A Trail Ride By Design?


Ponying the baby, on Thursday:

I grab the lead rope that is hanging on a fence post and snap the end on the colt’s halter.
“Come on.”

He pulls against us at first, but then he gets what’s going on and he ponies quite nicely. He walks away with his head by Clifford’s right hip and doesn’t seem to mind going.

We head up the hill. As we reach the top, past the sawmill, Clifford’s head starts to bob, every other step.

“Are you kidding me?!”

He continues to limp. I decide to keep going.

“Let’s just walk this out. You were fine a minute ago.”

We keep walking. He seems better, but then the head bob returns.

“Oh for crying out loud.”

Then, Clifford stumbles. It isn’t just a stumble. It’s stumblestumblestumblestumblestumble as his neck stretches out before me, and he struggles to catch himself for one, two, three, four five six beats. I think about bailing off, making quick decisions to throw the lead rope away on my right and jump off his left side.
But he rights himself.

“Okay. I get it.”

I climb off.

“So now I have THREE horses here and can’t ride a single one of them?”


When I get back to camp, Clifford nickers to me, signaling that he is ready to ride. Isn’t this the time of day we usually go?

He is standing in the early evening light, outlined in gold. His white blazed face is turned to watch me intently.

After twenty-three years, he knows what time it is on Drummond Island.

“Well, the last time we went, you limped. And, you almost fell down.”

He just keeps watching.

“Okay then. But if you are ready to turn back, you let me know.”

It will be just me and him. I don’t want to drag Trudy out, and I don’t want to put Clifford through another episode with the colt.

I decide that tomorrow, when I go to the Soo for lunch with my friend Lori, I will stop at the feed store and get some anti-inflammatory for both of my elder horses. I just want them to have a chance to enjoy the island, not be stuck in a corral putting up with this bratty punk all day and night.

Til races ahead as Clifford ambles up the hill by the old sawmill. The horse’s ears are perked forward and he strides out with purpose. He loves to go.


Normally, in years past, there would be a lot more trotting. He was always in a big hurry. But now, I don’t have to hold him back anymore. He walks right out.

We go about a mile and a half down the road, and then he wants to turn down the little two track to Pat’s Lake.

So I let him.

We get about halfway down to the big, swampy lake, and are stopped by a tree that has fallen across the trail.

I look around for an alternate path, but Clifford uses it as an excuse to turn and head for home.

I take this as a signal he has had enough.

I am riding him with just a halter with a rope attached, but I hardly use the rope, instead letting it lie over his neck. He picks up a nice, long stride heading back for home. There is not a single sign of a limp. He still stumbles now and then. He can’t help that. He forgets that the knee won’t bend.

The ground is soft from the morning rain, so maybe that’s why he has had an easier time than the other day; less impact on the joints.

Still, I have to wonder about his sudden stiffness when the colt came on board. The exaggerated stumbling. The eager trot for food after the colt was put away.

I can’t underestimate Clifford. He is, at times, eerily smart. I look up at the trees, overhead, waving their tops in the gusty breeze.

Clifford walks into camp, straight over to Wheelzebub and then with no bidding from me, parks himself in the usual spot. I am laughing.

I slide down. “Well, that was a very nice ride! I do feel better! And thank you so much!”

I can’t resist flinging my arms around his neck and hugging with all my might.

This is why, I tell myself, this is exactly why some of us have horses. I feel, at that moment, nothing short of exhuberant. All my cares are gone.

He looks pleased. I open the trailer door, reaching into the bag for an apple wafer. He accepts it gladly, with a look.

Would that be… Smug?




About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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3 Responses to A Trail Ride By Design?

  1. Lynn Brown says:

    priceless – I love that Cliffy!


  2. Pat Johnson says:

    I have always loved your work, love my jacket with Dance on the back. It is always great reading when you write something and this is no exception. As your usual GREAT!!


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