The Creek

Some of you may be aware that Madeline has issues. Among her challenges are her fear of hardwood flooring, her fear of all things wet and her fear of the driveway. Her fear of the sliding glass door and her food dish are intermittent, so we continue to work with those, all the while hoping that she'll conquer at least a couple of her fears. Naturally, I didn't know of these issues when I brought her home. But in truth, I find them endearing... and slightly humorous. That wasn't always so. My first animal with issues was one of my horses and I was less than pleased when he acted out...

Living in Alaska, I already had my first horse Rascal, who in spite of my girlish dreams, did not gaze at me adoringly each morning. He did tolerate me however and we had an understanding. I could do anything I wanted with him in return for a consistent supply of treats. Rascal and I were tight, I could (and did) ride him with nothing more than a grip on his mane. My father was guiding part time then and used Rascal as a guide horse, working with another guide that had a string of horses. Deciding he needed a second horse made my heart sing. My father decided to bring a horse up from the lower 48 using the services of someone the other guide knew. They would pick out a good sturdy horse, and bring him up the highway. I began counting the days...

My new horse arrived and I loved him on sight. A bright chestnut, he was very pretty and looked sturdy enough to carry a moose (my dad's criteria). My dad tried him out and pronounce him girl-proof and I began riding him while my brother started off riding Rascal occasionally. I named him Buck although he didn't, he was actually very kid friendly. We did note that Buck had issues with the bridge in front of the cabin. The bridge consisted of four huge logs across the road which then had planks nailed cross-ways over the top. One of the planks was missing and thus you could look down between the logs and see the creek about 6 feet underneath the bridge. The other horses just stepped over it. Buck was becoming more and more stubborn about "the gap". We also noted that while the other horses would walk down to the creek to drink, Buck acted like the creek was full of rattlesnakes and would approach it crouching with nostrils flared and ready to spook at the slightest noise. At the time, we wrote it off as being a new environment for him.

One day, my brother and I were riding in area that we rarely explored. Going further required permission and my brother, on Rascal, volunteered to ride back to the cabin to ask my dad. It was a warm day and I sat on Buck and listened to the buzz of insects. Occasionally in Alaska there's an abnormally large amount of yellow jackets that make it through the winter. They burrow into the moss and tundra and hang out until spring time. This had been a great year for them and we had tons of nests about the cabin. We also had a nest of yellow jackets in our outhouse and I'd already been stung once walking through the woods to get the horses... I'd stepped on a nest of them! So I listened to the buzz to see if it was getting louder, indicating we might be near a nest, but it was just a steady drone.

Suddenly, Buck threw his head up and looked around as though he'd just realized he'd been left alone in the wilderness without Rascal. I was just getting him calmed down, when apparently his snorting and dancing attracted the attention of the neighbors and he got stung. Buck then did an extremely good imitation of Secretariat and we were off to the races. I quickly realized that although I couldn't get him to stop, I knew his destination (the cabin) and he wasn't bucking. In fact, as I talked to him, he appeared to be less frantic although he continued to run. Coming down the last hill toward the cabin, he allowed me to steer him toward the middle of the trail. As we came to the bottom the hill, I had the sudden realization that when we rounded the final curve, the only thing between us and the cabin was the bridge... complete with "the gap". My only hope was that he was going to fast to react and that he'd go right over it.

We came off the curve, and Buck had about 4 good strides to the bridge. He saw the bridge on the first stride. In spite of my directing him straight ahead, he used the next three strides to veer away from it and down into the willow sticks... in front of the creek. I was horrified as I had no idea what he would do when he hit the water at the speed he was going. I quickly found out. Buck's second stride through the creek was an attempt to walk on water. He arched his back like a cat, and crow hopped through the water, attempting to spend as much time in the air as possible. His splashes were enormous as in the course of trying to stay dry in the middle of the creek, he thoroughly soaked both of us.

When we finally made it out the other side, my dad was laughing hysterically as the soaked horse and rider staggering up to the cabin. Buck's legs were shaking violently and he looked like he wanted to lay down and die.

We found out later that laying down and dying was part of his solution to water. My father had him out on a moose hunt with a half a moose on his back. As he tells it, Buck came to a point in the trail which although currently dry, may have contained water during the Pleistocene period. Buck lay down and prepared himself for death rather than walk across the dry gully. My dad said he and the other guide got the moose off him and tried everything fromthe grain bucket to tying him to another horse to get him up. They finally had to beat him soundly until Buck realized he probably would die there and he got back to his feet allowed them to load the half a moose back on him and carried on as though nothing had happened. He was a very unique horse.

So although Madeline's issues are legion, living with Buck more than prepared me to deal with a quirky Chihuahua!

The creek

PS - When we left Alaska, we gave Buck to a children's home. Last I saw he had about 4 eight year old boys crawling on him and was deleriously happy!