A couple of decades ago, my erstwhile sailing buddy and I were having deep philosophical discussion. The dialog had reached a level of profundity that can only be attained through ingestion of copious quantities of ethanol. Embarking on a radical new tangent, Dave suddenly blurted “J Matt, we need more dragons.” This was somewhat confusing, as our lack of dragons didn’t seem to be causing any immediate problems at the moment, but I astutely deducted that, given an opportunity, Dave would have an adequate explanation for this sudden need of which I was unaware.
And, of course, he did have a perfectly logical explanation. “How the hell are you supposed to impress chicks these days, now that there aren’t any more dragons to slay for them? ‘Here, honey, I wrote this cool computer program for you’ just doesn’t work.” I understood his perceived problem, although I wasn’t in complete agreement with his chosen solution. The type of women to whom I usually find myself attracted would probably admire dragons and not be suitably impressed by some oaf slaying one in a senseless display of testosterone.
Sunday brought just enough of a break in the weather to allow a wonderful afternoon of hunting, our first in a couple of weeks, and maybe our last for a while. As many people were justifiably concerned about their horses’ fitness levels (not to mention their own), we started with a small first field which dwindled even more throughout the afternoon as the pace caused some to drop back. Although Crossbo hadn’t been exercised during our extended downtime, he was performing magnificently and wasn’t showing any sign of wanting to quit, so we pushed on all afternoon. (Have I ever mentioned I love my horse?)
The terrain was still muddy enough to cause some problems, more so for wheeled vehicles than quadrupeds. With most fields in the area soggy enough to bog down 4-wheel-drive vehicles, we met at a farm that had a long gravel road for parking. Pulling off the road to turn around was out of the question, so the exit strategy involved a side road and backing up to turn around.
The turn was not a very tight one, so it was a relatively simple maneuver. But one of our group lacked the confidence to try it. This is not an excuse to make jokes about women drivers. Equestrian sports are a great way to eliminate any shred of chauvinism a guy might have, as he finds himself surrounded by women with courage, skill, and stamina. Most of them can back a truck and trailer better than many men, and look a hell of a lot better doing it. So it would be a cheap shot to make fun of one who hasn’t quite mastered that skill, especially since she could ride circles around me, and acheived her own act of heroism later that day.
So, without any snide remarks, I graciously granted her request to turn her rig around for her, explaining that a little bit of Bourbon made the task much easier. As I bid her farewell and returned to my own truck, I was greeted by someone asking if Crossbo was still tacked up, since a horse had gotten loose.
Unfortunately, Crossbo’s tack was already in the truck, and the loose horse was already out of sight. At this point, I suppose a real man would have clipped a lead rope onto the halter, grabbed a lasso, vaulted on bareback, and galloped off in pursuit.
I decided the situation called for a less dramatic and more pragmatic approach, as another loose horse and a down rider certainly wouldn’t simplify matters. So I pulled Crossbo’s saddle out of the truck. The scene did have some dramatic flair, as I had a pair of beautiful blonde sisters helping me tack up and cheering me on.
As Crossbo and I moved into a fast canter, I felt the unfamiliar feeling of the wind gently lifting the visor of my New Holland ball cap, threatening to steal it and reminding me that, in my heroic haste, I had forgotten to don my trusty Charles Owen helmet.
In my invincible youth, I was somewhat lax about cranial protection. But now that I realize that a single hard fall could destroy more brain cells than 4 years of college, I’ve become an every time, every ride fanatic. I even harass friends who eschew the mushroom-head look of safety helmets for those sleek but worthless velvet-covered cardboard caps that provide no more protection than a leaky condom. If I had thought about it before mounting, I would have taken a few extra seconds to put it on. But at this point, retrieving it would ruin the drama. John Wayne wouldn’t turn back to get a stinking helmet. If anybody criticized my hypocrisy, I could honestly say I forgot. I pulled the cap farther down to avoid losing it, and kicked on.
I caught up with the horse’s owner, who was futilely pursuing on foot, and got the news that she had lost sight of him and had no clue where he was. So I forged ahead. When I hit the road, I mentally flipped a coin and headed left.
I realized that there were plenty of opportunities for a horse to leave the road and go cross-country. But I decided to stay on the road for a while, and maybe I’d get lucky without needing to rely on questionable tracking skills. Scouting reports might be available from oncoming vehicular traffic.
That decision was soon rewarded. Just as I was thinking I should at least look for borium scars on the road, I spotted the promising sign of a small traffic jam, with a couple of vehicles and a horse trailer. As I approached, I saw the rig that I had gallantly turned around not long ago. Its beautiful owner was standing in the middle of the road, looking even more beautiful as she was holding on to the wayward horse, saying “I was just driving along and said ‘Holy Shit! There’s a horse!'”.
As I took custody of the escapee, and headed back towards where I had left his owner, I contemplated Dave’s depressing dearth of dragons. “Here, honey, I turned your truck around” was still somewhat bland. But “Here, honey, I caught your horse” could be a winner. A fire-breathing dragon is a mere novelty compared to the terror of having your horse running loose on the road.
Being honest, I confessed that the credit for actually catching the runaway belonged to someone else, and I just played a supporting role in his return. But I was still rewarded with a beer, and effusive words of gratitude, for my efforts. And no dragon had to give his life to provide me with my moment of cheap glory. Maybe it would still be fun to have more dragons around, but just to admire, not to slay. As long as we have horses to save, there’s no need for dragons to slay.