Spooky Trails, Anyone?


    Maybe because it’s nearly Halloween, but I’m increasingly aware that there are spooky trails… and then there are really spooky trails. When I was a kid we rode our horses through an undeveloped area of the coastline known as the Back Bay. During high tide lazy pools of saltwater would wash over the landscape, leaving only a berm of earth exposed. It was the only path from one side of the shallow canyon to the other. My friends and I would gallop across the bridge of dirt, unconcerned with the dark, brackish water on either side. Sometimes it was a contest to see who reached the other side first. We’d gallop our horses like Thoroughbreds, and send sea gulls blossoming skyward in our wake. We’d reach the shoreline and trot across the wet sand, our horses’ hooves thumping on the wet, silvery beach. Then we’d head back to the barn through the hills, barren except for thickets of chaparral and scrubby grasses. I used to think that was a wild adventure on horseback, that our mounts were truly bombproof. Now I realize that most horses are dependable on trails that wind their way through open countryside. But trails that expose a horse to the sights and sounds of suburban streets? That requires a whole ‘nuther kind of horsey.

    I’m fortunate that Wally is a macho dude of a gelding. Oh, he’ll prick his ears and breathe heavily at times, but if I squeeze with my legs and coax him forward with my voice he’ll usually move along with nothing more than a puffy arch to his neck. That’s a good thing, because I never know what I’m going to encounter. Sometimes it’s an abandoned piece of furniture (like a stained and slowly decaying sofa) left alongside the road on trash day. Or maybe it’s a calculating pack of dogs lurking in a front yard. Navigating the bridle paths on Sundays presents an additional challenge. Plastic wrapped newspapers, thickened with weekend advertisements, dot the trails. Wally and I are forced to either slalom around them in loop-de-loops or leap over them like cavaletti.

    Added to these distractions of modern day living are the animals that cohabitate with horses in my town. Once in a while I feel like I’m riding through a zoo. Without much effort I can encounter peacocks, bison and cattle, emus, pigs, llamas and… a camel. Yes, that’s right. A camel lives in our town. His name is Burt. And he’s very big and, according to Wally, he smells really bad, too.

    Burt the Camel

    Boo! If that didn’t spook you there’s always Burt the neighborhood camel lurking around the corner. Fortunately his owner, Nancy, is not into scaring horses.

    I try to avoid Burt. Wally can’t quite get a grip on Burt so whenever I see him coming in my direction I expeditiously turn Wally around and head in the other direction. Luckily Burt’s owner, Nancy Fite, is extremely courteous. She understands that not all horses are camel-friendly. Ironically, her horse Boomer thinks Burt is the coolest thing on four legs. Nancy ponies Burt off of Boomer, which makes every passer-by to do a double-take. I mean, you’re used to seeing someone pony a colt off a horse. Or maybe pony a pony off a horse. But a camel? Nope. You don’t see that every day.

    Now you understand why riding the trails around here is always interesting. Sometimes it’s even downright spooky!

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