By Laura Crum
Its interesting how our "horse passions" change as time goes by. When I first began to write my mystery series about equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy, I had been competing regularly at cutting horse events for many years on my horse, Gunner. So, naturally, my first mystery, Cutter, published by St Martin's Press in 1994, dealt with the (excuse the pun--and the cliche) cutthroat world of cutting horses, nefarious trainers, and double-crossing rivals.
That was many years ago. In the ensuing time, I've spent lots of hours in the saddle, practicing and competing at team roping (these stories made their way into my novels Roughstock and Roped ), long days horse packing in the Sierra Nevada Mts (faithfully described in Slickrock ), and plenty of time trail riding here on the California coast (see Breakaway and Forged ). I trained several young horses during this period and these experiences are distilled in Hayburner. Then followed a break from intense horse action while I was pregnant with and nursing my son; I've chronicled that period and the emotions surrounding it in Moonblind and Chasing Cans. For the last few years, my main "horse passion" has been teaching my little boy to ride.
Sounds pretty tame, I guess, after all those years of cutting, roping, ranching, horse training and horse packing that came before. Strangely enough, however, I'm finding this time as rewarding and exciting as any, something I'm sure other "horse moms" will understand. And perhaps most interesting of all, through teaching my son to ride, I've re-discovered an old passion--exploring the landscape where I live on horseback.
It seems I've come full circle. When I was a teenage girl, I remember staring wistfully at the western ridge that was visible from my father's house, longing to ride the trails I knew were out there. At the time, my only access to horses was at the family ranch, where my uncle, a part-time rodeo cowboy, raised and trained Quarter Horses. But though there were pastures at the ranch, there were no real trails there. My father's home, on the other hand, lay near a state park with miles and miles of trails running through the oaks and redwoods down to California's San Lorenzo River. When, at fourteen years of age, I was finally allowed to keep a horse of my own, I immediately arranged to board him with a neighbor, and began riding those trails.
For the next couple of years I rode Jackson through the Santa Cruz Mountains, mostly by myself. When I think back to the busy roads I rode along and crossed to get to the trails, the tricky routes I traversed through the steep and often slippery hills, the days I would swim Jackson in the river, all alone, I wonder what my parents were thinking. As non-horse people, I suppose they weren't really aware of the dangers. And Jackson, by the way, was no proper mount for a kid, even the fairly experienced rider that I was. Though overall he was phlegmatic, he was prone to unexpected vertical rears when he didn't wish to proceed and equally unexpected bouts of lashing out with his hind feet. (He kicked me in the head once when I was saddling him and I was out cold for awhile; I have no idea how long, as I was, once again, alone. When I came to I resumed saddling him and went on with my planned ride.)
Eventually, right about the time I turned sixteen and could drive, the trails lost their allure and I began to be more interested in breaking colts for my uncle, training his team roping horses, and competing in reined cowhorse events. I sold Jackson and bought Honey, a well-bred unbroken four-year-old Quarter Horse mare that I intended to turn into a great stock horse (now that's another story). But I still remember those days when I was fourteen and fifteen and endlessly wandered the trails on the ridge I could see from my house, alone on my horse.
And today? Today from my front porch I can see another ridge. Like the ridge of my childhood, it is wooded and criss-crossed with trails. Though I've always known those trails were there and occasionally rode them, it is only since my son graduated to riding Henry (who is a well-broke, reliable mount, unlike Jackson) and we have started going out on the trails together, that I've become obsessed.
I sit on my porch and look at the familiar "landmark tree" (a huge dead pine snag on the ridge that towers above the trails) and envision the singletracks that wind between the oaks, pines, and redwoods with their particular casts of sun and shadow, their unexpected flurries of brilliant blue forget-me-nots, their earthy spring scents and unbelievable views of Monterey Bay. I long to be horseback there, moving through the green landscape, watching my little boy's face light up with delight as we successfully negotiate a new trail, enjoying the changing seasons and weather. It feels, in a way, as if I've been returned to my teenage self (though I do not in the least look like my teenage self, I hasten to add).
Its all been quite the revelation to me and I find myself wondering what "horse passion" will come upon me next. Perhaps my son will take up one of the events I've left behind and I'll find myself, once again, at the cutting pen or roping arena, waiting to compete. Who knows? For the moment, it's the trails along the ridge that fill my mind and will no doubt make their way into my next book.
Happy trails to you!