by Laura Crum
I mentioned in my last post that I had one negative experience on our otherwise delightful mountain camping trip with our horses. I don’t want to emphasize this experience too much, because it was maybe two yucky minutes among many days of good times. But…I do think this encounter merits a blog post, if only so that those who read it can share their thoughts on what I might have done differently.
We spent most of our vacation time riding in the Glass Mountains, where we met no other folks. But on one day we hauled our horses to a Sierra trailhead, in order to ride in to a mountain lake. For a description and photos of this ride, see my last post “Ride the High Country.” We arrived at the trail head at 8:30 in the morning, so no people were about as we started down the trail. But I could see the fresh tracks of a mountain bike in the trail dust, and assumed we’d eventually meet the biker.
This didn’t worry me overmuch, as our horses are not scared of bikes. I just hoped that we’d meet the bike in a convenient spot and that it wouldn’t be going too fast. My first warning that the bike was ahead came when a large white dog (standard poodle type) came around a corner and barked at my horse. Sunny spooked slightly (merely because he was startled), I said whoa and pulled him up, and the mountain bike appeared right behind the dog. Fortunately the trail was level, there was plenty of room and the bike, warned by the dog, wasn’t moving fast. The mountain biker called his dog, laid his bike down by the side of the trail, gave me what I could only describe as a shame-faced look, and said, “Sorry.” (I later found out that mountain bikes were not permitted on this trail.)
I smiled, said, “Don’t worry, they’re not scared of bikes or dogs”, wished him a good day, and rode on. No problem.
We never saw another soul after that, all the way to the lake and at the lake. It was on the way back that the second encounter occurred.
The photo below was taken less than a minute before another dog ran barking up to my horse.
This dog was large and black and much more aggressive appearing than the white dog. Again, I halted my horse and waited for a hiker to appear, or to call the dog. But nothing happened. The dog barked energetically at Sunny, who wasn’t bothered. Maybe thirty seconds went by. I didn’t want to ride on and give the dog a chance to attack from the rear, or give it a chance to run up to my son’s horse. None of our horses are scared of barking dogs, and I wasn’t scared of this one, but it just makes sense to be careful. Also, to be frank, I was a little annoyed at whatever hiker had let his/her dog run ahead and bark at strangers and wasn’t doing anything about it. So I yelled (loudly), “Call your dog!”
And sure enough, someone not too far ahead (but out of my sight) whistled for the dog. They must have heard the dog barking, mind you, but did not call it until I shouted.
I rode on and coming around the next bend, saw a youngish, fit-looking guy with an older dog and the dog who had run up on us. The guy had the dogs off to the side of the trail and was busy telling them what good dogs they were.
I was torn. Part of me wanted to tell this guy that he shouldn’t let his dog run up and bark at other parties like that. If our horses had been spooky, someone could have gotten hurt. Its certainly happened before—though not to me. But the other part of me said, oh, just keep quiet. It’s a nice day, nobody was bothered, let it go.
I listened to the second voice, and kept my mouth shut. When I rode past the guy and his dogs, I kind of expected him to say “sorry,” as the mountain biker had done, but he didn’t, just kept talking to his dogs. I was still mildly miffed at his trail etiquette (or lack thereof), so I didn’t greet him as I normally would do. I just nodded (I think civilly) and rode quietly by. My son and Wally did the same. It wasn’t until all three of us were completely past him and headed down the trail that the guy hollered something.
I couldn’t understand him, so I pulled my horse up and called “What?” (I am at least fifty feet from the guy by this point.)
The guy yells back, “Say please.”
I am completely puzzled, but I can hear an aggressive tone in his voice.
“What do you mean?” I yell back.
“Next time, say Please call your dog.”
It takes me a second to process this. Mister rude hiker is telling me he thinks I was rude to him. And at this I get a touch (OK more than a touch) annoyed.
“You were totally in the wrong,” I respond. “Your dog could have got us hurt or killed. Don’t let him run up and bark at strangers next time.”
At this, the guy comes unglued and starts screaming at me. How I need to share the trail, and maybe I should get my fat ass off the horse and walk…etc.
Wally, who is riding last and thus is closest to the screaming hiker, wheels his horse around and rides back to him. Oh oh, I think. Wally, at 79 years old, has never shied off from conflict. He’s a tough old bird. But the hiker is young and fit.
Wally says something to the hiker. I can’t hear it. Now the hiker is yelling at Wally. (Wally later tells me that he said, “Is that dog dangerous?” The hiker replied—very loud and angry—that of course the dog wasn’t dangerous. Wally then said, “We had no way of knowing that. If I was riding first and I’d had a gun, I would have shot him.” At this, more angry yelling came from the hiker.)
I turned my horse and trotted back to back Wally up, though I’m not sure what my game plan was. The hiker immediately began telling me to get my fat ass off the horse. Wally and I looked at each other and both said the same thing. “Lets go.”
I rode away with my middle finger raised and the guy screaming after us, as I said loudly and clearly “You are the rudest hiker I have ever met.” Quite true.
This encounter, as you might imagine, left a very bad taste in my mouth. My son said it almost ruined his day. “Why did the guy act like that?” he said.
“Probably because he didn’t like horses on the trail,” was the best reply I could come up with. But inwardly I felt stymied. I hike with my dogs all the time. I’m very careful that they don’t run up and bark at strangers, whether the others are on foot or on horseback (and my dogs are not all scary looking, as this dog definitely was). But if my dogs had barked at someone, and that someone had hollered at me to call my dog, the first words out of my mouth would have been, “I’m sorry.” If this guy had said sorry, I’d have responded just as I did to the mountain bike guy. But how in the world this hiker managed to decide that WE were somehow in the wrong boggled my mind. I was supposed to ask him “nicely” to call off his aggressively barking dog? For all he knew (he couldn’t see me), I had been coping with a leaping, plunging horse that was terrified of the dog.
It was a very frustrating and upsetting experience, so now I want to put it out there to the rest of you. What should I have done differently (if anything)? For those who would say not to engage or argue with him, I might agree, but I didn’t really know what he was saying to me to begin with, and by the time I’d sorted it out, we were already engaging, so to speak. And yes, I’m not one to let others walk on me. If you treat me poorly, I am going to stand up for my point of view. I don’t know if this is a strength or a weakness.
Either way, I’m open to hearing how the rest of you would have handled this. For me, I spent the next half hour feeling as if I’d stepped on something nasty and it was stuck to the bottom of my shoe. After that I was able to let it go. But the whole thing made my son sad, and that made me sad.
Some people are just rude, and we have to accept this. We can’t always change them. On the other hand, we don’t have to lie down like doormats to be walked on by the overly aggressive, rude folks of this world—or for that matter, the covertly malicious folks. (This is also what I told my son.) I don’t think I did anything wrong here, but I wish I knew a way to change the above story so that it wasn’t so ugly. Any thoughts?
PS—For those who would like to read something lighter and more playful, here is my husband’s post on his “Begonias in the Mist” blog, talking about names for fog. I think he is both amusing and poetic, but then, I’m prejudiced.