Pluto was an extremely energetic dog, and required a lot of exercise. He was passionate about fetching a ball (or any other dog’s ball), and about swimming. Not long after we moved to Seattle, we took him to a dog park for the first time. Pluto ran and leaped and barked. We threw the ball for him for a while, but found he was easily distracted with so many people and dogs to meet.
What I saw: the woods of the Kitchawan Preserve, Ossining, New York
What I wore: tall black custom Vogel field boots, Prince of Wales spurs, light brown Pikeur full-seat breeches, lilac 3/4-sleeve L.L.Bean polo shirt, Charles Owen Ayr8 helmet, prescription sunglasses, black SSG® Soft Touch™ Riding Gloves.
What I did beforehand: overslept
Who went with me: Remonta Hado, aged 15, also sometimes known as Hado or Brown or, even, Big Brown.
How I got here: a set of random, impulsive decisions that might be impossible to replicate.
Why I went for a walk: we have been working very hard and needed a break. It was a perfectly clear, bright, dry sunny day.
Where I sat: Devouxcoux mono-flap dressage saddle.
Things that were sad: you, my readers, won’t look at my last blog post.
Things that were funny: there are signs posted in this park stating that dogs must be on leash, and also further stipulating that dogs must be on a leash up to six feet long. I do occasionally see people walking a dog on a leash here, but almost always see people with their dogs off leash. Walking a dog off-leash is a great pleasure, of course, for both the dog, that gets to explore its freedom, and the walker, who walks and indulges in the sight of their dog moving at liberty. But it all depends on an owner’s ability to call the loose dog and leash it up again. I saw three dogs on this walk. The first was a black lab mix named Lola. Lola’s owners shouted “come” about eleven or twelve or eighty-one times before it occurred to them to turn around and walk the other way. Their apology was, “Oh, she’s never seen a horse before.”
Things that were not funny: the next dogs I saw were a pair of merle Australian shepherds. Their owners were calling shrilly but fruitlessly, as well, perhaps unaware of the deer their dogs were presumably pursuing, when suddenly the dogs exploded from the dense brush, charged me and my quiet, motionless horse who retained all of his composure while the marauding, barking fluff-balls were re-captured. These owners shouted at me accusingly about how they hadn’t any place to move off the trail (a statement so incomprehensible I am still mulling it over, days later), and flexed their muscles dragging off the canine ruffians by the neck and making no apology at all as we paraded sedately past them.
What it is: the Kitchawan Preserve is a 208-acre natural area bordered by New York City reservoirs. It features reasonably well-maintained, wooded trails and a few open fields. It is lovely in all four seasons, though it can be very muddy after strong rains, and is heavily used by dog-walkers, particularly on weekends in fine weather. It was once a research facility of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. There are two horse farms abutting the preserve, though I rarely see other riders in the woods.
Who should see it: didn’t Thoreau say, “Not till we are lost in the woods on horseback, out of the earshot of people and their dogs, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations?”
What I saw on the way home: when we emerged from the woods and stepped back onto the mowed, grassy paths of the farm where Hado lives, we were again among Hado’s folk, the herd. Horses stood in paddocks alone and in pairs, heads bowed in worship of one of their gods, the late summer grass, and another of their gods, the sunshine. Hado glanced in the direction of two of his equine brethren and compelled them to dance in his direction. He celebrated their greeting with a sequence of bounces, tossing his head and shoulders and laughing in his throaty bass-baritone. I gave him a kick, and directed him back to the barn.
We made our way to the river, which is accessed from the park in a series of small, steep, rocky beaches. Pluto had never seen open water before, and immediately bounded in. This river is not particularly deep, but can be fast moving, especially in the spring. In his excitement, he found himself in moving water over his head. From shore, I could almost see his instincts kick in. His front paws began to paddle rhythmically, and soon his expression changed from panic to real pleasure. Almost immediately he grew confident, and began thrusting his front legs out of the water in huge, circular strokes, generating a lot of splash and not really moving him in any direction very fast.
A man standing nearby with his own dog in the water turned to me. “Is that your dog?” he asked.
I was laughing so hard I could barely answer him. He began to laugh, too. Another passing dog owner joined us, and we all stood, strangers on a river bank, laughing at the most ridiculous dog-paddle any of us had ever seen.