Bare Branches

By Janet K. Brennan aka jb stillwater

Pager was not just an ordinary Quarter horse; she was my Quarter horse, at least for the afternoon. It would be my first time upon a horse's back. I was visiting my sister, Pat who lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, not far from Lake Tahoe. She wanted me to see the spectacular scenery of her area and felt that the only way to truly "experience" it was on the back of a horse. As one can imagine, I was a bit nervous about this new endeavor. However, I had always wanted to learn to ride and Pat and her own horse, Jessie, a black Morab would be the right teachers to shepherd me down the trails that led to the old American River. It would be an adventure!

The trail we had chosen had been stomped upon only the day before by the riders in the Tevis Endurance Race, which had begun at Lake Tahoe and ended in Auburn, California. We would go down to the American River and then back up the other side of the canyon to view the beautiful meandering river from on high. The thought of riding such an historical trail thrilled me to the bones and I could not wait to get started.

Therefore, on a beautiful, late summer, California day, I met Pager for the first time. She was golden beautiful and after eyeballing each other for thirty minutes, we decided the partnership just might work. Immediately, Pager seemed to sense that I was nervous. She was very gentle with me, until.

Only after ten minutes into the trip, we encountered some dead branches of a huge Oak tree that covered the path before us. Not being adept at guiding her around the branches, we plowed through them. Immediately Pager backed away in a fright. She wanted me off of her back and was determined to get her way, tossing me to and fro like a Raggedy Ann doll . To my immediate left was a steep cliff with a drop of at least one-hundred feet. I had to hold on. I had no options. Each time she brought me forward, I stroked her mane and neck and whispered, "Calm down, Pager, it is going to be all right. Shush... Calm down." I could not let go of her neck or I would have been thrown into the precipice. Ever so slowly she regained her composure and stood still with me hanging on for dear life. "I will bring her around the branches," I said

However, oddly enough, Pager had it in her horse-mind to do the same exact thing and off she plowed, directly into the dead overhanging branches. Once again, she backed away and tried to throw me. This time she was far more determined that I would not be sitting upon her back for any length of time. I could only do the same thing that I had done before.

"Pager, please, calm down. It will be all right, shhhh. Once again, she listened to me and slowly lost her fear.

"Don't ride her," said Pat. "She has never behaved this way before. She knows this trail but she is behaving strangely. She may not trust you. Here.let's switch . You ride Jessie and I will ride Pager."

Something inside of me told me that staying just as I was, upon Pager's huge back, was the best thing I could do. Pat jumped from her horse and broke the dead branches from the tree to allow passage that would not frighten my horse. Off we went. We were both a bit edgy; However, as the minutes passed, I began to notice something wonderful. Pager was different, I was different. There was a grand feeling of trust and admiration between the two of us that I could feel deep into my soul.

The ride was a difficult one, down steep and rocky trails, often bordered by precipitous chasms. I quickly learned how to guide her, what language she understood and when she was about to go into a slight gallop. We were friends, we had become one.

My sister had been right about the incredible things that were out there on that trail. We passed abandoned gold mining encampments, crossed into beautiful, golden meadows of the Washoe Indians and climbed to the highest peak of the trail where we could gaze down upon the American River and the hills that were once invaded by the 49's seeking their fortune in gold. The return trip was a beautiful panorama of history unfolding before my eyes and Pager and I traversed the somewhat treacherous trail without incident.

That was the beginning of our love affair. We were fast friends and we both knew it as we gazed into each other's eyes at trail's end. It had been my first time riding, but most certainly not my last. I have written about her in many of my short stories and her picture is mounted on the wall over my desk as a reminder that man and beast can learn from each other, respect one another, and fall in love.

The End

C)opyright 2002-2005 Janet K. Brennan and JB Stillwater, Inc - All Rights Reserved

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