Riding in the mountains is not just an adventure; it’s a job. At least it’s a job for the person riding first in line. Because there be monsters in them thar hills and it’s your job as rider to look out for monsters. Don’t believe there are monsters? Just ask your horse.
Every horse prefers to be in the line, but not be the lead horse, because every horse knows that when you’re in the lead, the monster will get you first! It’s just a fact. Monsters never come from behind. They always get the lead horse and therefore the lead horse needs to be always on alert, filled with energy and a little moxie. Because you never know when the monster will show up.
Just to make things more difficult, there’s a different monster for each horse. For one horse, it’s a large rock. For another, certain types of logs lying close to the trail. A monster could be a squirrel racing along a downed tree, a deer, an odd shape, or a something that a human can’t even see. So you have to know your particular horse’s monster and be on the lookout for it so you can cajole your horse into believing that there is absolutely nothing to worry about because you are capable of taking care of any monster that might be lurking in wait along the trail and that it’s perfectly safe for your horse to go right past and on its way. However, if your horse is second in line (or even farther back), you don’t have to worry. The monster will get the lead horse first, so you can just amble along at whatever speed (or lack thereof) you can get away with. Don’t worry; you’ll have time to run away while the monster’s getting the lead horse.
All this is true. However, there are some things for which the rider in the lead really does need to be on the lookout. Bears, for instance. Several years ago, on our first ride of vacation, Megan and I had just ridden up a steep slope after crossing the creek and were settling into our ride when I looked ahead and saw, about twenty yards in front of us, a brown bear ambling along his trail. The fact that it had been our trail was a moot point as all trail in front of us was now his trail. He glanced back at us casually, secure in the knowledge that we were unlikely to continue farther, and rolled stately onward. I quietly told Megan to turn her horse around and head back down the trail. I followed with alacrity, taking a few quick looks over my shoulder to be sure the bear was continuing on his way. For the rest of the time, when we were anywhere in the vicinity, I kept a sharp lookout for him but fortunately never saw him again.
Although this year we haven’t seen any, moose are usually part of the scenery. Moose, although not necessarily handsome, are very, very athletic. They can run through a forest without ever hitting their considerable rack (the antler kind, please) on any trees. I’ve seen a grown male moose walk up to a chest-high wooden fence and leap it from a standing position. They can run very fast and in the spring, when testosterone runs rampant, the males can be more than a bit belligerent. When there are young, the mothers can be even more belligerent. Quite a few years ago, the girls and I were on our way back from a ride when a little distance ahead in a wide open area were a young moose and its mother. The young moose, filled with curiosity, thought that we were the most interesting things he’d seen all day and that he should come closer to see us better. But every time he moved toward us, the mother moose made menacing moves toward us, too. We eventually had to back track and return by a different trail.
A few people have reported seeing and, in one case, even being shadowed for a distance by a mountain lion. Fortunately, that’s one type of monster I’ve never experienced and I’d like to keep it that way. However, I’m fully on alert at all times for any wild rocks, trees, squirrels, deer, or imaginary monsters that might be lurking, waiting for me and my lead horse to come within range. Or we can just go to the end of the line!