Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Great Escape PART TWO

(If you missed part one, you can read it here)
Photo: does this look like a guy that would pass up a decent patch of grass?

So, as I was saying in the last post, the horses were nowhere to be seen.

Sharon looked around and said out loud what I didn't want to say.

"We'll never find them in this."

There was no question she was right. Thick Hill Country scrub, visibility 20 feet in most places. There was no way we were going to find them in this kind of woods, not to mention we stood a very good chance of getting lost ourselves.

She kept walking along the power line and I headed back to the truck to go to the ranger station.
"Did you find them?" asked the woman at the entrance.

"No," I said. "We're going to need some help."

She nodded, and said they were gathering up some additional help. She told me about the guy in the parking lot that could have caught them right then and there and I tried not to go out and strangle the guy. Good thing her description was vague. I pulled the truck and trailer over to wait in the parking lot.

Sharon came back to the truck and said the second thing I didn't want to say out loud. "Girl, we know better than that. What were we thinking?"

Thinking? Maybe that they'd be sensible little horsies and just eat, for goodness sake. This is what happens when you are used to training dogs. No halfway decent dog would ever, ever leave a perfectly good steak dinner just to run loose for the heck of it.

But, as I should know by now, horses are so not like dogs.

Yes, it was clear. Sharon and I had channeled Lucy and Ethel, western style. Thank goodness Ricky and Fred (aka her spouse and mine) weren't around to witness it all.

We hooked up with the man who seemed to be the chief ranger for the park and he lead another ranger and myself back to the gate while Sharon tried to buy something cold from the park machine.

As is my nature, I calmed my panic with small talk and a little 'please tell me I'm not the only idiot you've had to deal with' spiel.

"So," I said, attempting to sound casual, "has this happened before?"

"Once since I've been here," he said. "A woman was riding a pretty green horse. She was thrown and the horse took off. We had to find him."

I was relieved. It had happened before, and I knew Rangers moved around a bit. He'd probably only been here a year or two. Then, like an idiot, I asked the next question. "Really? How long have you worked here?"

"Six years."

Great. Just great. I should have stopped when I thought I was ahead.

His theory was that the horses were probably following the fence line, by passing pasture after pasture searching for... well, a barn, I imagined.

"Horses are like water," said the Ranger. "They pick the spot of least resistance."

Sounded like a plan to me.

We met back up with Sharon, who was walking back along the power line (which is regularly cleared of trees and shrubs), and a second ranger who had driven down the same area in hopes of cutting off the horses before they got that far. We looked around and just past the spot where the truck had been, I spotted something odd. Flattened grass in a long narrow strip heading for the fence line.

It looked like someone had dragged something long and thin over that grass. Like a lead rope. Or two.

Now we had a trail we could follow.

For the next hour (I think it was an hour, who knows) we were like some sort of CSI meets Tonto TV show, finding broken branches, marks on rocks, knocked over cacti, and even horse manure, hot on their trail. At one point I asked how big the park was.

"Oh, about 4,000 acres."

"Wow." I said in a sort of squeak of despair. 4,000 acres of rock, cactus and scrub. These horses had trotted through all of this brush and rock, the same terrain that we'd spent two hours earlier in the day gingerly trying to lead them around ON A TRAIL. Now they were apparently barreling through it like it was a golf course.

"I swear," Sharon said, "I'm not worrying about them walking on rocks ever again."

We followed the fence line, which, thank god, was nicely maintained by the ranch next to the park. The entire time we are praying that we'll find them. But somehow I've gotten caught up in the excitement. And it kepts getting funnier to me, for some reason. Sure I'm terrified that they are going to be hurt, but something about the calm attitude of the Rangers helping us, the hike through real wild country (I'm a stick-to-the-rules-and-the-trail kind of hiker), and the fact that we seem to be actually able to track them, I'm gung ho.

We turn a corner and suddenly there they are. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of horses. They are looking at us like "Boy, are we glad you found us. Where the heck have you been?"

I'd been so worried that they'd bolt again when they saw us, that I'd brought some horse cookies, which are generally my 'wash rack only' treat. But both horses looked so relieved, I think they would have given US the horse cookies and all the grass we could eat if we just promised to get them out of there.

Canyon was missing his rope halter and lead rope completely (now I have an excuse to get that cool yacht rope one I've always wanted), so I took off the lead rope from Woody and made it into a temporary halter. Then Sharon and I and the rangers began the l-o-n-g walk back to the trail head. During the hike, even the rangers got a little turned around.

I was particularly concerned when they were using a vulture to signal our position. It was a long, long walk. During that time, I learned that one Ranger used to be in telecommunications before realizing he wasn't happy and joined the park service. We got a bit of a nature lesson on lace cactus (while Sharon was ready to kill me. Did I mention my small talk thing?) and persimmons.

They say you should, on occassion, just walk your horse for bonding purposes. If that's the case, then Canyon should have felt superglued to me by that point. I felt like we were leading a pair of first graders back from the principal's office. They were relieved, bewildered, and happy to be with us, no matter what trouble they'd gotten into.

When we'd made it back to the truck (maybe two hours since the initial horse departure), both horses practically leaped into the trailer, didn't take a bite of hay and seemed to be pretty ... well, embarrassed, actually. You know, it's like when you talk big about all the fun you're going to have when you're a teenager, how you are going to stay up all night and toast the sunrise, then wake up realizing there's drool on your pillow and you must have crashed about 10:30 pm.

After profusely thanking the rangers (photographed here with one crazy gelding, Sharon's in the background thinking of how we're going to tell Rudy about all this), we drove back, relieved that no one got hurt, and laughed so hard at how dumb we'd been that I had tears streaming down my face.

Besides learning that you tie your darn horse, period, I did learn another important lesson, one I really need for this stage in my life. You see, we've had a lot of stress with our business lately. Things have looked pretty bleak and we've got some hurdles to clear.

But you know what? You can't give up when it looks impossible. You have to be willing to go and ask for help. As a woman who has been used to handling things independently quite often (by my own choice, not because I'm forced to), it's a good life lesson for me to learn.

I'll be calling the Park tomorrow to get their email address and the names of the Rangers who were so good to us. I'll tell you one thing. I'm sure glad I bought that park pass. Those folks were really well worth it!

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