Look at this sweet mare reclining in the hay! Her whole name is Saved by an Angel, and last week on the trail she lived up to her name.
Four of us went out for a ride on a cool, cloudy afternoon. The sky was gray but the fields and the forest popped with every shade of green. Tiny brown sparrows stayed just ahead of us, bathing in the puddles, and hopping away just in the nick of time.
We were a Japanese haiku come to life in Virginia:
Hey, sparrow! out of the way, Horse is coming. (Kobayahi Issa)
Our horses were two mares and two geldings. We joked about chaperoning their double date. I can’t remember ever having felt so relaxed on a ride – great horses, fun companions, and one of those sweet Virginia breezes that people like to sing about.
I’ve been riding Angel in my lessons since the beginning of the year. She’s a quiet yet responsive a partner who will carry as much of the load as I ask, or let me do all the work if I really want to. The only time I’ve ever known her to fidget or fuss was for just a few seconds in the cross country field a few weeks back. We cantered up a hill, and at the top she stopped and nosed at her left leg repeatedly. It’s so odd for Angel to lose her focus that at first I wondered if she was hurt. Perhaps, we had stepped in a hole. But, after a minute, she settled down and seemed fine on the walk back to the barn. When I untacked her and took her booties off, I found a grasshopper trapped and squirming to get free there in her left boot. So you see, she’s an honest girl, who only complains with good reason and even then not for long.
But, back to the trail ride where Angel turned out to be an angel.
So on our way home, we had to pass through a field surrounded by a pine stand. There were three ways across: tall grass where we couldn’t see the footing, a long, wide uninterrupted mud puddle, or soft sand. I don’t think we talked about which way to go but kind of all silently moved right toward the sand. Angel and I went first.
We took a few steps. The ground gave way and pulled us down. Angel picked up her feet, took a step or two forward, and I felt her back legs sink more. The sand that had looked so promising brought her to her knees. I heard the ground sucking around her and around our friends behind us. I remember hearing horses breathing hard. And, I remember swearing really loud in my mind. Very creative, combo swearing. In my head.
I think I raised up off the saddle a bit. I think I maybe tried to use my legs to help Angel lift, and she did, and then sunk down again to her girth, all four legs buried three feet. So then I wondered if we would get out. Or, if I would stay on. Or, if she would keep on sinking. I wondered what was happening to the horses behind me because I could hear them sinking, too.
I had run out of swear-words. Breathe. Breathe. Let the pony do her thing. Breathe. I said to myself.
Angel launched us out of the earth that had vacuumed us down. And we were free from the mud or sand or quicksand. I can’t say for how long we were stuck.One minute? Two minutes? Not much more than that, I’m sure.
When I replay the memory I only see Angel’s brown ears, her black mane, and the spot on the trail ahead that I wanted us to reach.
When we did reach it, I could feel Angel thinking about bolting for home. I posted to tell her that she didn’t need to halt, but that I didn’t want to canter or gallop. She slowed to a trot, and then we slowed to a walk. I patted her mane and over and over told her what a good pony she was.
There’s more to the story, of course. And, there are seven other versions: three other riders and four horses went through the same obstacle. I wonder how they remember what happened and just how did we all get out: horses safe, people safe.
The answer is that we got home safely because the horses were amazing and because the riders stayed calm. The horses were amazing. And, my Angel pony. My pony was a wonder.