The horse knows the way
By Jeanne Arnold
Because of my extra time wrapped in a blanket hearing New Age music at the Osmosis Enzyme Bath and Massage spa, I was behind schedule more than I planned. The healing relaxation of my body and mind turned to stress when I jumped in my rented Neon, drove up Bohemian Way through Occidental and on to Guerneville to arrive in time for a ride on a gentle horse on level trails past huge redwood trees in the Armstrong Redwoods State Preserve.
I would have preferred a leisurely drive to reflect on my Osmosis experience. Instead, I was more like a Pony Express rider on Neon, stopping quickly to buy a pastry-wrapped hot dog heated in thirty seconds by a Bohemian Way butcher. I ate while driving, drinking Bloody Mary mix, sans vodka, while chewing. The juice was the only beverage I could find during my rush for sustenance before I turned off a Guerneville street and entered the preserve.
I regretted scheduling two major events in one day, but when I called the horse person to reserve a time, this was the only open slot.
In this forest, my humble little Neon wound her way around redwood tree clusters reaching through sunlight beams filtering down to the ground. I wasn’t humble; I felt the sunlight blessing me—Mother Nature’s daughter.
After one wrong turn, I worried again about missing my appointment and in retracing my route, I discovered the faded sign that read the Ayers’ Armstrong Woods Pack Station. Now, bumping around ruts and roots and fallen redwood timbers, I followed a narrow road etched through the forest. Pulling Neon to a halt between an impressive stack of hay bales and a timeworn horse corral, I met a rangy redheaded woman in weathered clothes saddling horses for our 2 to 4:30 ride. I’d made it in time and discovered that “cowboy time” is almost as relaxed as I’d felt fermenting in cedar, rice and enzymes.
Laura, the trail leader, was working alone among two corrals, a horse trailer, a picnic table, four preteen girls, three mothers, an aunt, a young fellow and me—well-massaged and oily, ready for another new experience.
The adventure that the girls and chaperones were to do sounded challenging and fun. They’d follow the trail with us on their horses and then leave to ride to the top of a mountain and sleep overnight in tepees.
I was paired up with Sam, my horse. First we learned how to communicate with our horses. My now relaxed and dyslexic brain needed to relate to left and right and trust that my horse picked up on my fumbled communications. I got pretty confident at it, probably because Sam was a patient teacher during the level path we took through the redwoods.
But Laura quickly turned us and we started winding up slopes. The trail was cut and shaped around trees and down and up and down again. We crossed rocky dry river beds with steep, rough edges scourged by tons of rubble from centuries of flooding that flowed against immovable rocks at the river’s edges.
I grabbed the saddle horn when Sam stepped off the edge into the dry river and my legs gave Sam a big squeeze as my body lurched forward. Then I remembered to pay attention to the reins and to my footing in the stirrups, which I did almost too late, as I pulled myself back on the saddle. I also paid attention to keeping Sam’s mind on his work by not distracting him with any of my suggestions. I didn’t even touch him to pat his smooth shoulder muscles. Sam had a job to do and that was to get us both up and then down the increasingly steeper path that snaked its way over hairpin turns narrower than Sam’s breadth.
Looking down to check on how close Sam’s hoofs were to the edge, I wished I hadn’t. When Sam grew impatient with the horse he followed, he’d give her a nip or two on her rump. She responded on occasion by raising her tail and dropping a few horse apples.
Fortunately we met no other horses coming down the path and we made it to a grassy plateau. I had to ask for help dismounting before I fell off. I was numb from my waist down. We and the horses surely deserved a rest. They munched on green apples Laura gave us to feed them. We got bottled water and, of course, trail mix.
It was peaceful and sunny up there on this flat space listening to Laura answer our questions. She yarned about the area’s history, her life raising her sons and horses and living on the edge of a mountain. Leaving the adventuresome girls and their adults behind, Laura gave me a boost back up on Sam and we started down the path. It was scarier than going up.
Trying to look like I knew what I was doing, Laura shouted, “Tight rein!” I gritted my teeth, dusty from the scuffing from the edge of the path above me with our horses rounding a horseshoe curve. There were turns that had me closing my eyes and trusting that Sam would make it. After all, he does this every day.
Retracing the level path on return gave me the exhilaration and the spiritual redwoods experience I had hoped for. When we returned safely to the corral, I got help to dismount again and thanked Laura and Sam for a most exciting experience—far beyond my expectations.
I picked up a rusty horseshoe with some bent nails for my souvenir. It became a picture frame for a photo with me at Faye and Clare’s farm shoveling horse manure into a smoky bin for in my compost pile at home.
I mounted good old Neon and rode to the settlement singing “Happy trails to you until we meet again . . .” And I thanked my body that she was still healthy, no scrapes nor broken bones, no stiffness—yet.
Next week—Mother Courage & a dream
UNsung Women: the UN-known Herstory History
Submit written nominations about past or present women from Racine/Kenosha whose contributions to the wellbeing of our families, churches, schools, communities and beyond who have not or have been UNder acknowledged.
Four UNsung women nominees will be selected from January through May, 2022
The nominator is asked to provide:
• answers to Who, What, When, Where, How and Why details of your nominee’s herstory in a document or resume format.
• photographs, drawings, illustrations to enhance herstory;
• a reference person or documentation serving as evidence of proof.
Submit your nomination details to <email@example.com> with your name and where you may be reached.
Please do not nominate women who have already been “sung.”