here, against his chest. His knees…the same as our wrists. His hooves…our fingernails. Sink the flat of your fist along his shoulder. The Arabian’s eyes droop as he sighs, then lowers his head.

Horses feel pain like we do and, like us, they love a good massage.

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