Forastero was the name of the horse I was to ride as training for going into the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta in Colombia.
In this steep and dangerous jungle, there are no roads. In this Sacred Mountain range in the North of Colombia, going from the glaciers all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, offering every climate existing on planet earth, non natives are only allowed on special invitation from the Mamos, the high shamans. The Arhuacos and the Kogis, among other descendants of the ancient Tayronas, are probably the only people who have purposely ensured that no one ventures into their sacred domain. Our thoughts are kept from "polluting" the purity of this luxurious nature, wild with ancestral trees, overflowing with glorious rivers and resonating with the immensity of a silence forgotten by modern civilization.
His owner mounted him with a brutality that left me in shock. I was horrified and it broke my heart to see that poor animal accepting the maltreatment in trembling fear. But I knew there was nothing I could tell the owner. He would beat him in rage if I did and would leave just enough life in him to continue abusing him. When it was my turn, I walked up to Forastero and talked to him, gently stroking his intelligent face. I had no idea how to ride a horse. Had never been even close to one! When I tried to make him move, under the screaming advice of his owner, Forastero, simply did not budge. I was swiftly removed from the horse and it was decided that I had no gift for riding and since no one had neither the time nor the patience to teach me, before it even had had a chance to begin, my riding career was over.
I left totally disappointed and deeply concerned about the welfare of this beautiful animal who was living in such hell. But there was nothing more I could do. I became painfully aware that that horse having never known love, simply didn't know how to react when he received it. I was to return a few days later to Phoenix, AZ where I was living at the time, and had no way of keeping him anywhere.
But... as destiny would have it, several months later, Forastero crossed my path again. He had changed hands but the handling was still as brutal. He was simply treated as an object with no soul. It broke my heart. This time, I promised myself that no matter what it took, I would save him. I told him that I had no idea how to ride, but if he made me look good, I promised him shelter, the best food, good friends and protection. His large eyes looked into mine deeply, and something that had been buried maybe forever, opened in him. Even though I still had no idea how to ride, I got on his back, praying that somehow, this time, he would move. I mentally focused with all my strength, trying to communicate with him. "Please go slow", I said. He started walking at a gentle pace. Startled, I thought: "Turn right". Off he went, on the right hand side. Feeling that maybe this was a happy fluke, I continued: "Turn left". Left he went. "Wow!" I thought, "I am really communicating with this horse and he is really hearing me". He emitted a happy sound through his nose in agreement. I was in awe, delighted and surprised all at once. This was so unexpected and miraculous! That horse wanted the better life for himself that he deserved and he trusted that I would keep my word and lead him out of slavery. That day, I, who had never particularly felt any connection with horses, bought my very own.
It soon became apparent that the mishandling and poor nutrition had left him very sick. The vet I called, felt he didn't have long to live. His stomach was bloated like a balloon, he had a jaw malformation that didn't allow him to munch properly and his coat was filled with fleas. Patiently, every morning, under the surveillance of Rafayel my Master Cat, at 5 AM, I went out into the garden of the Hacienda I was staying at to fill his bucket with nutritious food, the best on the market. After greeting Rafayel and I with large joyful smiles, happy cries, and a big kiss on Rafayel's nose, he would start eating very slowly, with extreme concentration and obvious delight, while Rafayel, overlooking the process with great seriousness, went to lie between his 4 legs, shooting a ray of light through his stomach to the heavens.
It didn't take very long for him to become such a different horse, beautiful and strong, that people in the village believed I had I had given up on him and opted for another one. "No, it's Forastero." I would say proudly. Everybody was stunned. A few ventured to whisper that if I hadn't bought it, he would be dead. That only confirmed what I had known since the beginning. I was happy to have been in the position to save that magnificent animal who was so gentle, humble and strong. He turned out to be the most valiant and dependable horse. Where other equines would freak out or react impulsively, Forastero kept valiantly plodding along, through rivers, up mountains, on steep edges, in such a sure footed way, that I knew I could totally relax and be one with him in ultimate trust.
One warm summer night in the Colombian jungle, he took me for a gallop under the stars. It was the most enchanted, magical feeling I had ever experienced. The feeling of ultimate freedom and power in a world both real and weaved by dreams, defied anything I had ever known to be possible. That night, he gave me a very special gift: the gift of kindness in true intimate oneness.
It is only then that the significance of his name struck me: he was Forastero (foreigner) for a forastera. Neither of us belonged, and at a deep soul level, that was maybe the strongest bond that made us find and heal each other.