The Hamilton Museum And Ranch Foundation, a local institution dedicated to documenting Anza’s rich history of cattle ranches and native Cahuilla culture, is always looking for new and creative ways to raise funds. Right now they need a good-sized chunk of change to do some major repairs/renovations on one of their main barn structures there at the museum site. They asked board members for suggestions, and Steve brought up the idea of putting on a big trail ride through the reservation, with dinner and music and the whole shebang. The plan was approved, scheduled for May, and Steve’s been hammering out the details ever since.
One of the things that needs to be done is to actually clear a trail through scenic parts of the reservation near the museum. We keep trying to do this, but the weather keeps forcing us to reschedule. It’s no fun blazing trails in the rain and snow and howling wind. We’d planned to try today, but it looked like we were going to get rained out yet again.
And then this morning dawned gloriously sunny and mild. The trailblazing expedition was on! Steve and I scraped the mud off of our wooly horses and loaded them into the trailer. The third member of our party, a fellow named Tom, met us there at the museum.
Mahogany was very keyed-up right from the start. She didn’t want to be caught, didn’t want to be groomed, didn’t want to be handled. I don’t know if it was the weather or if she’s in season or what. At least she loaded up in the trailer without a fuss.
When we got to the museum I saddled and bridled her while she danced around impatiently like an unbroken colt. Finally, we all headed out. She jigged and shied and generally made a nuisance of herself the whole time. The ground was muddy and soft, and she didn’t like the way her hooves sank deep with every step. Now and then she’d try to bolt, and I’d pull her head around and make her do tiny circles until she was ready to walk again.
Tom, who used to make a living training horses, commented that I was being too easy on her. “Next time she does that, don’t just pull her head around,” he advised. “When you pull that left rein, dig your left spur into her, hard! Let her know you mean business. She’s taking advantage of your good nature.”
Mahogany is very sensitive to spur pressure; I’ve never used them on her with any great force. But Tom is a veteran trainer, and if he thought Mahogany was taking advantage of my unwillingness to treat her roughly, then maybe a bit of tough love was in order. The next time she bolted I pulled her head around to the left and slammed my left spur into her ribs.
She pretty much levitated to the right, and with her head pulled around to the left she was unable to regain her balance or her footing when she landed back on the soft, wet sand. Down she came, with me underneath her.
She lurched to her feet, looking around wildly. Steve started to go after her, but she ducked away. “Don’t chase her,” I gulped from where I was taking inventory of my damage. “Let her calm down.”
Turns out my advice was worth about as much as Tom’s. Mahogany gathered her wits, then up went her head and her tail and off she went, in the direction of where the horse trailer was parked. Everyone groaned.
To my own surprise, I had taken no damage at all. My shoulder and head had hit the ground pretty hard, and Mahogany had pinned my leg, but the soft sand was very forgiving and nothing was broken or even bruised. We all headed back to the trailer, me and Steve riding double on Marshall, all of us talking about how unusual it is for a horse to leave other horses behind and take off alone in unfamiliar territory. It’s downright unhorselike.
And then, the final blow: Mahogany galloped right past the trailer and kept on going in the direction of home! This was just plain nuts. She was a good seven or eight miles from home, with several trafficky paved roads between her and her destination. Now the situation wasn’t just inconvenient, it was scary. Anything could happen — she could hit by a car, or damage her hooves running full-speed barefoot down a paved road, or even just put her head down to graze and get a leg tangled in her reins. All sorts or scenarios ending in my beautiful filly being killed or permanently crippled were playing through my head as we finally reached the trailer ourselves.
Tom had ridden to the museum, so he stayed on his horse and followed Mahogany’s tracks. Steve and I loaded Marshall into the trailer and drove back to the road in an attempt to cut her off before she hit asphalt. Mind you, she was going in a straight line across country, and we had to go the long way around in the truck, but we should have had a pretty good chance of catching her.
Tom followed her tracks until they came to a barbed-wire fence. She had leaped over it. No sane rider would ask his horse to jump barbed wire, so Tom turned aside and found a different way to go around.
When Steve and I got to where she should be coming out on the road, there she was. She had beaten us there by some time, but fortunately a nice couple had managed to catch her as she tore through their yard, and they’d held her there waiting for someone to show up and claim her. She was drenched, not a dry hair on her, and spectacularly wound up, but completely unscathed. We managed to get her bridle off, her halter on, and her into the trailer, and then went in search of Tom.
Needless to say, the trailblazing expedition was rescheduled for next weekend — weather permitting.
Never a dull moment around here. Ah, the joys of country life.