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Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Dog Hair & Mule Sweat

with Natalie Riehl

editor@rockymountainrider.com

 

July 2011 Issue  

 

 

     Long ago, in a land far, far away… Okay, this may be an exaggeration of my mind. Try Wyoming in the late 1970s…

     I had a summer job wrangling dudes at the historic White Grass Ranch which lay at the foot of the Grand Tetons. Fortunately, I was not the “kid wrangler” — the person assigned to doing horseback activities with the guests’ children each day while the guests could pursue other activities — and I often took out small groups of riders on the trails in the vicinity of the ranch.

     The dude string had somewhere close to 90 head of horses, and as anyone knows who has been around a herd of this size, you learn (somehow…maybe with a younger mind) who most of the horses are and what kind of riders you can put on each. Each rider’s size and skill was matched to a horse, and a big part of our job as wranglers was to take the guests on rides they found enjoyable.

     One small, black mare was named Twinkles. She may have stood as high as 14.2 hands.…maybe. She was an older horse, well-muscled but not overly bulky, and had a little chrome on a couple of her pasterns and a star between her kind eyes.

     She was often assigned to children because she was a dependable mount who was not very high off the ground. For the beginning or novice rider, she was easy to handle and not herd-bound.

     One day I was assigned to take an older gentleman for a ride and he had been given reliable Twinkles as his mount. I remember an overall impression of the man; not tall, receding hair line, from the East Coast, well-spoken, a face rounder than angular.

     He was also blind, so I was careful to choose a trail that would be slow and easy. I rode ahead, and Twinkles trustily followed behind. I was careful to spend much of the ride turning in my saddle to speak to the man over my shoulder and to keep an eye on him.

     It was a wonderful, mild mid-summer’s day. The forest smelled of dried pine needles that had been warmed by the sunshine. Wildflowers bloomed and I wondered if I should describe the scene to the man who seemed to be content holding his own reins and maintaining a seat in the saddle which was that of someone who had ridden before.

     I was shyer in those days than I am now. I did not ask him about how he had become blind, or where he lived, or what his horse experience had been during his life.

     Twinkles’ black coat shone in the sunlight, and I watched the man reach down to pat her neck and touch her mane.

     Then the man asked something of me, and I had to stop so I could have him repeat the request. “I would like to gallop,” he said.

     Oh, boy! Oh, no! I thought. How could I possibly let him do that? Would I have to lead his horse? He was in my charge and I did not want him to get injured. But galloping on a horse and feeling so free in that act had been one of the great joys of my childhood, and I could understand why the idea appealed to him.

     I remembered the two-track road which ran alongside the home pasture. It was level and long mountain grass grew up on either side and in the center strip. We wound our way out of the forest, skirting the large, open meadow to reach the road where the pines on the east side cast shadows over the track.

     There I urged my horse into a lope and the man urged little Twinkles into a lope, as well. She paced herself at my horse’s flank, and as I watched the man ride through sun and then shadow… sun and shadow… I saw his face filled with incredible joy.

     I can still see his face so clearly in my mind’s eye and I remain grateful to Twinkles for being able to give that man the gift of freedom.

 

    ------------------------  

 

Copyright 2011 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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