by Laura Crum
I have told the story of how I came to acquire Henry rather recently on this blog (see My Son’s Horse). So, in the interests of not being too repetitive, I’ll just say that Henry opened a brand new chapter in my life with horses. And you could call this chapter “The Trails Along the Ridge.”
As you may remember, my seven year old son had begun asking me to go out on trail rides. And as it happens, there was a network of trails on the ridge across the road from our house. Many years ago, when we were first together, my husband and I had explored these trails on Flanigan and Plumber. But I had not been up there since I got pregnant with my son. So I hadn’t seen the trails in eight years. I didn’t even really remember them all that well, and the way we used to access them had been blocked by a housing development. Thus I was pretty much starting from scratch to figure out if we COULD trail ride from here.
I headed out on the newly acquired Henry to explore a little (and make sure he was as reliable on the trail as I thought he was), and I found a way back up to the ridge. As was inevitable, it involved crossing the very busy road at the end of our driveway, and then some rather dubious skirting of other people’s property. But horse hoofprints indicated that riders from the nearby boarding stable rode this way. And sure enough, I eventually found (and recognized) the same old trails I had ridden years ago with my husband, and reached the Lookout—a high spot with a glorious view of the Monterey Bay. I knew that this was where I wanted to take my son trail riding.
Henry was an absolute champ outside. Nothing bothered him, he was relaxed and calm, and walked quietly at all times. He was as steady as a rock when I crossed the busy road, indifferent to the traffic. I felt that I could take my son riding out on the trails with a reasonable degree of safety. So we tried a few expeditions, beginning with some easier trails. And I realized that the only problem I was going to have had nothing to do with my son or Henry. It was Plumber.
Plumber was nineteen years old at this time and I had done plenty of trail riding on him in the past. But for the last eight years he had been strictly an arena horse. My friend Wally roped on him and I rode him while I accompanied my son on short rides in the arena. Plumber was starting to slow down and Wally and I were pretty sure this would be his last year as a team roping horse. I thought that the timing was perfect and Plumber could now become my trail horse. But I was wrong.
Because it turned out that Plumber didn’t want a new career as a trail horse. And he made this very plain. Every single time I took him out on the trail, he danced anxiously and spooked at every little rustle in the brush. He also protested at the downhill bits, tossing his head and pinning his ears, switching his tail, and walking at a slow, reluctant crawl. He absolutely never relaxed and just walked along, enjoying the scenery, as Henry did. I took my son for his first ride on the beach and Henry was perfect. Plumber was nervous and unhappy the whole time (which I think you can see in their respective expressions in the photo of that expedition—below). In every way he could, Plumber communicated, “I don’t want to do this.”
A lifetime spent with horses will teach you a few things. Even though it was reasonable to suppose that the still quite sound Plumber could be my trail horse, I had to acknowledge that it wasn’t working for either him or me. Steady as Henry was, Plumber’s constant spooking triggered Henry to spook once or twice. Despite the fact that I felt perfectly safe on Plumber in an arena (and had ridden with my kid in front of me in the saddle for two years—that’s how safe I felt), I did not feel safe standing next to the busy road while Plumber danced anxiously. I was pretty sure I could control Plumber, but at this point I had my son on the pony rope and I absolutely needed to keep my whole focus on him. Nor could I risk that Plumber would startle Henry. So I made the rather unpopular decision (just ask my husband) that I needed to buy a new trail horse. And I knew just the one.
Nine months previously, I had tried a little palomino horse as a possible replacement for Toby the pony (Toby’s cancer had reoccurred and we had removed another tumor from his sheath—I was aware that his time might be limited). This was a horse that I had known for a few years and I believed that he was a steady, reliable trail horse. But upon trying him I realized that he was also opinionated, ill broke and a bit spoiled—not a good combination for a kid’s horse. So I passed on him and eventually bought the much better broke Henry for my son. Still, for some reason, I couldn’t forget the cute little palomino horse. Neither could my boy, who continued to ask about “Sunny.”
Sunny remained for sale. A friend of mine tried him and rejected him for much the same reasons I did. “Too ornery for a kid’s horse.” But when I thought about finding a steady trail horse for myself, Sunny popped into my mind with irresistible force. And despite my husband’s protests that we did not need another horse, I picked Sunny up that very day to take him on trial. The rest, as they say, is history.
(To be continued—the beginning of the saga is here)