The Sunday Key

Author Photo
By Renee-Lucie Benoit | May 30, 2014

There she was arse-over-teakettle, as we sometimes say, hanging by her pant leg cuff from the gate post. What could we do but laugh? Her horse was calmly standing there waiting for the shenanigans to end. So far as we could tell only her dignity was in trouble. This was one of the many little “events” that made my trail rides with my old girlfriends so fun and worthy of tall-tales over a cup of coffee at the local constabulary.

For years my friends Abigail and Clara (names changed to protect the innocent) and I had a trail ride every Sunday. Abigail had a key to a section of the local watershed that was off-limits to the public. She had come by this key years ago when she helped the ranchers who leased the land to move their cattle from pasture to pasture. This particular section of forest was set next to a large reservoir and was only open to the ranchers and the forest service. But Abigail had the key and she kept it safe because it allowed us to ride unencumbered of the public with their joggers, baby strollers and any number of things that might make a horse spook and head for the hills. We always rode on Sunday because that was the day we were least likely to come upon a forest service employee. Hence, we called it “The Sunday Key”.

The particular Sunday we had the incident of The Pants we were riding toward the section and we were going through a gate. We all had our horses trained to open gates from horseback so we didn’t have to get down and back up. Clara had worn regular pants that day that had floppy legs and when she went through the gate somehow her pant leg got caught on the gate post. Her lovely mare kept walking and the next thing you know Clara was hanging from the post like a Christmas tree ornament. She wasn’t very happy that we thought it was so funny but once she extricated herself she had a good laugh, too. Whew! Escaped a harrowing situation and lived to tell the tale.

The ride we took was through pine woods next to the reservoir and up through hilly oak savanna grassland. Near the reservoir there were egrets and their aeries. There were also large flocks of pelicans wheeling in precision flight. But mostly there was silence and peace. It was the perfect place to leave the cares of the world behind and to find our center again. We rode on fire roads that were wide and graded dirt that was perfect footing for horses. We could walk our horses or trot and if there was a good place we might take a little hand-gallop up the hill to the pylon where the view was spectacular. From there we could see the undulating hills of the coast range, the reservoir in one direction and the hills going out to the bay in the other. The days were hot and dry and the grass rustled in the breeze as we walked along. Even though the air temperature was hot it was relatively cool under the pine trees. It was the perfect place to discuss and solve the world’s problems from horseback.

(caption: Photo courtesy of Melissa White of Western Trail Rides in Ojai, California)

Once Abigail decided we should go “cross-country”. She was certain that there was an old trail and that she could find it. The next thing we knew we were committed to ducking through overgrown coyote brush to push through to somewhere more amenable. You can back a horse up but not very well especially when you find yourself in brush that is head high and dense.

Another time we learned that the bull in the cattle lease got left behind when they moved the cows out. We decided that we should go find it. We looked up hill, down hill, pillar and post but never found it. Yet, we found superb vistas and cool ravines. It was always worth the adventure.

Now we are all older and we’ve gone in different ways. One of us can’t really ride any more due to physical infirmities. I live far away. Only one of us still rides a lot but she has gone on to a different discipline which has her in an arena most of the time. Yet those days of the Sunday Ride still linger in my mind. They were the best of days and they will only be forgotten when we’re not around to remember them.

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