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A Pleasant Ride Takes a Scary Turn, but Cricket Saves the Day

Rodeo is a great arena sport, but not out on the trail with friends.

Something happened in my life with Cricket and I just had to share it with all of you. Cricket, my wild mustang, amazes me all the time. What’s even more amazing to me is that I’ve had her for 8 1/2 years, and she is still full of surprises. I’ve trained her to be a great trail horse as most of you already know, and we’ve been all over Southern California and have had many wonderful experiences, but I have never trained her to deal with a bucking horse, cattle or any of that. 

Just a while ago, Cricket and I were out riding at Santa Ysabel East (look for that area in a future Great Outdoors column) with a good friend and her horse, Casey. Cricket has taken a shine to this beautiful gelding over the years and we joke about him being Cricket’s boyfriend. (I really think he is in her mind.) Her eyes light up every time she sees him like a teenage girl with a crush—it’s really cute. 

On this particular day we went up to Santa Ysabel East, through Julian, just off of Farmers Road and parked at the little staging area. My friend and I saddled our horses, donned our helmets and rode to the gate entrance. The entrance is a U-shaped thing with stepovers, which is a challenging obstacle for some horses and for some reason Casey froze at the gate. It rather resembles a cage or maze of sorts so I can understand what he may have been thinking, and I know that horses don’t like cages.

My friend tried to urge him forward and he just would not budge. It was strange since he never has that reaction to obstacles on the trail and we have been riding together for six years, so I knew it was out of character for him. 

I asked my friend to allow me to take Cricket through first and honestly thought Casey would follow. Cricket is such a trooper when it comes to obstacles and I am very thankful for that, so as we went through the entrance Casey began to follow. He plodded over the metal very clumsily and wouldn’t you know it, he hit a foot on the stepover, balked then jumped backward.

The look on Cricket’s face was priceless and I know she told him, “Are you kidding me? Just come on!” I rode Cricket back to Casey and we tried again, and keeping Casey very, very close to Cricket’s rear end, helped him through the maze of a gate and into the preserve. 

We were having a wonderful ride and it was a beautiful day. Cattle had recently calved so the babies were laying in the shade, they were so cute. We met some nice folks out on the trail too and chatted with the different groups off and on. Then it happened.

As we loped down the trail Casey began to buck. Well, it started out more like this weird hopping from what I could see once I slowed and got next to him. My friend asked me what he was doing. When I answered her he began to buck a little harder. Now mind you we are still riding at a pretty good pace and my friend is getting jostled around pretty hard. She began to slip off the right side.

I told her, “Try to get your left foot out of the stirrup in case you fall off and I’ll try to get in front of him and at least slow him down.”

Riding side-by-side at that point, I sped Cricket up so we could cut Casey off and slow him down, all the while coaching my friend into staying on her horse. She told me, “OK, I have my left foot out, but I think I’m going off.” I replied, “No you’re not. Hang on tight, I’ll get him to stop.”

As she slid more to the right, I turned Cricket right in front of Casey and she got this look on her face that said, “Stop right now!” Casey listened and stopped and it was almost comical because at that moment my friend went plop–onto the ground.

Unharmed she stood up and asked, “What was that all about?”  I told her that the saddle bag had come untied on the right side and was smacking him on the butt, he was just trying to make it stop, but the more he moved and bucked the more it smacked him. 

I felt like a pick-up man in a rodeo for a minute (those are the guys that help the bronc riders get up/off the bucking horse when their ride time is up). I was really proud of Cricket. She is a pretty standoffish mare with other horses. It’s not that she doesn’t like them or is mean to them, she’d just rather keep them all a tail’s length away. She’s not dominant in any way and is so easygoing, but despite her natural instinct she did what I asked and helped me help my friend.

I absolutely love Cricket and I am so grateful that she is part of my life. She has a good mind and a great heart, my perfect horse.

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