WAR BRIDLE by Maria Lisa Eastman


by Maria Lisa Eastman

I used to be a girl who rode bucking horses.
Not in a rodeo or anything glamorous,
just regular horses who bucked—
horses owned by people
who didn’t want them to buck.

Those horses did not scare me.

When they bucked, I sat down deep,
slapped my long reins on their flanks, made them run.
They ran fast and for a long time.
I didn’t let them stop.
If they slowed, I slapped my reins again
so they picked up their pace.

After some long miles, I’d let them slow—
they would draw in great
shuddering breaths,
lifting my legs off their ribs.
Then, all at once, they’d let go,
but it wasn’t anything they did
or anything you could see.
When it happened,
I could feel it run clean, clear
like a mountain stream through us both.
I didn’t question why they bucked.
Likely they all had good reasons.
I wasn’t thoughtful like I am now but
I wasn’t unfeeling or unkind—
I just took it plain, they bucked,
my job was to get them to stop.

Not by being good at riding bucking horses,
because I was never any good at that.
What I was pretty good at was
staying on a running horse,
and that’s what I figured they needed to do.


When I asked them to run,
I was one-hundred-percent sincere.
I knew the right thing was to go somewhere with them,
instead of nowhere against them.
I was sure of it.
Those horses believed in me.

When I got a little older, I changed.

I don’t know just what it was that changed in me.
That’s what I’m here trying to work out.
What I do know is I quit asking them to run.
I got stuck in their fear, made it my own.
When those horses bucked,
I would get scared,
I would get mad—
I was at war with anything that crossed my path.

And nobody knows that better than a horse.

© 2018, Maria Lisa Eastman
This poem should not be reposted or reprinted without permission

The official bio of Maria Lisa Eastman, award-winning poet and frequent invited performer to the Western Folkife Center’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, tells, “Wyoming rancher Maria Lisa Eastman hails from the village of Hyattville, Wyoming, population 100. She and her husband operate the Oxbow Ranch, a sometimes-for-profit hay and cattle outfit, and Rainhorse Equine Assisted Services, a verifiable non-profit, where unfortunate horses are rehabilitated to help people who have had troubles themselves.”

This poem is included in her new book, Regarding the Others. She comments, “This is an auto-biographical poem, looking back to a time when I was able to help out a couple of difficult horses. Then I wasn’t able to anymore. I didn’t know it then, but my heart had fallen out of harmony, and I’d stopped giving 100%. It wasn’t until 20 years later or so that I began to wonder what had happened and why. In the process of looking into myself, I wrote this poem.

See our feature about Maria Lisa Eastman, which includes more of her poetry (“How to Tell a Coyote to Go Away” and “Bad Business”).


Of her new book, Paul Zarzyski writes, “In her first book of poetry, aptly titled Regarding the Others, Maria Lisa Eastman, by amplifying the choirs of venerable voices of “the others,” magnifies the intrinsic presence of those fellow beings defining our hallowed West—paramount of whom, the horse…” Past Wyoming Poet Laureate, Wyoming rancher Patricia Frolander describes the book as, “Deliciously fresh and deeply caring poems from a poet who understands the power of relationship.”

The cover of Regarding the Others is by celebrated artist Theodore Waddell.

Find the book at Amazon and for $15 postpaid from Maria Lisa Eastman, P.O. Box 55, Hyattville, WY 82428.

This photo is courtesy of Maria Lisa Eastman.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem with this post, but for other uses, request permission.)