Dr. Dea was getting rather better at falling off; he’d landed more-or-less on his feet this time. He made a lunge at the dangling reins, but his sorrel mare shied away from his grab. Dea jumped back as she swung on her haunches and then, realizing her freedom, bounced back down the trail, tail bannering, horse body-language for Nyah, nyah, ya can’t catch me! Dr. Dea, red and furious, ran swearing in pursuit. She broke into a canter.
“No, no, don’t run after her!” called Miles.
“How the hell am I supposed to catch her if I don’t run after her?” snarled Dea. The space surgeon was not a happy man. “My medkit’s on that bloody beast!”
“How do you think you can catch her if you do?” asked Miles. “She can run faster than you can.”
At the end of the little column, Pym turned his horse sideways, blocking the trail. “Just wait, Harra,” Miles advised the anxious hill woman in passing. “Hold your horse still. Nothing starts a horse running faster than another running horse.”
The other two riders were doing rather better. The woman Harra Csurik sat her horse wearily, allowing it to plod along without interference, but at least riding on balance instead of trying to use the reins as a handle like the unfortunate Dea. Pym, bringing up the rear, was competent if not comfortable.
Miles slowed Fat Ninny to a walk, reins loose, and wandered after the mare, radiating an air of calm relaxation. Who, me? I don’t want to catch you. We’re just enjoying the scenery, right. That’s it, stop for a bite. The sorrel mare paused to nibble at a weed, but kept a wary eye on Miles’s approach.
At a distance just short of starting the mare bolting off again, Miles stopped Fat Ninny and slid off. He made no move toward the mare, but instead stood still and made a great show of fishing in his pockets. Fat Ninny butted his head against Miles eagerly, and Miles cooed and fed him a bit of sugar. The mare cocked her ears with interest. Fat Ninny smacked his lips and nudged for more. The mare snuffled up for her share. She lipped a cube from Miles’s palm as he slid his other arm quietly through the loop of her reins.
“Here you go, Dr. Dea. One horse. No running.”
“No fair,” wheezed Dea, trudging up. “You had sugar in your pockets.”
“Of course I had sugar in my pockets. It’s called foresight and planning. The trick of handling horses isn’t to be faster than the horse, or stronger than the horse. That pits your weakness against his strengths. The trick is to be smarter than the horse. That pits your strength against his weakness, eh?”
Dea took his reins. “It’s snickering at me,” he said suspiciously.
Keep reading this novella? It did win the prize for best science fiction novella of the year, after all. “The Mountains of Mourning” by Lois McMaster Bujold, full text here.