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Mrs. M wrote this story just for fun years ago. It is the true story of my adventure on a wild-like horse. So, set your time machine back to the mid-1980s and have a good laugh. It was not funny at the time. Oh no, my friends, not at all. This would never happen to Andi!
Sun Lakes Horseback Riding
“Of course I can ride well enough. It’ll be fun,” I told my younger sister as we scanned the prices of the various trail rides offered at Sun Lakes State Park. The memory of the trail ride the day before burned fresh in my mind—my five-year-old son crowded in the front of my saddle, the horses nose-to-rear-end the entire half-hour, and a pace that would make a tortoise look fast. I had no desire to repeat such an experience. The description of the advanced trail ride looked more like the kind of adventure I wanted. “Well,” Holly shrugged, “if you’re sure.”
“You bet I am,” I assured her, and together we entered the office.
“I hope this horse can gallop,” I commented to Holly as we mounted up, “He looks just like one of the slowpokes from yesterday.”
“His name is Tornado.” Our teen-aged guide spoke up from behind. He was grinning. “You ready?”
“Yes.” I looked around. “My sister and I are the only ones going on this trail ride?”
“Looks that way.” He held out his hand. “I’m John Speck, your trail guide.”
“Nice to meet you.”
John urged his horse into the lead position, and we were on our way. The horseback ride was everything I’d hoped for. The evening air was cool and fresh, and the sun hung like an orange ball behind us as we explored the sagebrush trails between the lakes of the dry falls area of Eastern Washington. The horse galloped when I said so and slowed down on command. Holly and I chatted with our guide and learned more about the Grand Coulee than we knew before we came.
Suddenly, a sound straight out of an old western movie interrupted our conversation. “Is that what I think it is?” I asked as we brought the horses to a standstill.
John grinned and dismounted. “Yeah. It’s a rattlesnake. There’s a bounty on these things, y’know.” He reached for an old branch and began to hunt for the snake, making a wide circle g around the clumps of gray-green sage brush.
I pulled both legs out of the stirrups and sat cross-legged on my saddle. After all, I had no clue how far a rattlesnake could strike. “What are you doing?” I asked our guide.
“I want the bounty on this snake.” The guide began striking at something out of sight behind the brush. He soon emerged victorious, the snake suspended from his raised hand. “It’s just a small one,” he explained. My fear turned to fascination at the sight of the dead reptile. I ventured a question. “Do you suppose I . . . uh . . . could have the rattle?”
“No problem.” With a swipe of his knife, our guide sliced the rattle from the rest of the luckless snake and thrust it into my out-stretched hand. I didn’t ask what the sticky, brownish stuff was on the edge of the rattle. I knew. It was snake blood.
I shoved it into the pocket of my white jeans. “Thanks.”
Holly stared at me, speechless. We resumed our ride. I was caught up in the adventure of it all. I couldn’t wait to show the rattle to my husband and children when we returned. So far, the ride had been worth every bit of the ten dollars we had paid for the one-hour trip. I felt confident the trip would become a pleasant memory for many years.
The hard, wide rocky trail turned into a narrow path as we began the return trip to the stables. We had followed a huge loop, and the trail now took us downhill into an area covered with the accumulation of ages of loess—the fine, eastern Washington dust that puffed up as each hoof of my horse touched the ground. “We usually gallop some here,” John remarked over his shoulder.
“Sure,” Holly and I agreed. So far, the galloping had been the fun part. Without another word, our guide broke into a gallop. My horse shot off behind him without so much as a “by your leave” from me, his rider. Ol’ Tornado clearly knew this was the “galloping” part of the trail—the home stretch.
It took me all of fifteen seconds to realize this gallop was nothing like the others. The guide’s horse ahead of me had raised a cloud of dust so thick that I could see nothing—not our guide, not the trail under my feet. Nothing. I was surrounded by a shroud of dirt that blinded me completely and utterly. Panic crept in. “Enough of this,” I mumbled, still marginally in control of my emotions. I pulled back on the reins, wanting only to slow down until the dust settled. I wasn’t excited about riding down a trail that I could not see the end of. I knew Holly was close behind me and probably just as blind as I was. Probably just as scared.
The moment I pulled on the reins and nothing happened was the moment I knew I was far from any definition of an experienced rider. The horse tore along the invisible trail at a breakneck pace. “Whoa!” I yanked back on the reins as though my arms would break, but Tornado would have none of it. He knew he was almost home, and no rider-for-hire was going to get in his way. My panic rose, but I knew terror was not one of my options. Neither was jumping off. So, I hung on and prayed to God this horse knew where he was going. I could not see past the horse’s head. How could Tornado possibly stay on a trail so narrow and full of winding curves?
A sudden lurch jerked me around and nearly threw me from the saddle. For a moment I thought my ride—and my life—was over. Tornado stumbled and began to plunge to the left. I knew we were going down . . . down into the rocks and sagebrush which bordered the trail. There was not a thing I could do about it. I hung on, wondering in those brief seconds how it must feel to have a horse fall on top of you.
Miraculously, Tornado recovered his footing before gravity made it impossible to do so, and we were on our way again. “I thought you were a goner!” I heard my sister holler from behind. I didn’t dare turn around to acknowledge her presence. I gave up trying to reason with this wild beast disguised as a plain-looking horse, so I closed my eyes and hung on, and let Tornado have his head, for better or for worse. Fine loess filled my nostrils, my mouth, my ears, and my hair. By now, I was so drained from my near tragedy that I didn’t care where we ended up.
Less than a minute later (although it felt longer than that), we emerged from the cloud of dust and found ourselves on a small rise not more than fifty hundred yards from the stables. Old Tornado had known where he was going all along. He slowed to a quiet walk. John waved a greeting. “Fell a little behind, huh?”
“I guess,” I replied evenly and dismounted. Never was I happier to get off a horse than at that moment. I looked at Holly then down at myself. We were both covered with dust from head to toe.
John walked over. “It gets a little dusty around here this season, especially when we don’t get enough rain.” He nodded at us and turned to go. “Good night, ladies. I hope you enjoyed your ride.”
Enjoyed? Perhaps. Remembered? Definitely. It’s been over ten years, and I still have the snake’s rattle to recall the incident whenever I feel adventurous. Oh, by the way, a few years later, we returned to Sun Lakes with out two younger sons. Ryan (Cory on the cover of Trouble with Treasure), was about eleven years old and wanted to ride the horses. I knew which trail ride I would be choosing. But sadly, when we returned to Sun Lakes, the horses for trail riding were no longer available. So we spent the week in the lake playing with the cousins.