Tales From The Trails
It’s never good when the phone rings at 4 a.m. It’s even worse when you see shadows of red and blue lights pulsing through your curtains as you fumble for the phone and bedside light. Then there’s the moment of panic when you find the phone, and the voice identifies itself as belonging to a sheriff’s deputy who asks, “Do you own two brown horses?”
Which is exactly what happened not very long ago.
“Sorry to call so early,” the officer said. “But we’ve found two brown horses on the road. Are they yours?”
“I don’t know. Give me a minute,” I replied, hurrying out to check the pasture.
All my gates were shut and locked when I went to bed. Had horse thieves come in the night? But they would have taken the horses, not let them go. So… maybe a car crashed into the fence?
That happened once, years back when a couple of drunken teenagers, careening home one New Year’s Eve, smashed into my front fence, breaking a post and shattering the boards, but leaving it more or less upright. A neighbor had been out, saw what happened, and called to alert me. I’d checked the fence, deemed it strong enough to hold until morning, which is when I visited the house further down the road where the teens lived. The crookedly parked car had a dented front fender. I called the PBSO, an officer came out, surveyed my fence (and the deep ruts in the swale), then escorted me to the teens’ house. They came over later and repaired the damage. Most importantly, my horses had been safe.
Back to the present day… I walked out to talk to the officer and check for my horses, both present and accounted for. “Do you need help with the strays? A place to put them? I’ve got an extra pasture,” I offered.
“That would be great,” the officer replied. “They’re about a mile from here. It’s a bit of a walk.”
For that hike, I would need some actual clothes. I’d come out in the long T-shirt I sleep in. Five minutes later, I was back out, clad in more respectable shorts. “Do we need halters? Lead ropes?”
“OK. Let’s go.”
And, for the first time in my life, I got into the back of a PBSO truck, and off we went to where a homeowner and an Animal Care & Control vehicle waited with the two brown horses.
Animal Care & Control Officer Christina Stodd held the lead ropes. The homeowner said he had already posted about the horses on an Acreage web site. I took one lead rope, which turned out to be a short nylon dog leash. She took the other, and off we went, both vehicles following. In their headlights, I could see the horses were mares, a mustang and a quarter horse, both well fed. The mustang willingly led until we got to the end of the street and turned left. She clearly wanted to go in the other direction. Her pace picked up, and she became a bit nervous, but we kept walking, circling back to the other mare periodically. Finally, she calmed down again until the next time we turned a corner, heading east. She again became agitated, then relaxed once more. Onward we walked, a strange, early morning procession.
Christina and I talked as we walked, about over the years.
“It’s so dangerous when they get out at night,” she said. “Someone can be driving and never see them until it’s too late.”
Indeed, just about then, we met a vehicle heading in our direction. The PBSO truck passed us and flashed red and blue lights. We were now sandwiched between two protecting vehicles.
“Did you lose any horses?” we asked as the car came even with us, passing on the left.
“No, we’re delivering the morning newspaper,” the driver replied.
As they went on, the leading truck dropped behind us again. We passed a couple of neighbors who had horses, but each of them had at least one light-colored horse, and besides, neither of our horses acted like they wanted to head up driveways toward home.
I thought about times my horses got out. Happily, not at night, and not when I wasn’t around.
Once, my gelding decided the grass outside the pasture looked greener, so he hopped the fence. Luckily, he didn’t go anywhere, just stood and grazed. I opened the gate, waved one of his favorite treats, and he trotted right back in.
Another time was more dangerous. I was out grazing my horse and something spooked her. It was a chilly, windy day, right after some heavy rain. She took off. I tried to hold on, got dragged, and sprained my knee. So, now my horse was gone and I couldn’t walk. I hobbled to my truck and followed her hoofprints in the muddy road. A few minutes later, I spotted a man leading my horse back. He, too, was following the hoofprints. The horse had run across a main paved road! The man brought her home for me, and I gave him a ride back to his house.
When we reached my house with these two lost mares, my barking dogs greeted us at the gate. We led the horses into a small extra pasture, and Christina removed the lead ropes. The horses looked relaxed. They headed for the water trough.
“I can keep them for a few days,” I assured Christina back at the front gate. “But I’m sure someone will come much sooner than that.”
“Thanks again for helping,” she said as she wrote down my contact information.
“Of course,” I replied. “That’s how we horse people are. Always there for the babies. It wasn’t mine today, but next time, it could be. Just as long as they’re safe. That’s all that matters.”
The vehicles drove off. The horses settled. And I came inside, did the usual morning chores, and waited for a phone call, which came at 9 a.m.
The owner had contacted the man who had found the horses in his yard. They drove over, the owner thanked me, drove home, hooked up his trailer, came back and loaded them up. He explained what had happened. Someone fed for him and left a gate open. It was a happy reunion that I was glad to have been a part of.