Riding Through Life with Maggie

maggiehorsehankI almost killed her. She’ll tell you that right up front. She was ten. I was twelve. She was on my horse, Blue. I was in the center, holding onto the lunge line, when Blue took off, running under a tree before I could stop her. Maggie reminds me of this often, laughing aloud as she reminisces.

But then I look at this photo and wonder….and laugh too.

This was at an Equestrian Trails Inc. (ETI) Corral 20 gymkhana. Corral 20 was the site of our first forays into horse shows. Way back when we were kids. We’d rise before dawn, feed our ponies, ride several miles to Hansen Dam and clean them up before our first classes started. This shot is of the arena of our youth, before Hansen Dam Stables was transformed into its present incarnation as the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center. Obviously, we’d aged a bit when this photo was taken sometime in the 1970s or 1980s.

Maggie is my daring-do companion. Trouble finds us often — or we find it, depending on the day and our mood. We’d ride in any weather, go anywhere; chase jack rabbits over, under, around and through most anything; trade pony rides for boat rides at the dam and dream our dreams while wandering our world on horseback.

We stopped one day to buy chocolate milk at the dairy. It was a freezing day, so we kept the cold bottles wrapped inside of the brown paper bag under the illusion this would keep our hands warmer. It didn’t, but it did attract the attention of a cop cruising by. He tried to ignore the rain dripping off his hat when he stepped out to question us. “What’s in the bag?”

We began to giggle. I couldn’t stop. Couldn’t even breathe. Maggie managed to stammer out, “No..othi…ing, offi..if…icer.”

Our fits of laughter did not reassure him. He demanded to see inside the bags. We sheepishly pulled the chocolate milk from hiding. He silently glowered at us, apparently unsure what to do next, then returned to his car, slammed the door and left rubber peeled across the pavement. My ribs already ached, but I howled anyway, laughter taking me over so completely I fell off. Which presented a huge problem because I was bareback, as usual, and, also as usual, I couldn’t jump back on. We were on a bridge, so I climbed up its side rail, hung on with one hand and teetered there while Maggie shoved my horse closer. Luckily, she grabbed my free hand before I lost my balance completely. Once remounted, we rode on, still laughing. Only now, as I write this, do I think of what could have happened standing on the bridge railing that day. Because I was with a friend, it didn’t. But then, if I hadn’t been with a friend, I likely wouldn’t have been courting pneumonia in the first place.

Mags ended up hanging off the side of this sorrel stallion because we never lost our feelings of invincibility when astride, which meant we were known to be willing to try most anything. The rescue race is one of the more popular events at a western gymkhana. One member of the team walks to the far end of the arena and waits behind the designated line. The other member, mounted, waits behind the designated line at the other end. When the timer’s flag falls, all the riders race to “rescue” their stranded companions. The first team across the finish line wins. Since I was never good at mounting on the run, Maggie was my rescued partner. Our timing was down pat. I’d race down, make a tight turn around her with my arm held out. She’d grab hold and swing up behind me, using the forward motion of my horse as we ran for home.

But this day, I didn’t have a horse to race, much to the delight of other contestants. That meant one less contestant to beat and one more experienced rider who was free for another team. She was a highly sought after gal that day, turning away all comers because we were both volunteering as part of the show committee. But then Hank ended up without a partner. If she didn’t pair up with him, he couldn’t compete. So she reluctantly agreed.

Hank’s stallion was fast, agile and steady. Hank wasn’t. He missed picking her up. She grabbed on to the saddle horn and tried to swing up anyway. No dice. So there she hung, screaming for Hank to keep running. As long as her feet didn’t touch the ground, it was legal — or was it? The crowd roared, half groaning in dismay, the other half cheering her on. Forty feet, thirty feet, ten feet. Was she going to make it? I was laughing and screaming and agonizing along with her every step of the way. At last, they crossed the finish line, with her still hanging tough. She let go, pushing hard to keep from falling under her partner’s flying hooves. They placed third, if I remember right, but then a hush fell.

Was it really legal? The American Horse Show Association manual came out. Heads bobbed between arguing and rereading the passages about rescue races. Nothing forbid it, but nothing ruled it in either. What to do? What to do? Especially since we were both volunteers. They didn’t want it to look like favoritism and didn’t want to rule against her unfairly. At last, it was decided. She got her ribbon, amid great cheers from the crowd. If it was the wrong ruling, no one complained. Being a crowd pleaser has its advantages.

When my short story, When Hoboes Have Reasons won the AKC Gazette’s fiction contest and the Dog Writers of America’s President’s Award — The Best of the Best — she went with me to New York where we were treated to ringside seats and backstage passes to the Westminster Kennel Club’s prestigious National Champion Dog Show. It was a whirlwind trip. Our hotel was right across the street from Madison Square Gardens. For this California gal to be in the middle of Manhattan in the middle of winter was extraordinary. I hate snow, so what was I doing sliding from lamp pole to lamp pole on the icy sidewalks at 7th Ave and 32nd Street? It was all due to the combined efforts of Maggie and George Berger, the publisher of the AKC Gazette — and the magical lure of the Gardens.

Aerial View of a Horse-Drawn Carriage in Central Park

Aerial View of a Horse-Drawn Carriage in Central Park

Madison Square Gardens is the place of dreams, where show horses prance into illustrious history and show dogs strut the green carpet to thunderous applause. And we were there, once again short of breath as we ran from place to place. My childhood dreams ricocheted off the dome, swept around the arena and returned to me fulfilled.

If we’d known in advance we would end up in New York at the dog show, she could have entered her dog, who was eligible, but like her run with Hank, our trip was a last minute request from Berger. What fun that would have been to have her dog on the arena floor of Madison Square Gardens.

But alas, we had to settle for riding the subway in defiance of our daughters’ dire warnings and, of course, we managed to find horses even in the middle of Manhattan, taking a leisurely ride through Central Park in one of the elegant carriages for hire. We also spent time in the offices of the AKC Gazette, at the awards dinner and visiting a host of parties and exhibitions.

Best of Show

Best of Show

Maggie moved to Oregon a few years ago, about three miles from the beach and closer to a river. She shares her property with wild life wandering through and wild fowl who visit her pond. She treasures her paint filly, bought as a yearling and now full grown but not yet a mare. Her barns are home to a variety of critters, but her life is devoted to her beloved Dalmatians.  Over the decades, her dogs and bitches have included national and international champions. Her pups were part of the hordes featured in 101 Dalmatians. If you’d like to meet my fearless friend’s Dalmatians, visit Dejavu Dals.

* * * * *

I wrote my tribute to Maggie years ago. Today, I am saddened by the need to add to it.

Maggie left this world on November 1, 2013, reluctant to leave her loved ones behind, yet needing to pass through the veil to the next realm. Her photo reveals her strength, determination, courage and sense of adventure. I’m fortunate to have a photo that is so spectacular and the perfect embodiment of her and our fun together.

Maggie and Corey

Maggie and Corey

I envision her, tall and lean, her body whole again, walking strong and confident, her long blond hair flowing in the breeze, our beloved horses and dogs falling in stride beside her as she begins this new adventure. They welcome her even as I have to stay behind. For a while. A short while. Then we’ll be together again.

I love her. I miss her. I am comforted knowing she’ll greet me with encouragement when it’s time for me to cross over.

One Comment to “Riding Through Life with Maggie”

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