Vista Caballo is Spanish for “from the perspective of the horse.” And there they are, from my perspective inside the truck that brings me here. The four of them are lined up next to each other, on a low hill that overlooks the county road in one direction and the Abajos Mountains in the other.
It’s as if they are greeting me, though what these four creatures are doing is grazing on spring-sweetened grass. I imagine I see nods of interest in a new visitor. If this is their view, I want to know more—about them, and about the 160-acre ranch that is their home in the tiny town of Dove Creek, Colorado. I’m not a horsey person, I’ve seldom encountered horses, in fact, but I’ve come to learn what I can in a few short days.
In the Wild West we know from the movies, cowboys broke horses, making them their subjects. Today, more people realize, thanks to terminology made famous by “The Horse Whisperer,” that it is we who can learn something from horses, from the purity of their animal nature.
Lisa Dee might be called their owner, though she’d prefer “companion.” She is an equist: It’s a term she came up with by combining the words “equine existentialist.” Before she came here five years ago and bought and created Vista Caballo, which she shares with her fiancé Jess, her milieu was Manhattan’s advertising business. There she founded, then sold, two commercial production firms, after a high-powered career on the creative side of the agency business.
Like many people do at mid-life, she had a shift in perspective that upended her life—ultimately, in the best way.
Now her passion is not about production or persuasion, but about having her guests at this ranch. They usually come one at a time and learn to drop their own high-powered facades to discover who they really are. What do horses have to do with this human process? It’s pretty simple, says Dee. “Horses will only interact with you of their own free will when you are present, when you are real,” she says.
To us, horses are huge, majestic and powerful. But they are prey animals, explains Dee, made for food. “So they come equipped with a highly developed radar system to read the environment. Without it, they would be unable to detect hidden danger.
“Horses use this same system when they are interacting with humans, scanning our intentions and body language, to get the real read on what’s going on. You can’t lie to a horse.” And if you lie to yourself, the horse knows that too.
It’s not just the horses, though, that make Vista Caballo a place of transformation. Dee has created a nurturing space inside the rustically elegant handful of cabins on the property. My cabin had a comfortable bed, with crisp sheets, fluffy pillows, and a buffalo-hide blanket to ward off the nighttime chill.
Just outside the cabin was a wooden hot tub, heated by firewood. As I soaked each afternoon and gazed at strong breezes blowing over grassy hills, I breathed in the aroma of cedar. Inside, a modern tub with organic lavender salts was a place for another soak, after more hours spent in the outdoors. A refrigerator was full of healthful snacks, and a journal was given to me to fill with my discoveries.
My days were spent talking to Dee, then working with a body-energy therapist for a couple of hours. Then it was time for a long walk with the horse—not on them—to their favorite spot on the ranch. After lunch, I walked by myself to another spot, and sat near sage bushes in stillness so free of manmade noise that I could actually hear something I never had before—the snap of crickets munching on leaves.
Evenings brought the coolness of the high desert in late May, and a full moon more magnificent than any I’d ever seen. How could I not listen? To nature, and to what was gradually unfolding inside me? The next day, I and one of the horses entered a corral. I had no fear; I felt love for this being, and awe. Dee asked me to think about what I wanted the horse to do. I thought for several moments, and I shared it with my companion, silently. And, by some otherworldly power, something magical happened.
I hesitate to say more, as everyone who comes to Vista Caballo will have his or her own moment. Each one, different. Each one, at its best, completely real. www.vistacaballo.com
Photo credit: Christopher Wilson