This is the saga of Legend, the flying horse. We lived in Auburn, California in the mid-1960s, and involved ourselves with the Tevis Cup One Hundred Mile ride group. Joanne and I had both done the ride and we wanted to keep our horses in condition. On weekends would take twenty-, thirty-, forty-mile pleasure rides. In the spring we took these occasions to clear and remark the trails after the harsh winter months.
That's what we were doing one day when we found ourselves on a steep hillside. Usually when I tell this story, it’s a cliff. But the slope wasn’t ninety degrees, it was more like seventy. It was certainly too steep for ballroom dancing. The slope had a few oak trees growing on it, but you couldn’t see their sides, only their tops.
Wendell Robie was the guiding light for the Tevis Cup ride and, as I stop to think of it, figured in several of our misadventures. He was in the lead, followed by Joanne on her horse, Country Girl, followed by me on Legend. We came upon a pine tree that had fallen over during the winter rains leaving its rootside uphill of the trail and the topside dangling out into the air. Wendell rode around the obstacle. A horse is perfectly capable of negotiating a seventy degree slope if the rider just gets out of his way and lets him do it. Joanne didn’t want to go around the tree, she wanted to jump it. And jump it she did.
Legend got ready to jump the tree from a standstill, but I didn’t want her to. I wanted her to go around the obstacle, not over it. I pulled back on the reins and turned her out facing the slope. I figured we would go off the trail and down the slope, around the tree and up the slope, the way Wendell had done. I had forgotten my earlier jumping lessons at the Arroyo Seco Stables in South Pasadena. I had forgotten that to Legend could and would jump from a standstill.
She did jump from a standstill.
I wish you could have seen the look of amazement on legend's face when she saw nothing but air beneath her feet instead of firm ground. I saw it, and I wish you had been there instead of me. As soon as I realized we were airborne, I let go of the reins, kicked my feet clear of the stirrups and tried to abandon ship. But the higher I went, the higher she went. My ship wouldn’t let me abandon her. I don’t know what she thought I was going to do, but she clearly expected me to save us.
Fortunately, we landed in the top of an oak tree where we parted company. If we had augured into the ground I wouldn’t be writing this story now. We filtered through the tree and fell to earth, taking branches with us, and landed one on each side of the trunk.
Joanne tells me I was knocked unconscious, but that isn't true. I was merely laying face down wiggling fingers and toes, rejoicing in the movement of each digit. It took a while. After all, there are twenty of them. Legend had a scrape above her left eye and I didn’t get a scratch, although some years later a chiropractor looked at an x-ray and asked me about my whiplash.
The rest of the crew continued with clearing the trail, but Joanne and I repaired to a sandy beach on the river and fished what was left of our lunch out of the saddle bags. Our friends said that if I’d do it again they’d bring a cameraman along and do a cigarette commercial. Then we could all split the money. I have such good friends.
Meanwhile, I learned two important lessons. One: horses can’t fly. Two: I can’t either.
Copyright Ken Harris 2009