Twenty minutes later after making loops at walk, trot and a steady slow canter, Ann felt like a superhero. Rose’s body had relaxed into Ann’s chest and belly as Joey’s warm back soothed them both. Ann found herself looking around and hearing birdsong from the hills and breathing more deeply than she could remember.
“That’s enough for today Rose, we have to get back to the college for your music lecture.” Joey stood perfectly still while Ann handed Rose to the aide who placed her in her wheelchair.
The aide hugged Joey and then pushed Rose and her chair toward the van. Ann watched them go.
“We saddled up Ivy for you.”
Ann turned to see Mary and Colette, mounted and helmeted and holding another saddled horse.
“Oh girls, I don’t want to ride again.” Ann complained.
Both girls tried to hide their disappointed looks, but the three dogs did not. They were all looking forward to a trail ride and the barn rule is that kids can’t leave the property horseback without an adult and dogs can’t leave without a human or two. Ann realized that she had ruined all their plans.
Reluctantly, she grabbed the reins of the fuzzy white mare who glared at her and mounted up. “I’ve got 45 minutes and I don’t want to cross creeks, go through any poison oak, blackberry bushes, cross any highways or down any banks or jump across irrigation ditches. Do you hear me? A straightforward trail ride and that’s it.”
The girls’ smiles were huge and the dogs bounded and bayed as they headed out the ranch gate.
“I’m serious. This is not a Dee adventure. This is a damn trail ride which means walking and relaxing. Ok?”
The girls continued to smile and the dogs bounced ahead. The girls seemed to be having a silent conversation with each other including snickering and eyebrow raising as they indicated with their heads the trail that they might take.
“If we go this way,” Colette said “we won’t have to open any gates. And it’s a loop, so we should be done in about 20 minutes or so” Ann could have sworn that she saw Mary smirk, but she ignored it.
“That sounds good” Ann said. “Let’s go that way then.”
Both girls kicked up into a slow canter as Ivy, Ann’s mount threw her head in the air grunting and tried to rush to the front.
“Simmer down you old cow!” Ann growled at the mare. The mare continued to fuss as the trail turned to the left and both girls and their horses cleared a small coop in the fence line. Ivy grabbed the bit and galloped hard and jumped flat at the fence. The girls looked back at Ann giggling as Ann continued to fuss and struggle with the mare.
“Who said anything about Goddamn JUMPS?” Ann roared.
The girls continued giggling. “Well, we didn’t have to open a gate.” Answered Colette as they continued to canter easily up the fire road through an open cow pasture toward a hay field. Ann realized too late that of course there would be another jump or a gate between the pasture and the hayfield.
“I’m so not into jumping girls.” Ann said through gritted teeth as she continued to argue with the mare.
“Well, Ivy is, so just hold on” squealed the girls.
The girls and their horses cleared the second fence into the hayfield neatly and then proceeded to gallop to the left up a grass covered hill. Ivy charged at the fence and took it as if it were a 12’ liverpool then bolted angrily past the girls to the top of the hill. Ann was furious. To be run away with from a shaggy 15 year old mare was just plain embarrassing.
When the girls crested the hill with their horses, they were outright laughing.
“What is so damn funny?” Ann demanded.
“You should see the look on your face.” The girls gasped between rasping rounds of laughter.
The mare pawed and jigged and tossed her head angrily. Ann pulled her in a circle trying to maintain control of the animal and her temper.
“She does that to everyone, it’s just who she is. She has to be in front. Dee said that she should have been a steeplechase horse.”
“Or dog food.” Ann snorted.
The girls looked away. They were both riding horses they loved that had been bought from the local auction frequented by the kill buyers. Both horses, had it not been for Dee, would have been killed for meat. The girls were tender about the slaughter issue.
The walk home was quiet and more peaceful since the girls let Ann and Ivy take the lead. Once in front, the mare settled peacefully on a long rein and walked home swinging her tail rhythmically.
Ann had quiet time to think and take in the scenery of the rolling foothills covered in waves of purplish heather, yellow mustard flowers and the eerie black and green of crooked Monterey cypress trees. They walked through a grove of redwood and madrone trees and Ann’s lungs were cleansed with the sweet cleanness of the shaded and cool air. The dogs trotted behind, their tongues lolling and giant hound smiles on their pointed faces having had a run and a splash though the creek along the side of the hayfield. Their eyes shone with bliss and their pink tummies dripped muddy water.
Having made her peace with Ivy, Ann patted her sweaty shoulder as the mare rooted for a longer rein. Suppressing the urge to take up the slack and control the animal, Ann exhaled and chose instead to trust the horse. Ivy exhaled loudly, thought about prancing with her newfound freedom and chose instead to continue walking boldly home.