Monday, July 31, 2006

My own episode of "Lost"

Yesterday I got lost in the woods. Not "lost" in the "Wow, where does this trail go?" sense, but "lost" in the "Just start singing the theme song to Gilligan's Island" sense. And I was on a horse when it happened. A guided trail horse. You'd think the beast would've gone into auto-pilot and headed home. Nope. I had a beast that actually responded to its rider.

Let me set the scene for you. My friend (we'll call her Sara) and I were the last two riders in a trail group. We hoped to go unguided, but apparently the horses get tempermental in the heat (don't we all!), so we were encouraged (and by this I mean that we were told) to ride in the group. Now Sara's horse had some very noisy gastrointestinal issues, although we can't be sure that this is the reason she was told to bring up the rear. I was just in front of her.

In front of the two of us sat a grayish horse with a woman wearing a gray tee shirt. Eventually we learned that her name was (possibly) Emily, and her horse's name was (definitely) Eclipse. Well, Eclipse was a trail horse from hell. As far as trail horses go, I'd never known another so beligerent and hostile towards his job.

I had been noticing how beautiful the trees were, covered here and there with kudzu, and was taking curious note as to the small ferns that dotted the forest floor and did not much notice the group disappearing from sight. What I did notice was that I was getting very close to Eclipse, so I pulled the reins and halted Donna, my horse. Eclipse had decided to stop and eat. And Eclipse was not one to be restarted again. Emily tried pulling on the reins to lift the horse's head, tried nudging, then kicking the horse in the ribs, tried "h'ya's" and "click-click's" and other sorts of attention-getters. Eclipse cared nothing about anyone's attention at that moment. When the horse decided to go again, he went. But he went very slowly as if on a Sunday afternoon drive some fifty years ago. Eclipse did not do this when the trail was large enough for Sara and I to pass, and if we had we would have been leaving poor Emily alone in the woods anyway. So we three stuck together.

Well, twenty minutes passed and we hadn't seen any signs of life through the trees. We were laughing, following what looked like tracks some dozen horses had just recently made, so we weren't completely disarmed, when we came to a four-way intersection with untouched sand in one direction and green fauna covering the other two paths, one of which was even arguable as a path. Of course that's the one we chose. But we really didn't feel comfortable doing it. The fact that it turned us back to the South, the direction of the stables, was the only reason I wasn't violently protesting the decision. And then Eclipse protested.

We were half-way up a hill that was barely wide enough for the horse and our legs hanging off to the sides, and Eclipse stopped. Donna stopped. Sara's horse stopped. Sara and I waited patiently for Eclipse to change his mind, and then he did. He started backing up fast. Before I could do anything else, Eclipse backed into Donna, who was none too thrilled. I pulled her off to the left as she was backing into Shorty, the gastrointestinally challenged horse, and she found a way out down the hill between some very narrow openings in the trees and over ground that looked questionably supportive. I was not happy with her decision, considering I didn't want either Donna or me to end up injured.

Somehow in the commotion Shorty decided the best way to handle Eclipse was to pass him. I quickly got Donna under control and heard Sara's voice question "How did I end up in front?", to the laughter of Emily and myself. What the incident taught me was that Shorty did indeed know how to go home. And he was plenty eager to do it.

So now we have Shorty leading the way at a power walking pace. Eclipse is bringing up the rear with all the quickness of... wait, scratch any reference to "quick" regarding Eclipse. And Donna and myself are in the middle, my sweet horse easy to handle and quick to respond. Except that I'm trying to stay where I can see both Sara and Emily, because they can no longer see each other.

"Just follow the sound of my voice" Sara calls repeatedly.

"Just keep singing Gilligan's theme song" I yell back.

Somewhere behind me I hear laughter. Now I can't see either of them.

"Are you okay back there?" Sara yells.

"Well, we're still back here!" Emily replies. At least we can hear each other. But the voices aren't close anymore.

What to do. Leave my dearest friend who also is something of a novice on a horse alone in the woods although probably headed for the stables, or leave a complete stranger alone in the woods with no real assurance that she'll ever see the stables again. I am about to break my mind in the decision making process when I see Sara, and I see other riders in front of her. Apparently our yelling has caused the rest of the group to stop and wait. Finally.

Knowing she is safe, I go back for Emily. She's still lumbering along on the slowest horse known to mankind, laughing (cause really, what else can you do?). We plod along for another 5, 6 minutes before finally catching up with the others. Okay, I had caught up. Eclipse had slowed even further behind at this point. But at least with the large ravine we were now in, we could see him.

I really should mention that signs reading "Do Not Run the Horses" were posted along with "If you run the horses you will be prosecuted" signs all over the stables. So I did not run my horse. I figured worst case scenerio is that they figured out three of their animals were not back with the rest of the group, and someone would come find us. When Emily and I finally rounded into sight and a long line of waiting horses and riders greeted us -- some with cameras -- I was not even embarassed (an exception for me). I was just glad that we had ended up exactly where we belonged.

We dismount the horses, lead them to water, and turn them over to the stablehands. Sara, laughing, giddy, and grinning from ear to ear (still humming "three hour tour" under her breath), bursts "Let's do it again next weekend!"

Emily scowled at her.

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