In Jessica Fox’s latest column, an unassuming trail ride results in an encounter with something she REALLY didn’t want to see.
On one particularly beautiful morning, the kind where you want to turn to someone and exclaim about the weather, a trail felt vital.
So, ignoring the feeling that I should stay on the ranch, I threw on Playday’s tack, strapped on my backpack (bee allergies dictate a locked and loaded epi-pen and mobile phone in close proximity) and took off.
As we passed a neighboring ranch, frenzied barking shattered the still air with a warning. Playday shied and flicked her ears uncertainly. Strangely tempted to turn back, I urged her on. Nothing was wrong. This jumpiness was nonsense.
“You’ve seen dogs before, silly.”
Crunching stone and sand…
we traveled down the wash…
under the 210 Freeway…
and into Hansen Dam.
By the time we passed the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, thanks to birdsong and a fresh breeze, we’d regained our usual carefree amble.
About a mile and a half away, the broad path splits into narrower trails that wind through stony streams, eucalyptus trees, and thick greenery. In some parts, the trees canopy overhead, taking me back to the trails I’d traveled back east. To make it there, through the wood, and back to the ranch in an hour meant I’d have to pick up the pace.
Which was the whole point.
Snorting in anticipation of a liberating gallop, Playday lengthened her long, ground-covering trot. I shortened my reins, checked to make sure the only thing we’d be startling were rabbits and lizards, and, then, mane flying, hooves pounding, me grinning like a fool, we flew.
By the time we slowed to a walk in the woods, the eerie stillness that had dogged us at the beginning returned. I considered cutting my ride short. But, for what? Everything seemed fine. I couldn’t hear anything. No dirtbikes, no people. Not even the vagrants I sometimes saw who camped out in the park. Neither could Playday, whose big ears were flopping contentedly as we strolled along. It was a weekday morning. What could go wrong?
Under the trees, where the path turned a windy, loamy two hooves wide, we generally savored the peaceful, green-filtered sunlight, but my neck was prickling. Anxious to move on, I nudged Playday. And then I heard a voice.
We spun. Though the call was for aid, something was not right. Every instinct told me we were in danger, so I asked Playday to begin moving back the way we had come and prepared to bolt.
“Please! Help me!”
I couldn’t see anyone in the dense growth. He didn’t sound far, but no way was I dismounting and bushwhacking. As a kid, I’d been told over and over to never, ever get off my horse in situations like these. Peering around, I got my phone out.
“Can I call an ambulance for you, sir?”
In answer to my tense hands and legs, Playday began to jig. Other riders had warned me to stay aware in this part of the park, but it was so…pretty and, well, nature-y, it was hard to believe anything could happen. I hoped, if anyone were watching, they’d notice the size of Playday’s dancing hooves and think twice before trying to stop us.
Promising to be back soon, reins in one hand, phone in the other, we took off.
Let me tell you, explaining to an emergency operator where you are while on a charging horse in the middle of the woods is no easy thing, especially if you are directionally challenged.
Half a mile away, we met up with a fire truck and ambulance, the scariest part for Playday being all the men that spilled forth. The sirens and lights? Meh.
None of the responders knew how to ride, the vehicles would never fit on the trail, there were no bikes. So, walking beside a confused Playday, I lead them to where I’d heard the voice.
After they clambered into the wood, one of the EMT’s asked, “Do you have a blanket we could borrow?”
As in with me? On Playday? “No, sorry!”
When the man emerged, it was on foot, his head was painted à la the high priest in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and he had one of the EMT’s shirts wrapped around his waist. Otherwise, he was naked.
Always listen to your instincts!
About the Author: Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. Read previous “Riding the Second Time Around” columns on Horse Nation and visit her website at www.foxywrites.com