by Laura Crum
My son and I took our first trail ride since our month long vacation exactly one week after we returned home. We rode our two horses, Henry and Sunny, three or four times at home and at the local roping arena to be sure they were going good, and then set out one foggy morning to ride a one and a half hour loop near our place. I have to admit that these cool (60 degrees), gray, foggy days we get quite often here in coastal California in the summer, are not my favorite weather. But it is excellent weather from a trail horse’s point of view. Henry and Sunny executed the whole ride (including several steep climbs) without even cracking a sweat, despite their thirty days of layoff.
As we left through our front gate, I was visited with the sort of anxious nerves I often feel when I set out on a ride with my son. Because when we ride from home the first thing we have to do is cross a busy road upon which the cars zip by at fifty miles an hour. And I hate this part of the trip.
Our horses are not afraid of the traffic—this is one of the reasons I chose the two of them. Both will stand by the road perfectly still, solid as rocks, as the traffic goes whizzing by and I wait and wait for a gap in which to cross. This can take five minutes (literally). Doesn’t matter if busses, logging trucks, motorcycles or bicycles swish by, just a mere couple of feet from their muzzles. Henry and Sunny are unperturbed. They stand, calmly waiting. My son chatters happily. I, on the other hand, am an emotional wreck.
Oh, I try to hide it, but inside my nerves are seething. I hate, hate, hate, having to stand in such proximity to the deadly traffic….with my young son. When I do this solo, I am much calmer. But my son loves to ride and I believe (I think I believe) that I can keep the risk within reason.
But still…what if a bee stung a horse, what if the neighbor’s goat leaps out of the brush with a loud “baaa”. The horses are not afraid of the traffic—that’s one of the reasons they stand so quietly. And, conversely, they would never comprehend how deadly spooking into the road would be. Me, I comprehend it. The cars are going too fast to stop easily. So, I worry.
But (knocking on wood), we wait patiently for a gap and cross safely—neither horse turns a hair—as it has always been. We scoot through the back parking lot of a neighborhood church and strike the ridge trail, which ascends steeply, with many big step ups. Both horses handle it well, and my son and I gaze out to the west, where vistas of the Monterey Bay open up, strung with grey wraiths of fog, this particular August morning.
The ridge trail follows the spine of the ridgeline—it’s a very pretty trail, with wooded slopes and views of the mountains on both sides. We follow it for a mile or so and take a branch trail to the Lookout—a bluff that overlooks the whole Monterey Bay. There we let the horses rest and just take in the sights. Sunny and Henry cock a leg and practically go to sleep; they’re that relaxed. Both seem mighty comfortable at being returned to their job as trail horses.
The rest of the ride is equally uneventful—in the best kind of way. Both horses are calm and willing—they seem happy to be there. Ears up, walking out steadily. Sunny and I get along well, as we have for quite awhile now. Henry is his usual self—the ultimate trooper. My son whistles and sings little snatches of songs—we comment on the small local landmarks as we ride by certain tree snags and windy meadows. We are able to enjoy the scenery and each other because we are not having to “cope” with our horses. Our horses are taking care of themselves.
When we near home we make one more successful crossing of the road and head back up the hill to our front gate. I pat Sunny’s neck and tell him what a good horse he is and my heart is full of gratitude. I feel this way every ride. I am so grateful to these two horses, that some would call plugs, for their steady, reliable ways on the trail that have given my son and I so many hours of unworried pleasure (the road is my only worried moment on most of these rides). I would not swap these horses for any high powered critters of any sort, no matter what their talents. Nothing (horsewise) is a greater pleasure to me than cruising down the trails enjoying the natural world, my son, and our horses in such a peaceful, relaxed way. I promise the horses silently (and I mean it) that I will take care of them until their end—that I will give back to them for what they have given to me.
And then we are home, the front gate shut behind us, horses unsaddled and grazing on the “horse lawn” (grass I water to keep it green in the dry California summer—so the horses have a patch to graze on). My son is happy, swinging in his swing that hangs from a liveoak in the barnyard. I am happy, watching the horses graze. The horses look very happy, too. I think we all (horses included) are basking in the feeling of another pleasant ride accomplished.
I think idly about how much I wish I did not have to cross the road in order to ride our local trails, but I can think of no logical solution. That road looms in my mind sometimes like a huge river, and there are days when the emotional effort of crossing it is just too much for me, and I elect to ride at home in my riding ring instead. Since I would infinitely rather trail ride than ride in a ring (so would my horse) you can see that the road really is a big issue in my mind.
So that’s my story/topic for today. Do some of you have similar issues that bug you when it comes to trail riding? Or pursuing any horse event you love? That road torments me—I admit it. I cross it a lot, and I will do so again, but it is a real thorn in my side. Anybody have any thoughts?