March the second started out well enough. It was the second day of spring training for Far Rider’s four geldings. The previous day’s trail out had gone well and he was hopeful the ride would be a repeat with the exception that it would be longer in time and miles.
The original order of march was maintained. Stryker under saddle, Trooper loaded with the decker, Lancer packing the sawbuck, and Chino as tail gunner with saddle and pannier.
Keeping inside the highway fence on deeded ground, the merry bunch followed the telephone poles as they marched north. At the north west gate, rigs were checked for balance, cinches tightened and they passed out onto the highway right of way. The horses lined out nicely and Caesar took up his customary flanking position between the pack string and the fence line. It was a beautiful day harkening of the spring to come with temperatures in the lower sixties and a stiff breeze out of the west occasionally gusting to over twenty miles an hour. Far Rider was glad for the braided leather stampede string keeping his hat on.
A gray van bearing Iowa tags slowly cruised by with a woman in the rear seat busily taking photographs of the rider and pack string. Flatlanders for sure. He smiled and waved knowing that for their part it was an unusual sight. A man mounted and leading three pack horses down the roadway is not something many people see, even in the west except in the National Parks and other public lands that have professional outfitters packing hunters and fishermen into what is still called back country.
As the string approached the Hubbell Road cutoff leading northwest across nearly seventy miles of empty country to Saint Johns, Arizona, he noticed that the van had parked about three hundred yards ahead and the occupants were standing outside along the roadway. It was obvious they wanted to chat with what must have appeared to them to be an apparition out of the past. Bypassing the stock gate adjoining Hubbell Road he continued on to meet with them.
The van was parked about thirty yards north of the standardized highway department rectangular, white on green mile marker 11 signpost. Keeping to the right-of-way side of the sign, he eased Stryker up to an older couple and a middle aged woman that looked like she could be their daughter smiing at him and snapping away with their digital camera.
It was then that things unraveled. Stryker, Trooper and Lancer were in line as protocol dictated. Some sixth sense that horsemen develop to compensate for lack of a rear view mirror or eyes in the back of their heads caused Far Rider to twist in his saddle to view the string just in time to see the wreck happen but too late to do anything about it. Chino. Bless his heart.
A word about Chino. He is the youngest of the geldings and also the tallest. If not on a side hill, getting mounted is no small effort. Once up, a nosebleed from the altitude seems imminent. Chino is a cross between Ferdinand the Bull and Ichabod Crane. The Ferdinand side is always looking at butterflys, flowers and anything else that comes within view. He is not a stargazer, but he is definitely off in his own world. Calm and mellow, he takes most things in stride even when he scares himself. Tall and gangly, at times it seems to require most of his attention to get all four of his long legs going in more or less the same direction at the same time. He is smooth, surefooted, willing and sensible. He is a great horse and a pleasure to ride, but at this moment, he was surely in a fix. He hasn’t had that much time bringing up the tail end of a four horse string so the fault had to be laid on Far Rider’s inattention.
The major concern was the integrity of the lead rope. If the sign severed it, Chino would flip over backwards out into the roadway. At this moment, approaching from the north at a good sixty miles an hour, some sort of trendy, bright yellow urban-type vehicle is bearing down on the group of horses and people. A northbound vehicle pulls up and stops between the metal guard rails because Chino is taking up most of the northbound lane. The idiot in the yellow yuppie vehicle, no doubt on his cell phone or texting his hair dresser, sails obliviously through all the commotion. If Chino had flipped over backwards onto the pavement, the blow to his head might have killed or permanently injured him not to mention that if he had fallen into the path of the speeding vehicle there would have surely been a dead horse and maybe dead people in the resulting collision.
In the meantime, Caesar had repaired to the fence line and was watching the hullabaloo with a “You have got to be kidding me” look on his big square face.
Turns out, the folks from Iowa were farmers and owned horses. They knew what to do and with the typical calm competence of heartland America, they stepped up to aid a horseman in trouble. All the human participants were in their sixties and that too was no doubt a critical component. Most young people are too self-absorbed and involved with their electronic baby sitting devices to either learn or know anything about life that does not make beeping noises. With the exception of the rural Future Farmers of America (FFA) kids, most have no connection with the natural world, and, sadly, few if any seem to want it as it oftentimes involves heavy and dirty labor.
The fault for the mishap lay with Far Rider. He had not paid sufficient attention to how close he was to the signpost. He made the error of assuming everything would be alright based on the previous days travels in a similar environment. He had failed to add the breakaway twine to the anchor point on the sawbuck because Chino never pulled back from anything, at least not until he had his face banged into a sign.
With all the commotion, Far Rider forgot to give the folks from Iowa a business card and ask for some of the photos they had taken. He would also have liked to have sent them a copy of this story. It was just one of those days.
|Hubbell Road Stock Gate|