There you are—cantering into frame just after the fanfare and drums of the credits, right behind the titular stagecoach, long before we’ve met the cowboy, or the gambler, or the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold.

They must have tied your mother somewhere off-screen to get you running like that, your mane appropriately windswept, a white patch slapped across your back like a backwards Oklahoma. Or mama might be one of the horses hitched to the coach, her chestnut, brown, or bay rendered nondescript gray by the monochrome film. Either that, or you’re actually a natural at prancing down dirt roads in a town built for cowboys in the movies.

To the untrained eye, of course, you’re living scenery, a random flash of horseflesh only meant to establish that our story takes place in the Old West, that lawless landscape of “Desperate men!” and “Frontier women!” “Rising above their pasts in an America corrupted by violence and gun-fire!” But you’re more than a walking tagline. Embalmed in celluloid, you are eternally accidental—every tail swish or sudden cascade of steaming manure shatters glossy Hollywood illusions, melts directors’ fevered fantasies, reveals the real. Oh, the things I could tell you about the zebra in Swiss Family Robinson! Or the palomino in The Parent Trap, as ridden by Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills!

I spot you again outside the “Tonto Hotel,” chewing the scenery while Dallas, our blonde-ringleted naughty-lady-of-the-night, strides nervously toward the stagecoach that will ultimately carry her into the Ringo Kid’s waiting and manly and Waynely arms. In this scene, you harass a pair of strangely motionless extras decked out in serapes and sombreros, your rump aimed squarely at the camera, like hey America, check out this ass. You are clearly having more fun than John Wayne and John Carradine and John Ford, or possibly all Johns, ever, combined.

I think you’re my new favorite ingenue.

Later, we’re expected to believe that you—or a colt that looks exactly like you—now live in a desert outpost near Lordsburg. While a doe-eyed senorita croons a Mexican lullaby to Mrs. Mallory’s newborn babe, you prance anxiously in the background, ruining this Wild West nativity display. It’s your final scene, but I don’t know that yet. And so, as the rest of the audience coughs into their popcorn and thrills to our heroes’ hairsbreadth escape from bloodthirsty Apaches, I scan each frame, hoping to find you loping alongside the painted warhorses, or playing dead amongst the cacti. I try to care about Dallas’s fifth-act fate, to worry whether Wayne will make an honest woman out of her, or (inevitably) reject romance for a life of blue jeans and baked beans on the open range. I try, but the credits are already rolling.

In the lobby, I wonder if you got a nice rubdown with cactus cloth after your big screen debut. I imagine Wayne gruffly cuffing you around the neck, calling you “Pilgrim” with rough affection. Photo-ops. And then, a triumphant trailer ride to a cozy ranchero where pigtailed girls braid yellow ribbons into your My Little Pony mane. During the drive home, I decide that you spent the 1930s in the rodeo, then passed the 40s as a lesson horse, teaching little buckaroos how to neck rein. For them, riding you was like straddling a leftover scrap of long-gone Western sky—a kind of opening up and out, some forgotten brand of cowboy magic.

I am dreaming of you even now, as I oil my horse’s favorite bridle. Oh, John Ford Pinto, in my heart it’s yours all yours.