Sunday, January 01, 2006

Riderless horse

Last week my husband Trev and I were hiking at Point Reyes and came upon a horse with no rider. He was standing beside the trail eating grass, his stirrups twisted, bridle hanging to the ground. There were large wet patches on his neck and back and a line of foam on his cheek. We shouted for the rider, wandered up and down the trail, but no one came. So while Trev stayed with the horse I went back to the hostel at the trailhead to get help. As I walked the same thoughts occurred to me as they have on the few occasions in my life when I've realized something could be very seriously wrong--that is, this isn't happening, this is a joke, I'm going to embarrass myself by calling for help when anyone with the slightest knowledge of horseback riding knows that riders routinely leave their horses alone to graze in the mist. Also that I should be running, not walking. Also that I should stay off the grounds of the hostel until 4:30 because that was what the sign said in no uncertain terms, also that I couldn't ask this family moseying up to me if I could use their cell phone because that would ruin their day.

The guy at the hostel told me to take a deep breath and while he waited for the ranger to answer the phone asked me where I was from and if I'd been birdwatching. This seemed to be his method for dealing with city folk who came in gasping about some horror (slug, owl vomit) on the trail, and I wanted to tell him that I was not panicked, only worried that I was not worried enough. I went back outside to flag the ranger down and saw my husband walking the horse and its rider, a taciturn woman with legs as thin as my wrists. She'd been riding on the beach, but her horse was from Montana and had never seen the ocean before. The surf had panicked him and he had thrown her.

"It's always the rider's fault," she said. She was unhurt.

At Ronald Reagan's funeral a riderless horse followed the casket with boots reversed in the stirrups. A ghost was in the saddle, looking backward.

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