Could you ever imagine
coming face to face with a Mountain Lion? How do you think you would react
and what would you do? These are some of the questions my dear friend and
I pondered one afternoon as we rode by a "Warning: Beware of Mt Lions"
sign planted at the trailhead of our local state park. We live in
California and I have ridden in these hills for more than 20 years and
never had the pleasure/or shall I say displeasure of seeing one of
these large and most feared cats. I've seen lots of Bobcats, Coyotes,
Foxes, Deer and a few other discreet creatures that roam the Santa Monica
Mountain range, but never a Mt Lion.
We all know never say
never... my day came and unfortunately the Mt Lion saw me and my horses before I
ever began to ponder how I should, would or could react. This is a tragic
and horrific story so delete now if you don't think your heart is up to
sustaining a real painful and sad situation.
I was riding alone in a
local park named "Happy Camp". It was a far cry from being 'Happy' on this
particular afternoon. I had recently purchased a 5 year old gelding from
my sister (long rescue story, which makes this whole experience even more
painful). The weather was perfect and the parking lot was empty, which
meant we would have the luxury of enjoying the entire park to ourselves.
I tend to be a loner (when it comes to riding) and just love traversing the
trails and feeling that unity with nature and my awesome horses.
It was Saturday and the
beginning of what I thought would be an extended riding weekend due to the
Memorial Day Holiday. I was riding my mare 'Lola' and ponying this
new guy 'Gitano'. He had become accustomed to joining the two of us on the
trail and in the short time that I owned him, he made tremendous progress.
He was a brave soul, never spooking much, enjoyed the sights and sounds
of which ever path I would choose for the day. He grazed at every
opportunity, loved to drink water and didn't have a problem coming to a sudden
stop to take a pee! He was a perfect gentleman in the trailer and outside
of it and he got along with all my other horses, even Lola the wicked witch
of the west (excuse me the Goddess of the West!!).
Gitano is a Spanish
word for Gypsy and I chose this name for my gelding when I picked him
up in Utah. He had been scheduled to be shipped to the slaughter
house (until my sister interveined). He was a nomad that could not find a
home that would offer stability, food and lots of love (until I came along...
okay first my sister and then me!!). It was a match made in heaven.
I had big dreams for this guy and he was a joy to be around. Everyone
who came to see him when we arrived back home to California, fell in
love with him. He was pure magic.
Okay now is when you should
really hit delete because I guess I have to get to the story that pains me
deeply. We were having an incredible ride, the conditions were perfect,
we had about 6 miles to go and life was beautiful. We were
headed up through the canyon on a fire road type trail that has a
few whoopty-dos but otherwise is generally flat. The terrain is
packed and sandy with very few rocks. It's a glorious pathway that takes
you through Oak tree groves and there is a small stream that runs parallel in
some places. There were lots of bunnies scurrying to prepare for
their bedtime and I even saw two coyotes.
Suddenly, Gitano bolted
from one side to the other wrapping the lead-line around my waist and then
jerking me violently almost out of the saddle. I was surprised by his
sudden fear, but once he felt the pressure on his halter he gave in a little and
he was now trotting sideways in front of my mare Lola. I gently told him
everything was okay and his ears were twitching nervously as if he'd seen a
ghost. Just as I thought I'd have it all under control Lola bolted and the
two of them were off in a full out gallop. Now it's hard to stimulate your
imagination so that you could get the full picture here, because it all happened
so suddenly and as I write about it, I feel like we are in slow motion.
Next thing I know, I am
bouncing off the ground tangled in the lead line and still holding the
reins. I had enough time to envision my life coming to an end. I
knew it was over and I prayed for it sooner than later because I did not want to
be dragged six miles back to the rig, which I knew was exactly where my mare was
headed. Gitano on the other hand was just running for his life and I
figured he'd stay with Lola if they lived long enough to make it back. I
even had time to think about who would find them and how they'd be standing by
the trailer waiting with no food or water. I hadn't set up my hay bag and
a bucket of water during my tack-up prior to the start like I
normally would have.