It’s a crisp, chilly Fall morning. Chaco, Harley, and I are gearing up for a trail ride. The scent of pine and moist soil wafts through the air, and all of my tension evaporates. It is election day, and we headed to the woods to get away from all of it for a bit.
I notice there is still some snow all around, and I’ve never ridden Chaco through snow. I constantly want to protect his leg, but he is doing really well of late. I pat him on the neck and whisper, “I know you’ve got this.” I hop on, and the three of us saunter into the depths of the forest.
My friend Laura Lee talks about how I always look up. I love looking up at the clear, blue sky through the boughs of the trees and today is no different. It always helps me relax, and that is where my eyes go.
Chaco is really swinging his back, and Harley is staying right by his side gazing all around. We come to our first patch of snow, ande he walks through it without hesitation. We then hit mud, and he is as sure footed as one could be. I relax even more. My brain empties, and I’m completely within the moment.
We then come across a big pile of steaming bear scat. Yep, the storm and the cold didn’t drive them into hibernation. Chaco stopped, looked at it, and looked around. I whisper not to worry. The bear moved on. He steps forward and off we go again. The rest of the ride was uneventful, fun, enjoyable, and I relished every moment with Chaco and Harley. They are such blessings in my life.
As we work our way back to the truck, I think I see a black blur moving up ahead of us. So does Chaco. He stands perfectly still. Harley takes a look and moves a few steps backwards. Not seeing where the black blur went, I ask Chaco to go forward, which he does. We move about a hundred steps when I see a bull up ahead of us. He is huge, white, with brown spots, and he has huge horns. He looks like he belongs in the NFR tossing some cowboy in all sorts of directions willy nilly before throwing him to the ground. Gulp.
Chaco has seen cows across our irrigation ditch and across the street, but we’ve never had the chance to work them together. I wanted to, but because of his leg, I never wanted to put him through it. It can be a lot of hard physical work for the horse. I decide to try and avoid this behemoth and do huge loop around him.
We plunder through thick trees. Since Chaco is so tall, by head is hitting branch after branch. Luckily, I have my helmet on. Crunch, crack, squish are the sounds we make. We finally head back towards our final destination, the truck, when I see that the bull is right in our path again. He is determined to keep us from going where we need to go. I see a black blur, and I know why; he is protecting a calf.
There is a rule to never get off your horse when cattle are around. They are erratic, dangerous, and the human usually comes out on the losing end of any tussle. My grandfather in Oregon had his knee dislocated two times, and once I was chased by one of his bulls out of the pasture right into a hot wire. My arm buzzed for an entire day after that. I don’t like bulls at all. Gulp.
“Chaco, I need you to get some attitude. This is no time for you to be sweet, and Harley, no hiding behind him like you used to with Shandoka. Chaco, if you decide to toss me, toss me away from his horns and the trees please. Let’s see if we can do this.” I then cluck, and lightly swing the rope back and forth over Chaco’s withers. He immediately tucks his chin into his chest, tossed his head from side to side and walks straight for the bull surprising the heck out of me. I didn’t want him to trot, because I didn’t want the energy level of the bull to go sky high. I wanted to push him off gently. Chaco got that, so he walked towards him with energy,attitude and assertiveness, but not enough to get the bull angry.
The bull stared at him hard as if to say, “You aren’t moving my feet dude.” However, Chaco is 17.1 hands. He really puffed up when he moved forward, so I’m sure he was even taller for that short amount of time. Harley may not be tall, but he is a wide Quarter Horse. We became a wall made of horses that even the bull decided he didn’t want to mess with, and off he went! He trotted away from us. I quickly patted Chaco’s neck and Harley’s. I’m over the moon proud! Thoroughbreds can do anything, and Harley, who is expected to chase off cows but doesn’t like to, was so brave.
We then make the turn for the truck, and I see that the bull wasn’t protecting one calf. He was protecting ten or twelve and three cows. One of the cows was almost as big as the bull. Chaco and Harley come to a dead stop. There is no way for me to get them to the truck, because my truck is surrounded by all of them. They are probably wondering why in the world they are still on the forest during hunting season and want to get a ride the heck out of there. Usually, they are off by now.
And then the bull emerges to join them.
“Okay, Chaco, I have a plan. You and Harley, please work with me.” I then loop them around to the left where the cows aren’t. I hear a truck heading up the road towards us as I ride my boys along the road’s edge and then I loop back to my truck, and we gently push all of the cows and bull back into the forest keeping them safe from the big truck that barrels down the road.
However, one youngin’ remains staring us down as I hop off. Chaco is feeling good. Harley is wondering where his hay is. I quickly unsaddle Chaco and load them both up before everyone returns. The kid stands there as if to say, “I will be in the NFR one day. You watch.” He has no fear of me at all.
I get in my truck and drive off with the kid watching us as we leave.