The HouseSitter

Specializing in peace of mind for you and your pets.
 

 
                                    Silverwood

My beloved horse, The Gray, was hurt beyond repair in 2004. For several summers, while in Boulder County, I rode Patty Mae’s (not her real name) buckskin Quarter Horse, Fitz, though we called him Fitzy Cow, while she rode one of her younglings. Last summer after only having ridden twice, Fitz, the buckskin we all loved, died a very sudden, we have no idea what happened, death. About twelve weeks later following nine weeks of coughing, pain and chemo one of Patty Mae’s younglings died at the age of eight, lymphoma of all things. It was a rough summer for all of us. What this means is, at one point we had four horses to ride, now we are down to one.


When I arrived back in Boulder County this July 2008, Patty Mae and I started talking about how much we missed riding in the foothills. While house sitting for a client I learned she had an eight year old racehorse retired from the track she was not comfortable riding. Silverwood, seemed a nice enough fellow when feeding time came. I mentioned I would be willing to have a go around the area to see if he was a horse I would enjoy riding while she advertised him for sale.

The owner told me Silverwood didn’t like area work which is fine, because neither do I, so very tired of circles I am. I lounged him naked the first day for a spell to see if he was sound also to get an idea where his head was. I then lounged him a bit after tossing my saddle on him to see how he felt about it. Dude seemed to have some go, but not so much a person could not deal with it. He was also very sensitive to sound, a single click with my mouth took him from a walk to a canter in the round pen. The thing that really hit home, when mounting this horse he turned to stone. I kid you not, that baby horse did not so much as flinch until I was settled in the saddle and asked for movement. I didn’t know what the movement was going to be but he was nice enough to let me settle first. He walked off nice as you please, didn’t give me a bit of trouble. All this took place on a Tuesday.

On Saturday Patty Mae and I decided to take some time to see how the horses would load in the trailer. Her mare (Mika) has always had a trailer glitch (she doesn’t like them, maybe she is claustrophobic) and we knew nothing about Silverwood’s feelings toward them.

Did ya know the minute ya say something nice about a horse they do something horrid? It works the other way as well. That silly Mika horse hopped in the trailer like she had been doing it all her life. Both Patty Mae and I were stunned cause there had been days we had to grit our teeth to keep from killing that horse when it came to loading.

Cool, so the mare loads, what about Silverwood? He considered his options a bit longer before deciding to trust we were not asking him to leap into a pit of molten lava. In the end he was hopping in and out of the trailer like a pro.

Dandy, with prep on Saturday we were ready to have a grand ole time exploring the hills Sunday morning with a new horse we knew next to nothing about. Patty Mae and I rarely take two completely sane horses out at the same time. Where is the fun in that? This trip was going to be slightly different in that I was the one on the less sane of the two horses we had with us.

Now, for those of you that don’t know, I have been riding for just under forty years. I have been on nine zillion horses, good, bad, truly cruel and genuinely amazing animals. I have been tossed into, around and over creeks, I have been thrown into fences and over fences. I have been rolled on, flipped on and stomped on. I have been run over, bitten and kicked. In all the years, I have never once been hurt so badly I could not get back on the horse.

It was not phasing me a bit knowing I was taking a completely strange horse to a strange land with a second horse being a stranger to the first. It was going to be an adventure, we all know how much I dig those.

Both the horses loaded Sunday morning as though they were just as ready as we for this new experience. They unloaded and managed to contain themselves while being tacked (saddled and bridled). Silverwood was as calm as any horse I know. I was very pleased with his attitude.

Patty Mae and I have this thing about large inclines with horses that need a bit of work. This day we decided on the Mesa Trail against the Flat Irons behind Boulder. The trail has a steep enough hill a horse would have to work against gravity a bit harder to do anything all that silly, run off, buck, ya know silly stuff. I love hills with baby horses. I know, Silverwood is not really a baby horse but after playing with him in the arena I knew he may well be eight chronologically, but in his head he is about two. Two years old is definitely a baby horse.

Once tacked we had to walk from the parking lot on one side of the paved road to the other side, about 200 feet along a dirt road to the base of the trail we had picked.

Our first bobble with Mr. Silverwood was a very small decline with a bit of gravel at the edge of the parking lot, yes, not twelve steps from the trailer. I asked him to take the four needed steps behind me while leading him with the reins attached to the bridle. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the idea. No big deal, this is the reason we bring a sane horse as well. I shifted myself and Silverwood so Mika, with Patty Mae, could play the brave horse by going first. Four, maybe five steps and the trail along the road was flat again. Silverwood watched. Being a herd animal he didn’t want to be left, he sorted out his feet, took two steps and a bit of a stumbled down the tiny decline.

In the back of my head I was thinking…wow this poor silly child has no idea what he is about to get into. It was going to be great fun supporting his correct choices and watching his mind work.

Within sight of the decline that gave Silverwood so much trouble, there was a rock along the path large enough to give me a boost into the saddle. I asked him to stand like a gentlemen while I put my left foot in the stirrup, slid my right leg across the saddle landing my right foot in the opposite stirrup. I have crawled on enough baby horses to know at this point anything could happen so when he went to hopping about I clamped my thighs together to keep me from loosing my balance, asked him to bring his head up with gentle pressure on the bridle from the reins while whispering “Please don’t buck”. It took him a minute or two of dancing about to figure out the proper course of action, in the end he got himself composed enough to walk in the direction of his new best pal, Mika, the brave horse.

By the time Silverwood had his ducks in a row Patty Mae was in the middle of the paved road looking back at me saying “Are you coming?” I replied “I think he (Silverwood) is considering the possibility.” I was still not in complete control of the horse and knowing he was all kinds of sensitive from the earlier arena work I was very gentle, quiet and relaxed while asking for anything from him. I managed to get him pointed across the road while he danced and hopped a little bit, as the path turned paved road to  dirt I could feel he may well be one of those horses that one truly must pay attention to in the beginning of any ride. He was a critter that had full ability to explode like a keg of dynamite at any moment. I knew if I could just get him to calm down a little bit, get us to the base of the hill, all his attention, ok, much of his attention would be on breathing to get up the hill.

Silverwood was calming before the base of the hill, he even stood fairly well while Patty Mae climbed on Mika. He was still not convinced he trusted me but he did seem to be willing to allow more time for the decision.



 
 

Patty Mae is settled in the saddle with Mika knowing what is next though wondering who on earth the new horse is. Silverwood is standing fairly well with several people about the base of the trail exclaiming how beautiful the horses are. I would have to agree. Silverwood is just that a dappled silver gray, about 16 hands, sleek, looking deceiving fit with kind, puppy dog eyes. Mika is a lovely light brown (bay) with black points (mane, tail, and legs) she may out size Silverwood by a smidge. Her face is much like that of a mare I had as a child, white strip from forehead to nose with huge black/brown eyes. On her good days she is lazy on her bad days she shows her appaloosa stubborn streak so common in the breed.

The horses were fairly well behaved picking our way through the people across a cement bridge, along the path leading to a large, car sized wood bridge with rounded railings on both sides. I started feeling Silverwood settle a little and got to thinking maybe he had lead horse in him. Silly me, when he saw the wood bridge he stopped dead. I asked for a step or two forward… seems he thought he had a better idea. Patty Mae saw what was happening soon enough to get Mika out of the way as Silverwood clicked into reverse, taking several steps backward.

There were three people with four dogs on the other side of the bridge. Patty Mae and I decided to let Silverwood think a minute while we watched the plan of the people with the dogs. They were aware of our problem, very kind, coming down the hill, across the bridge and taking a small path down to the creek . Once they were out of the way I asked Silverwood to take a step… he flat refused. The good news is he didn’t go back wards.

Time for the brave horse, Mika walked past Silverwood and across the bridge like she had many times before following Fitzy Cow who was the brave horse in those days. Silverwood was not sure he wanted his feet on the bridge but he did know he was not about to get left by Mika.


 Once upon a time knew a horse who was fine on bridges until he looked down, upon eye balling the water below he would rock his body backward, splay his font legs refusing to move. We had to watch him with guests, telling them to keep his head up while on the bridge. Danube, a very cute Arabian with the most delightful canter. He would shorten his stride so he was cantering while most horses were still trotting. He lived the life of a dude string horse with a guest ranch near Estes Park.


Horses and bridges, ya gotta watch them. Silverwood was happy with Mika, the brave, in front so if there were any trolls she would be eaten first. I am sure this is the reason some horses prefer not to be leaders. Trolls = Bad. Mind you trolls live under bridges and behind rocks. They lurk in trees and some, some have the ability to be invisible to any other than their prey. Trolls, enjoy the taste of youngling horses and any age of Arabian.

Across the bridge, up a small hill and around a bend in the path we were in a more open area. It is much safer with silly horses to have someplace for them to go, this way they are more likely to choose flight over fight. If a horse feels he is in a situation he wants out of but can’t get out, he will fight. This is one of the many reasons I often tell people “Every time you are in the presents of a horse you are taking your life in your hands, they think and they don’t always do it well.” Horses can be triggered into silliness by next to nothing, some times the trigger is just an excuse to act the fool.


 Once upon a time, Patty Mae and I were riding north of Boulder. I was on my beloved Gray, he who could read my mind. Patty Mae was on the youngling (Atlas) who died of cancer last summer. I think Atlas may have been four that summer. The horses were trotting across a bridge, just past a dip in the road when I heard a rattle snake. I am here to tell you horses and rattlers just don’t mix. My Gray jumped straight up and landed about six feet from where he started. Atlas jumped the opposite direction, landed on an uneven bit of dirt then took that dirt as a reason to buck, hard, as I remember, several times. Patty Mae, was working to stay on, in the end Atlas dumped her. Rotten horse, he could have settled after the shock of hearing a rattlesnake but oh no he had to use it as an excuse to act the fool.

The Gray and I trotted over to grab Atlas’ bridle while Patty Mae collected herself to get up. Atlas was still high as a kite, not paying a bit of attention to me or The Gray. Patty Mae wanted to get back in the saddle. I flat told her no, not until he sorts himself out to act more the gentleman. The Gray and I hauled Atlas up the hill while giving him a lecture on manners. Once Patty Mae was at the top of the hill her youngling was behaving. She got back on a bit sore but all was well.


I can feel when most horses prepare to do something silly, this way I have a second or two to attempt stopping any harebrained idea they come up with. People and dogs up the trail, they I can not predict. When I spied a runner coming down the hill I suggested to Mr. Wood he slow to a walk. Easy as you please he did as I asked.

The path at this point is a single car lane affair, easy access for the open space park rangers in trucks, plenty of trail to get out of hikers, dogs and anyone else’s way. Silverwood was a long way from being relaxed though was trying very hard to listen to me. He choose the front, so I asked him to pick up a trot thinking if he could use up some of his excess energy he would feel better about the world.

Patty Mae and I have been riding together for almost twenty years. She understood her role, to stay close enough for Mika to support the baby but not so close if he comes uncorked she and Mika end up part of the explosion party. She also knew I was focused on Silverwood and was going to ignore her until either I needed her brave horse or Silverwood settled down enough I didn’t have to watch him so much.

This is the way we arrived at the path I was looking for, a bit of trot, a bit of walk, all the while paying attention to the road ahead and Silverwood’s attitude at the same time. When I stopped Silverwood, Patty Mae looked at me with a question “You hate going this way first.” I said “Yes, I do but ya know that bad patch up there? I don’t think Silverwood has it in him to come down, I think he would much rather go up.”

The trail changes here from a car sized road to a single foot path winding up the mountain. There are rocks, some large, some made into steps and bits with logs across the path to help with erosion. There are dried creek beds with uneven, unstable flat-ish rocks and branches of trees to dodge. Mr. Silverwood is about to get a crash course in “where do I put my feet”.

I have never been a fan of over training a horse to a point you have to always do the thinking for him. Heck, the hoofs on the ground belong to him, he should damn well know where to put them in any situation.

People on this trail have to be careful where to put two feet so imagine a horse who has always been on flat groomed tracks and arenas. Oh yes, Silverwood was going to be using not only his body but his brain as well. It is a ton of work for a baby horse, Silver wood started showing signs of just how hard in the first few steps off the road. He was fine on the flat, fifty yards, then the trail was a decline with a few rocks in the middle of the path so he had to pick his way. He was not prepared. Silly boy started running backwards. Yes, threw himself in reverse and started peddling. I heard Patty Mae exclaim, “What the hell! Mika move!”.

Me? I was trying to reason with the horse, I knew if I tapped him to go forward he may explode so I tried relaxing and talking. Silverwood acted a bit confused when he stopped his backward scramble. I wondered when he had behaved this way in the past someone became more aggressive with him. This would give him the excuse he was looking for to detonate, possibly launch the rider and there fore removing the pressure he so badly wanted to be rid of.

I took the exact opposite path, I did nothing. He had no reason to blow up, going backwards takes far more effort than forward so.. Why not stop?

We didn’t give him much time to think before Mika took point. Silly baby horse, followed her like it was something he did every day. He picked his way through the rocks down the decline right up to the spot in the trail where two rocks have been situated in such a way water can get through them. There was no water but Silverwood still took offense to the odd rocks. This is a bad spot for most babies, they have a tendency to not want their feet anywhere near it. Silverwood was not an exception, I knew he was going to jump. Yeah, it would have been nice if he had landed on the path but in the brush on all four feet is good too.

Silverwood followed Mika up several sets of steps made with logs then decided she was not moving fast enough, he went around her to the front. I suggested to him this was a bad choice but he would have none of that…right up to the rock covered trail down to a dried creek bottom where the brush is so thick ya can’t see the path beyond . He kicked in into reverse again, he didn’t go as fast or as far, a good sign. Mika was not close enough to worry about Silverwood’s antics.

To prove to Silverwood a horse can go into the creek bed, past the brush to arrive at the other side in one piece, Mika came around him.

On the other side, the path started up a much steeper hill. Silverwood passed Mika again then shifted from “I have no idea what to do with my feet.” to “I morphed into a mountain goat.” I was so surprised I took a minute to look back at Patty Mae, “Holy hell, look at the baby horse go.” This was the Silverwood I was looking for, the “I have enough support and understanding I can get the job done” Silverwood. I was becoming quite fond of this silly baby horse.

To give you an idea of timing, we had been on the horses for about forty minutes. Baby horses are a ton of fun but patience is the key word when out in the world riding one


 
 


  Silverwood was not in the least bit concerned about the trolls, he picked his way through, over and around rocks. He was paying enough attention to my requests to dodge trees I didn’t have to ask more than once. On the other hand, poor lazy Mika was blowing with an effort to keep up.

The trail flattened out for a few yards before another decline into a creek bed. The open space people made six steps with rocks, some were a height of four inches, some where eight inches. There was plenty of space on each step for a foot or hoof but both horse and human have to pay attention to where each foot/hoof was placed, twisting an ankle between the rocks on the steps would be very easy.

I knew this one was going to be more of a challenge for Silverwood but did not allow those feelings to translate through my body to the horse. “Relaxed and balanced” is my mantra when riding.


 Once upon a time I was a polo horse groom in southern California. Exercising horses was one of the many daily chores. This was done by riding one horse and ponying (leading) two others , one on either side of the one you were sitting on, this was called a “set“. The program was to walk twenty minutes, gallop twenty minutes, ending with another twenty minutes of walk. For any of you that have ridden, there are days controlling one horse at a gallop is a struggle much less three. The good news is, we exercised polo horses on a half mile track, wide open space with the ability to see trolls trying to sneak up. In addition to troll patrol, the horses understood staying on the track was the best course of action.

Polo bridles have looped reins. If a rider, while playing the game, finds themselves separated from the horse, the reins are not dragging the ground to tangle in the horses legs. They instead lay on the horses neck as it zigzags about the field , rider less , dodging people and horses playing catch me if you can.

Lead ropes are simple length of braided rope with a heavy clip on one end attached to the halter on the horses head.

It took me a few days to find the best way to control three horses without the possibility of loosing a hand. I had the reins of the horse I was riding threaded under the third finger of both hands and over my index finder. The lead ropes were running under my pinky finger, over my index finger. The extra bit of lead rope criss-crossed the neck of the horse I was riding to fall on the opposite side of the horse I was on from the horse it was attached to. This was simply to keep it out of the way. Every instructor out there will tell you to keep your thumbs up but when riding polo horses you are far better off with your hands like they would be in a motor bike, your thumbs next to each other. This way the lead ropes from the outside horses are in no way tangled with anything else and shortening the length of the lead rope to better control the outside horse is easy, ya just grab the rope with your opposite hand and pull.

I rode six sets a day, six days a week. It took the horses a week or two but once we all understood each other I could wiggle my pinky to get the outside horses to behave, that being stop pulling on me, stop bucking, or just plain stop. The horse I was on slowed cause I stopped the motion of my back, working against the natural movement of the horse. It is the very best way to stop a horse, this way you are not pulling on his mouth.

On yet another sun drenched morning, (Did ya know it never rains in southern California?) I was asked to take out a set of horses new to me. Lamplight, I was to ride. Moonstruck, with a mending tendon, would be on my right and Hollywood on my left. They were thoroughbreds from the racetrack who had been playing polo for two seasons. They were between the ages of four and six, younger, more fit and more excitable than most of the sets I had out.

The first walk portion of the adventure went fine, as did five, maybe seven minutes if the gallop then… a set of four pasted us. Lamplight must have taken offence, given the signal to and received conformation from the other two then put her plan to action. Those silly horses with out so much as a “by your leave” started to speed up.

The three horses were feeding off each others excitement, with every stride they were covering more ground faster. Screaming about the track was not going to help Moonstruck’s tendon any. This is where I became very concerned about her leg, that concern translated through my body. Lamplight’s response to my less than relaxed body was to picked up the pace.

They were not going as fast as I have been on a horse but it was fast enough for me to be worried. Very worried. One’s obvious course of action is to haul back on the reins but ya gotta remember I had three, stopping just one was not going to fix my problem. Sure, I might get Lamplight stopped but Hollywood and Moonstruck may decide between the two of them it’s far more fun to continue the joy ride. They would make nasty suggestions to Lamplight and about the time I thought she was stopped she would decide I was between she and the huge fun the other two were suggesting. I can only imagine what kind of wreak that would be, Lamplight doing all she could to throw me, me hanging on with everything I had, hooves flying, lead ropes burning my hands… in the end I would be a crumpled pile in the dirt with three loose horses careening about the track. Two of them with dangling lead ropes threatening to break a leg. Ya really should avoid such things.

I have a tendency to give all horses a chance to listen to the subtle approach. My three wild race horses turned polo ponies were having far to much fun to pay attention. I sorted myself out, shorten my reins and the lead ropes, braced myself in the saddle and hauled back with all I had. I have managed to shut down a set this way but that set was bucking not running off with me. Yeah, imagine three bucking horses, one you are sitting on and the other two with hooves flying about your head. Brute strength worked that time for the same reason moms can pull cars off their children. I was scared to death I was going to get hit in the head by a hoof, its truly amazing what you can accomplish with enough adrenalin in your system.

A lap and a half of attempting with all I had to stop this rowdy set it occurred to me to switch tactics.

If the horses are excited cause I am concerned, think about some thing other than, “Holy hell, are we damaging Moonstruck’s healing tendon ?” So, ya try to think about something else, anything calming, anything to get your mind and body to relax anything to… Sing! Yeah, sing, it gives ya words to think about, regulates your breathing and distracts the horses from their hell bent for leather romp.

I sang Old McDonald for three laps of the track before I noticed any change in speed. Another two laps, I was sure the freight train of horses was slowing. I don’t know how many times I repeated what I know of Old MacDonald but by the time I was bored out of my mind with the tune I had a pleasant controlled canter from my three runaways. Walk was soon to follow.

When I arrived at the barn I jumped off Lamplight to lead she and the other two behind me. My employer was walking toward me “Were you going a bit fast out there?” I looked up, hooking my thumb over my shoulder, “Ask them, it was their idea!”

I would not know until the next day Moonstruck was fine. Whew, I dodged another bullet!


I did not spring into song with Silverwood, I have learned how to divorce most of my worries and concerns from the rest of my body while on a horse. The last thing Mr. Wood needs is for his support system (me) to convey any uneasiness.

Silverwood was picking his way up the hill like he had been there many times before. I was supporting this attitude with mind, body and soul. There are days you can be so confidant with a baby horse it doesn’t occur to them to worry about trolls or anything else. Silverwood hadn’t a care in the world, he walked right up to that downward set of stairs, took three steps down and….. Stopped, dead. The silly child had one back hoof on the trail, two hooves on the next step down and his fourth hoof on the second step down. I could see his mind turning. He wanted so much to be the brave horse he had not completely figured out his plan before he realized he had no plan. Frozen horse.

Here I am again trying to decide on the best course of action but this time instead of being on nice flat trail the horse is stuck in a fairly unstable pose of “Holy shit, what now” on a rock covered trail, down a hill with bank on one side and a brush covered gulch on the other.

I decided on a very subtle nudge asking for forward…I didn’t care what hoof he moved or how much I just wanted the horse to thaw out. I was slightly surprised when Mr. Silverwood after a bit of thought moved two hooves, the back one down a step and a front one down a step. Now he has two feet on the first step down and two on the second step down. We are far from bottom but he is still pretty sane, if scared out of his mind.

Mika is behind us on the flat trail breathing and blowing from trying to keep up with Silverwood pace up the hill.

I gave Silverwood another nudge. I was so shocked when I realized his plan I yelled at Patty Mae “Watch him!” That silly baby horse decided his best possible course of action was to BACK up the stairs through the rocks. Dang! what the hell was he thinking? All I could see was one miss placed hoof and us tumbling ass over tea kettle into the gulch. My mind was going nine zillion miles an hour, my body was “relaxed and balanced.“ I am here to tell ya the last thing you want to do in this kind of situation is freak out. The horse will feel it, wonder why the heck he can’t see the trolls he knows must be about to attack and instinct will take over, flight, as in run hard and fast from the trolls.

He was actually very methodical about how he backed up, one foot at a time until he was flat again. He was not relaxed but he was not loosing his mind. Mika came around him, stepped down the stairs where Patty Mae turned her around to watch Silverwood.

There were several minutes of me asking him to step forward, him taking a step, me waiting and asking again, him taking two steps back, me asking him to step forward, him taking three steps, me waiting and asking again and him taking two steps back. Several minutes of this before he decided to put two feet on the first step down. I nudged him again, movement he gave me but it was to scramble up the side of the bank. I attempted to get him to turn back to the path of least resistance but he was on a mission to get back to the flat of the trail any way he could. When his feet were flat again he started to motor down the trail back the way we had come. I could hear Patty Mae telling Mika not to panic we were not leaving her as I muscled Silverwood to turn back toward her.

Silverwood and I did the one step forward, two steps back dance again before he put both feet on the first step. I let him think for a minute or two before asking for movement. I got the same result, scramble up the bank motor down the trail.

When I got him back to the top of the stairs I stopped him. Patty Mae was looking at me. I said “What would make a horse not take the easiest path?” She shrugged.

I asked Silverwood again to go forward. I was rewarded with two front feet on the second step and two back feet on the first step. This was improvement. I let him stand there thinking for a bit then gave him a nudge. It is beyond me why he would choose to but that nutty little horse launched himself off the trail toward the brush covered, hidden rocks gulch. I applied everything I had in me to get his head pointing up the hill and back on the trail. He had to work really hard for it but managed to not fall over the edge into the gulch.

This time when he got to the top of the hill on the flat both of us are panting from the surge of adrenaline. I turned him around to face the steps again, consider my options and made a different choice.

I swung my right leg over Silverwood’s back to slide off the saddle. Patty Mae looked up from checking Mika’s bridle. “What? Your off? You never get off.” I walked in front of Silverwood with the reins in my hand. “Yeah, they can hurt ya just as bad from the ground as they can while you are on them but maybe, just maybe it’s my weight that has him so bent out of shape. Maybe, he doesn’t trust me enough to stay out of his way when making choices on where to put his feet. Or maybe he really can’t deal but I am going to give him another option.”

I knew this could go either way, he may come down the stairs like a true gentlemen or he could panic, ignore my existent and run over me, or jump on me or any number of crazy arse things horses do for their very own reasons.

I picked a line down the stairs I thought would give me the best ability to remove myself from any wreck Silverwood decided he to instigate. He took a less than graceful line off the path through the brush full of hidden rocks. Down he did come, to the amazement of both Patty Mae and I, without a twisted ankle or a scratch on him.

At the bottom of the stairs was a rock perfectly suited to help me climb back on the horse. He stood, sane as could be, like we were in an arena, no concern about trolls and having forgotten he had temporarily lost his mind.

Silverwood was still a bit nerved up from the stairs when I asked him to move forward. He sorted out his feet to muscle past Mika, powered up a small hill, around a bend and along the trail against a steep upward bank on one side and the tree covered creek bed on the other. This is one of my favorite parts of the trail with pine trees creating a canopy of shade and Indian paint brush growing in the filtered sunshine along the bank.

There is a tight spot just before another creek bed where the steep bank is so close on one side and a pine on the other ya gotta watch your knee doesn’t get tagged by the tree. Ya would not think placing your hand on the tree as you past and pressing would actually move something as large as a horse but in fact it works. Ya just have to get the timing right. I have been through wooded areas on horseback where ya had to switch which hand was on what tree so much ya started feeling a bit like a pinball in a machine.

Mr. Wood didn’t take offense to my pushing the whole of his body away from the tree. He did come to a screeching halt when he placed one hoof on a rock in the creek bed and it had the nerve to move. He didn’t scramble backwards just quietly removed his hoof from the wicked rock. Ya gotta figure at this point he should be a bit tired.

Mika came around Silverwood to go across the creek bed. He followed her hesitatingly watching for trolls to come at him from under the moving rocks.

Mika with Silverwood behind her are now at the base of the section of trail I thought would give Silverwood his biggest trial of the day. The section I mentioned at the bottom I didn’t think he wanted to come down, instead going up would be better. It is set of eight rock steps going up, on a curve. You can’t see the top of the stairs from the bottom. Some of the steps only have space for one hoof and others for two. Some of the steps are twelve inches up and some are eighteen. What unnerves people is one side of the path is fifteen feet straight up, the other is twelve straight down with brush and creek bed rocks to land on.

After walking him down the last set of stairs I knew I had made the right choice on direction with this part of the trail. I was a bit concerned Silverwood was not going to take to going up either. He made a complete liar out of me. He walked up those stairs like he had done it every day of his life. He knew exactly where to put his feet, matching Mika step for step. I was so proud of him, what a good baby horse!

At the top Silverwood took the lead again through my favorite field of ferns. He came to a T in the path where we were going left. Around the corner he put on the brakes cause of yet another creek bed full of rocks. Ya would think by now he could deal but with horses not only is every new thing new but even if ya get them to cross an obstacle one direction there is no guarantee they will do it the other.

Horses heads are shaped in such a way they work with two perspectives instead of one. Our eyes work together, horses work independently. Because of this ya have to understand working a horse in one direction with a obstacle is not enough.


 Once upon a time an employee for the guest ranch in Oregon where I worked asked me to ride her horse. He was a three year old, palomino, he may have had some Paso-fino in him cause he paddled with his front feet. His canter was more buck than canter but his trot one of the most comfortable gaits I had ridden. I think I bought my beloved Gray cause he reminded me so much of Tascosa, the palomino. They were both naturally round, solid/light on their feet with amazing comfortable gaits and the mind set to just go.

I remember when the owner asked me to ride him, she said, “He is not really broke and please do not take him across water, he will hurt you.“ I thought about this for all of four minutes before I decided if I was going to be taking out guest rides with this horse you can bet he is going to have to cross water.

Like many people at the age of twenty-four I was not only immortal but also invincible. There was not a horse on the planet I was not willing to climb on just to see what would happen. I remember a big arse palomino in Washington state everyone said was un-ride-able. Yeah, granted the first few minutes in the saddle she was on her hind feet more than she was on four feet, but man if ya can just figure out how to channel that energy. A friend was considering buying the horse and asked me to ride her. Once she settled down she was all kinds of interested in what I asked next. Wonder what that Palomino’s name was.

I rode a four year old half Arabian for a summer in Colorado. Her nick name was “The bitch horse from hell.” Cocoa, she was a hoot but man ya had to ride that horse. She was so alert, if the rider was not she would see her opportunity to dump ya. She could buck like a professional rodeo horse. She was the first of what I started calling “point and go” horses. Horses that are so confidant, ya point them and they go, nothing stops them from a mission. My beloved Gray was one of them.

Tascosa was young when I started riding him and he had not had the experience of a confident solid rider to help him become all he could. One summer with me and he was a whole different animal. First we had to get past the water issue.

I tossed my favorite saddle from the barn on Mr. Tascosa took him out to the arena to see how he felt. He had a go and a stop. He turned but only directly from the reins, not with leg pressure or with reins laid on his neck. He had a stop and that by far is the most important of things. I bore easily in confined spaces so I pointed him out the gate, around the barn and up the hill. I was going directly for the creek closest to the barn.

We trotted along at an easy pace enjoying the spring air with me watching out for trolls. Ya never know with a new horse, they may have troll super vision. The horse didn’t bother a bit he was out alone with no equine friends for support. This is an aspect of the “point and go” horses I love.

When I could hear the creek I noticed Tascosa’s ear closest to the water was turned that way. Silly horse was already planning his escape. It was obvious, he had, on more than one occasion managed to avoid crossing water. I did not know he preferred dodging method but I was about to find out.

Because we lived on a guest ranch, the water crossing were all shallow and flat, no steep banks, no narrow ditches a horse might think to jump and all the trolls had been relocated. This way horses are less likely to refuse and guests are less likely to be hurt.

Alrighty, Mr. Tascosa, nice flat shallow creek, what have ya got. He was so funny, the closer we got to the water the more he snorted and shook his head. I was so amused I almost forgot he was about to “hurt me”. I could just see his eyes bugging out while watching a herd of trolls gathering to pounce. The horse was just short of a toe in the water when he slammed on the brakes and started running backwards. Silverwood could not hold a candle to Tascosa’s back peddling prowess. I was surprised, impressed and giggling all at the same time. The poor guy, you could see he had given me his A-game refusal and I was not shivering, quaking in my boots with fear. He also was not like Silverwood in that he had no keg of dynamite to detonate. Tascosa was just a silly little boy child thinking he was a man.

When he stopped back peddling I suggested he walk forward to the creek. He clicked into reverse again. This time I tapped him with my heels to see his reaction. He stopped. COOL! This is going to be much easier then I thought. He and I played the forward/backward game for a few more minutes until I got bored. I figured there must be a better way if I could just think of it. He was not in the least bit dangerous, just very silly.

Alrighty, if Mr. Tascosa likes to go backwards so much lets just do that. When a horse backs all their weight in on their hind end, their front end is very light.

I sorted out my reins and asked him to back to the edge of the water. Since his favorite form of refusal is to back and he already was going back he decided to use a different tactic. At the moment Mr. Tascosa brought his front end off the ground I used both my hands and legs to asked him to move his front end around. He wheeled on his hind legs and landed splat in the middle of the creek with water splashing over both of us. I bust into giggles. He stood there for a minute with the water running over his feet, looking a bit like a drowned rat, trying hard to figure out what happened. His eyes narrowed a bit, I just new he was thinking. “Damn, out smarted!” He was still pouting half mile down the road while I continued to laugh at him.

On the way back about thirty minutes later he did the same stop and run backward thing. After all it’s a whole new creek, with a whole new gang of trolls.
I only let him do this once before I turned him backwards, wheeled his front end the opposite direction than the first time and again he landed smack in the middle of the creek. Splash, water all over us and me laughing at him. I would swear I think he was laughing with me.

Not only did Mr. Tascosa never challenge me at any creek again he never challenged me about anything again. The one creek episode was all it took for him to go from a spoiled brat to one of the coolest “point and go” horses I have had the pleasure to ride.

The owner sold him for twice what she paid for him at the end of the summer. He was not only functioning off of leg pressure and neck reining but he finally had stopped bucking every time ya asked him to canter.


Miss. Mika, the brave, came around Mr. Silverwood again. She crossed the creek bed and started up the hill on the other side.

This part of the trail has always made me wonder if a horse could miss place a hoof to slide off the mountain. It was another bit of path with a bank on one side and a cliff on the other. Mr. Silverwood did loose track of his hind end twice, I shifted most of my weight forward so he had the freedom to collect his hind end.

When the trail evened out to a more flat space I was telling Silverwood what a wonderful job he was doing, that we were going to make a trail horse of him yet. Mika, who was in the front stopped. There were some hikers on the up side of the trail, Patty Mae could have been talking to them. I was not paying enough attention to what was going on, before I knew it SMACK/CRACK!! I screamed for all I was worth. I did so three times, short bursts as loud as I could.


 Once upon a time while taking riding lessons in North Carolina, a paint horse by the name of Peanut Butter decided going out for a ride was not at all something he had planned one sunny afternoon.

I had been taking lessons in an arena for some amount of time. The afternoon in question was the day chosen for my first trail ride. We must have managed some amount of distance cause I remember Peanut Butter becoming agitated and the instructor saying over and over “You are the boss of him, make him do what you what. Make him turn his head, you are the boss of him.”

I don’t think I was seven at the time, Peanut Butter outweighed me by some fair amount, the idea of me being the boss of him is just nutty. I had not the strength to stop his turn. There is some discussion among the family that it was feeding time, the silly paint knew this and by all that was precious to him he was not about to miss dinner. He may have turned to go home slowly but he was crafty enough none of the adults could catch him. It is hard to know if he was trotting back to the barn with little to no regard for me or if he was being all kinds of dastardly. At any rate I had the indecency to scare the splashes of color off him by screaming. Poor thing was so afraid he picked up the pace, the faster he moved the louder I screamed. I have a picture in my mind of some folks stepping out of their home to see a paint running hell bent for leather down the road with a small child attempting to stay on screaming with all her might. One of the people I saw shouted, “Stop screaming!” My brain did not hear this suggestion until years later.

Somewhere along the line someone must have instilled in me, never let go of the reins. That fair day I took it to heart even when Ol’ Peanut Butter finally loosed me from the saddle, I was still hanging on the reins as he thundered down the road.

Being as traumatic as it was…this is all I remember. I do not recall a hospital visit nor anyone talking about it later so I musta been fine. Kids, resilient!


Silverwood made a different choice when confronted by a howling person on his back. Instead of freaking out, completely loosing his mind, throwing me in a heap of broken bones, offending Mika to the point she hurt both Patty Mae and the hikers on the hill, the choice he made was to turn to stone. Oh, yes, much worse it could have been, head wounds, injured horses, all kind of horrible possibilities. The silly baby horse was the star of the moment! Good Horse!

I looked down to see both Mika’s hoof and my leg bent at the knee with my ankle behind my hip. I watched my leg fall perpendicular to my knee, I remember being light headed and hearing Patty Mae say “Did she get ya?” At the moment my leg started to spurt blood, I thought, “ I am going to bleed to death right here right now.” I heard Patty Mae say “Oh, oh! What do I do.” She must have seen the blood on my leg.

My brain kicked back into gear and I said “I think it’s broken, I gotta get off this horse. We gotta get me outta here but I don’t know how that happens.”

I swung the injured leg over Silverwood’s back, removed my left foot from the stirrup and literally slid down the horse’s body landing one legged on the ground. I took two hops with one hand on Silverwood’s shoulder to plop myself in the dirt, weeds and rocks of the trail.

I found out later Patty Mae had given Mika’s reins to one of the hikers, and as I was sliding down Silverwood’s body, she placed her right hand on his bridle to steady him.

A cell phone materialized in Patty Mae’s left hand, she was talking to 911 trying to get them to understand where on the trail we were. I have always been the navigator, I started giving Patty Mae directions to find us, she relayed to 911. The Open Space Rangers and Mountain Rescue were on the phone also, we all knew where I was.

When Patty Mae was off the phone with 911 I asked her to call my parents. They live six hours drive from where I was going to be in a hospital, we had to get them on the phone and understanding the situation as soon as possible. I recited the number and said “Tell her I think my leg is broken, can she come. I don’t know where they are taking me.”

That taken care of I turned my attention back to my leg. The blood flow had stopped so I was no longer worried about bleeding to death. I could not see the bone coming out of my skin though there looked to be a dime sized puncture wound. The rocks under my bottom were starting to bother me, I tried to shift my weight just enough get my hand under me to swipe them out but my leg protested loudly, any movement of my lower body lead to pain in my leg.

When I mentioned I felt light headed to anyone that would listen, water would appear close enough for me to reach it. The hikers who were present when I got kicked were accosting passers by for water. I later found out the cell phone belonged to one of them.

The forty minutes we waited for Mountain Rescue I was working very hard not to faint. The occasional hiker would happen by access the situation and say “If I see mountain rescue I will tell them where you are.”

I managed the pain pretty well until all those wonderful drugs your body produces in a trauma situation started to fade. The two hikers were on the hill behind me, one had her hand on Mika’s reins far enough away from Silverwood they would not fight. Patty Mae was over my right shoulder, farther up the path with Silverwood’s reins. I could not see any of them, when I started to whimper and cry from the pain I heard Patty Mae say “They are almost here, I think Silverwood hears them.”

When mountain rescue showed up, I heard Patty Mae say “Here they are, you are in good hands. I am going to get the horses back.”

You might think this is the end of Silverwood’s part in my Sunday morning adventure but in fact…….

Mountain Rescue delivered me to the ambulance, which took me to the emergency room. Xrays and a consult later it was decided an orthopedic surgeon would need to be called.

Dr. Tracy showed up not much later, "We call this an open wound fracture, it is a complete break. Because the wound is so close to the bone we are worried about infection. Infection in the bone can be fatal to the leg, we are going to do surgery on your leg today. We will clean out the wound and removed the dead tissue from the trauma, place a rod inside your tibia with three screws to hold it, then close the wound in an attempt to keep infection from starting. You will be completely non-weight bearing for six weeks then there will be another six weeks of you learning to walk again."

After the bad news Dr. Tracy said she understood I was kicked by a horse, that she had horses and the staff was always giving her a grief when a horse injury came in to the emergency room. We chatted a bit about her horses and the fact that her daughter had been looking at a gray thoroughbred for sale. I mentioned the horse I had been riding was a gray thoroughbred who was for sale. "Very cute, needs a bit of work. Silverwood was the star of the show, he turned to stone when I started screaming."

The look on Dr. Tracy’s face was all I needed to understand Silverwood was the horse her daughter was considering buying.

I have been back to the hospital twice, everyone has learned about the baby horse who turned to stone when I started screaming. Silverwood is now famous in the county for being the sanest of horses. Good Horse!


Copyright © 2012 Aperry. All rights reserved.