A Kentucky Girl’s Introduction to Small Town Idaho
by Alina Arnold of Moscow, ID
It was a cool, fairly average, October day. After moving to Idaho from Kentucky six months ago, I was finally beginning to get oriented to the change in topography, the weather, the culture, and lifestyle that accompanies a move of 2900 miles. I came from a small (for the east) town and grew up on a farm, but found I had much to learn about the way Westerner’s relate and work. I discovered just how much I had missed on this never-to-be-forgotten fall day.
The hardest change for me to adjust to when I moved to Idaho was the lack of a barn full of horses to greet every morning. Thanks to a very kind couple at church, this need was fulfilled with the use of their herd of Paint Horses. We had recently moved the horses to a high summer pasture on the outskirts of Troy, a small town with a population of just over 900 people, give or take a few horses, cats and dogs.
So it was that fate found me here amid the changing colors of the tamaracks and serviceberry bushes. The pasture is an extremely steep hillside with fences that run through some fairly rugged territory. Since it is always a good idea to check the condition of the fences, I decided to ride the fences before setting out on a back-road. I could also utilize this time to pony a young horse. After riding the fence, I caught a headstrong blue roan mare, saddled, and set out for my ride.
It is my theory that when a ride goes unusually well, there is something wrong. This theory could stem from the fact that I have ridden quite a few young/green horses that have thrown some pretty good tricks. It could also be from past experience of over confidence. Whatever the case, things were going way too well. This blue mare normally had a serious problem with taking the bit in her teeth and making a run for it. Another trick of hers involved experimenting with an unsuspecting crow-hop in the hopes that the rider would be unseated. Today — nothing; no shying at cars, no crow hopping, no running away. Okay, so she did lose a shoe, but that was the farrier’s fault.
I was feeling pretty good as we loped up the hill to the pasture gate. This was one day in which everything was going pretty well! The blue mare did not, as was another of her tricks, try to start into a dead run as I was dismounting. She did not even try to buck the saddle off as I unloosened the cinch. I was so busy complimenting her that I failed to notice a rather ominous fact: none of the other horses were around!
Horses that are used to being in a herd have a few things in common: they do not like being separated, they are jealous when one leaves, and they almost always are at the gate to welcome the leaver home. Knowing this, I should have seen the red flags flying all over that steep, rocky hill. Instead, I merrily plunked my saddle in the back of my car, turned the mare out, locked the gate, and headed down the hill. It was then that I saw what was to turn this day completely upside down: two horses were jauntily trotting down the old railroad bed, straight for busy Highway 8 and Main Street, Troy.
My first reaction was dumb amazement. HOW did they get out, after I had just checked the fences? My second reaction followed a split second later as I realized that no two worse horses could have gotten out. One was a dangerously smart four-year-old mare who had a personal score to settle with human beings (for reasons I am still unable to deduce). The other was a 15-month-old stud colt, completely enamored with this flashy mare and hot on her heels. I grabbed the grain bucket off the passenger seat, snagged a halter and lead rope, and tumbled out the door. The horses were now cautiously peering over the bank that was once the foundation for the old trestle that crossed the highway. I ran for all I was worth with the dim hope of heading them off from the highway. It was useless. The mare, immediately guessing my intentions, plunged down the bank with the stud colt right on her tail. The situation rapidly deteriorated into a real predicament bordering on a crisis as the horses kicked up their heels and ran straight down the middle of the highway. From here, I have no recollection of doing anything in a systematic or logical sequence. I just knew that I had to get those horses off the road and out of the way of the near-constant stream of cars, trucks and RV’s heading out of the mountains after the weekend.
As I sprinted after them, I realized why boots are made for riding and not marathons. I might as well have been pushing water up hill, for the horses were now rapidly approaching downtown Troy and I was getting further and further behind. Right about the time that I was considering the possibilities of a few smashed up cars and horse bones strung all over the road, I heard a honk. My initial reaction was to glare at the driver. Who did he think he was? I wasn’t parading down the road at a dead run because it was fun!
A pickup stopped beside me and a grinning fellow inquired, “Want a ride?” I was too out of breath to respond in a normal manner, so just pointed at the fleeing horses and jumped in the back.
By this time, I began to realize the enormity of the situation. Here were two horses who did not have halters on — who did not want halters on — running down a busy highway, straight into traffic. Another sickening realization was that the hot mare would not let me touch her even if I was able to get close to her. I had been able to handle her only in a round pen, and did so then with caution.
We drove behind the horses, chasing them straight down Main St. until someone from the opposite direction came to the profound realization that if the horses were not headed off, we were likely to end up in either Deary or Kendrick!
When the horses stopped for a breather, and a look at the grill of a new Toyota 4-Runner, I took my chance. I bailed out of the truck as inconspicuously as possible, ran around a stationary motor home, and came face to face with the mare. She saw me, and headed around a pickup loaded with wood, by an amazed convertible driver, over the sidewalk and around the Toyota. I was back at square one. My accomplice-in-chaos, the truck driver, started his engine with a roar. I hopped in the back, and we were off again. I was in a cold sweat now. This was not even remotely funny, even though I saw more then one snicker on the faces of the stalled drivers clogging the highway as we, once again, were in hot pursuit of two very fleet-footed equine.
The next time the horses paused for a breather, I did not even wait for the driver to stop. I bailed out with my bucket and rope and zeroed in on the colt. He was my only chance since he was so distracted by all the commotion that he was not even paying attention to me. I sidled up to him, and snubbed him with the lead rope. He ducked and tried to run, but I was not letting up. I skidded down the pavement for a few feet, before he stopped short at the license plate of a fancy Cadillac. The halter was secured in record time, and I took a brief inventory of my surroundings to determine the quickest way out of this embarrassing situation.
The view was not promising. We were now smack-dab in the middle of Troy, with all four lanes ground to a compete halt. Troy is not a huge metropolis, but it is a major link to the eastern part of northern Idaho, and today was no traffic exception. I had one thing on my side, though — this was a town where people actually knew what a horse looked like! So far, there were no signs of road rage in my direction. Instead, as I took a quick register of the stalled drivers, I saw smiles, curiosity, and knowing looks. And, amazingly enough, it was in this strange situation that I received my official welcome to Idaho.
As I paused to gather my wits and calm the worked-up stud-colt, I heard a voice directed at me from one of the many stopped vehicles. I will never know whom, exactly, it was that put the moment into words, but it could not have been stated more profoundly: “Welcome to downtown Troy,” the driver quipped.
It struck me as funny for just a split second that, indirectly, I was related to this situation that involved someone else’s horses in a town where everyone knew everybody but me, but this humor quickly faded. I had to get all the way back to the pasture with a colt who had been haltered only a few times in his life and a tail-in-the-air mare who was still trotting around, stiff-legged, sniffing the paint jobs of more cars then I liked.
There was only one way back, and that was to exactly retrace the route the horses had taken to get to this very impractical place — right back down the road. I gave the lead rope a good grip, and, head high in the air, set out past the RV’s, the convertible, the Cadillac, the 4-Runner, the pickup with wood, and, now, the police car. This was one time that I was actually glad to see a law enforcement officer. Perhaps now I would get some much-needed help, for, as I saw it, this was definitely a moment that was hazardous to traffic! Until now, most people seemed more busy rolling up their windows than getting out to help one girl catch two energetic horses. My hope for help from the Cop was short lived. I watched in horror as the mare, who was now prancing in front of us strutted right up to the police car.
“Oh man! Can a Cop arrest a horse?” I asked out loud to anyone who was listening. If the truth were known, I would actually have liked for that mare to see some retributive judgment!
Apparently, this mare was only concerned with the condition of the astonished fellow’s uniform, for after a thorough examination through the open window, she tossed her head and continued on down the middle of the road. I was too red to notice anything around me, and my only concern was to get off that road.
Somehow we made it back to the pasture gate, with the snotty mare still in the lead. She knew exactly where to go and whinnied shrilly at the other horses, who were gathered at the gate.
I locked the gate firmly, for the second time, and then exhaled deeply. As I leaned against the gate, the full realization of what had just happened hit me. During the chase, I had managed to bring the traffic on Highway 8 to a complete standstill, had managed to dodge the tires, horns, smirks, and comments of quite a few amazed and distracted drivers and the hooves of two very distracted horses, and I was now somehow BACK at the gate! I felt so embarrassed that I did not want to even show my face again in Troy. Then, I remembered something significant: These people were not upset or frustrated. They were enjoying it! And, above all, had I not received an official welcome to boot? Yeah, this day was going to turn out all right after all!