Take One Loose Horse, Add Traffic

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    What would you do if you saw a loose horse galloping down the middle of a busy street? This isn’t a hypothetical question from an equestrian game show. It’s a question I had to ask myself last weekend.

    Sunday morning, around 8:30, I was heading to a nearby park to judge a small horse show. As you know by reading my blog, I live in a horsekeeping town just inland from the coastal cities. Bridle paths meander alongside roadways and there are hitching posts outside hamburger joints and tack stores. So when I cruised up the main street in town, toward the freeway onramp, I wasn’t all that surprised to see a horse trotting a few feet from my truck. Until I realized it was riderless.

    In a few seconds the horse leapt off the bridle path and began trotting like a Standardbred in the street, parallel to the traffic. I pulled my truck to the curb, along with a few other drivers. But amazingly (or not, considering the mindset of drivers in Southern California) most people just kept on their merry way, barely slowing down. Few gave any leeway to the horse.

    As I trailed slowly behind the horse—a ragamuffin little bay gelding decked out in tack pieced together from mismatched parts—I asked myself, “What should I do?”

    I wanted to run out into the traffic myself, arms outstretched and tell everyone, “Just stop!”

    The traffic was, from the horse’s point of view, herding it. That famed fight or flight instinct was propelling the horse further down the street, toward the busy intersection dissected by freeway on-and-off ramps. I figured at any moment the horse would alter its course and dart directly into the path of a car or truck.

    Yet the cars and trucks kept coming, mostly at or above the 35 mph speed limit. That’s when the horse broke into a gallop. I drove along slowly, hoping and praying he’d pause for a rest in the parking lot of the neighborhood grocery store. I had Wally’s bridle in the backseat. I hatched this impromptu plan where I’d corral the horse between parked cars and then loop the reins over his neck to catch him. But that plan never came to fruition because the horse suddenly veered into the center lane. He looked determined to cross over into oncoming traffic.

    Was I going to see a horse get slaughtered on the street right in front of me?

    Just when I wasn’t sure whether to close my eyes or run out into the traffic myself, a silver pickup truck came blasting past me. A young woman was driving and a heavy-set man was in the bed of the pickup, standing up and leaning over the edge of the truck bed. They drove furiously, weaving through traffic. They caught up to the galloping horse, shadowing its every move. Now they, too, were careening into oncoming traffic, crossing over lines and stripes in the asphalt.

    Would the horse spook, slip and skid on the street? Would the man fall out of the back of the truck and get run over? Would the galloping horse swerve and run into the path of another vehicle?

    Nope. Like a scene from a blockbuster movie, the silver truck pulled alongside the frantic bay. Then the man, teetering over the rim of the truck bed, reached out and grabbed the dangling end of a broken rein. Once he had a hold of the strap of leather, he began to pull the horse to a trot, and the truck’s driver slowed down. Within a few moments, the horse and truck came to a stop in the middle of the thoroughfare. The man hopped out, gave the horse a pat on the neck, and led him across the street back to the horse trail.

    I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. I’ve seen a lot of things throughout my life with horses. But never have I come so close to witnessing a tragic accident, only to have it averted by a “Mission: Impossible” stunt.

    I don’t know anything more about the horse or how it came to be galloping loose on the busiest street in town. I’m not sure whether it was the unseated rider or a Good Samaritan who played the Hollywood cowboy and saved it. But it certainly gave me something to think about during my day judging the show. What would I do the next time I saw a loose horse galloping down the middle of a busy street?

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    9 COMMENTS

    1. What a story! I’m so glad it ended well.
      I’ve posted responses to your articles before, and I too am in So Cal. One of the towns in which I work is a small horse community – and we’ve had more than our fair share of loose horses running down busy roads. I’ve managed to catch a couple, but some run past so quick that even if I’m mounted, I can’t safely catch up. Though sad to say most of the loose horses I’ve seen weren’t loose because of a fall, but from people who tie horses to unsafe objects or are trying to pony horses unsafely.

    2. Nothing scares me more than seeing a loose horse running near a road. People today are on cell phones or texting and wouldn’t notice the horse anyways until they hit it. Glad you saw a happy ending.

    3. YES, I’M GLAD THIS EPISODE ENDED WELL, TOO, BECAUSE ONE OF MY TRAIL RIDING FRIENDS ACTUALLY SAW A LOOSE HORSE GET HIT AND KILLED ON THE VERY SAME STREET A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO.
      YOU’RE QUITE RIGHT, SAMANTHA, THAT MOST LOOSE HORSES IN OUR TOWN OCCUR BECAUSE SOMEONE WAS EITHER PONYING WITH A PLAIN, SIMPLE ROPE HALTER (NOT A GOOD SAFETY IDEA AROUND BUSY STREETS, REGARDLESS OF HOW DEAD BROKE YOUR HORSE IS) OR THEY TIED THEIR HORSE INADEQUATELY TO THE HITCHING POST OUTSIDE THE LOCAL EATERY OR “SALOON.”
      ONE BRIEF, MOMENTARY LAPSE OF JUDGEMENT CAN END SO TRAGICALLY WHEN HORSES ARE INVOLVED.

    4. scary! A year or so ago my mare freaked, dumping me, and jumped out of the arena then ran out of the ranch on to the high way (people going 45/55 mph) at a full gallop straight towards town, it was probably one of the scariest moments of my life as images of her colliding into a car entered my mind, I couldnt drive at the time so I just sat there waiting, and about a half hour later I saw the people who went after her had caught up were leading her back. Amazingly, all she suffered was a lost shoe, some little injuries from the asphalt and falling when she jumped the arena, and my tack wasnt in all that great a shape (the saddle had come loose and went under her belly) but I was still happy with the outcome, especially when I think about how bad that could have been.

    5. My friend used to have a pony that used to hunt before she bought him. They lived on a farm and he stayed in a field near some woods. One day a local hunt club passed through the field next to him at full speed with the hounds going crazy. They weren’t aloud on the property but for some reason passed through anyway. Oscar got really excited and jumped out of the field, went galloping down the road and almost got hit by a sports car but at the last second he jumped the hood and left two big hoofprints behind! All the kids were in school but would be released 5 minutes later. There was a construction site about a mile away from his field and luckily one of the guys had horses. He walked out in front of him and caught him then got some rope and made a halter. Luckily noone or the horse were hurt but it was rather scary to hear about the next day!

    6. when my mom was girl,she had tons of horses.Every day when she would come one would be gone.they lived near a highway and the horses would get out and get hit.

    7. I APPRECIATE ALL THE THOUGHTFUL COMMENTS. SOUNDS LIKE WE’VE ALL LEARNED THAT HORSES AND TRAFFIC DON’T MIX, HOWEVER, IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO CONTAIN A HORSE THAT REALLY WANTS TO GET LOOSE AND “GO FOR A DRIVE” ON ITS OWN. THAT’S WHY WE HAVE TO DO OUR BEST TO CONSTRUCT SECURE FENCING AND SHUT EVERY GATE, EVERY TIME.
      I THINK THE MOST TROUBLING ASPECT OF THIS PARTICULAR EPISODE WAS THAT NOT A SINGLE DRIVER ON THIS FOUR-LANE STREET, WHICH IS A MAJOR THOROUGHFARE IN TOWN, BOTHERED TO STOP OR AT LEAST SLOW WAY DOWN.

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