Riding with Marilyn and Sam

Marilyn bought Sam from a cowboy who for relaxation rode up into the hills with a six-pack of beer. But what he really enjoyed was team penning. Team penning is a western riding event that gives a team of three riders on horseback 60 to 90 seconds to separate three cattle from a herd of 30 and drive them into a pen. Sam didn’t like herding cattle; in fact Sam doesn’t like anything about cattle, which was how he came up for sale and Marilyn bought him.

Marilyn and Sam have been together for eight years. In those eight years they have had a lot of adventures. Marilyn took Sam to a clinic given by a professional trainer, Stacey Westall. At the clinic, Marilyn learned partnership skills and how to form a connection with her horse. One summer, she loaded Sam into a horse trailer and with a friend went to Barclay Mountain in southern Bradford County, Pa. There is a coal miner’s ghost town on the mountain with defunct mines, cemetery, old stone foundations and stone bridges. They explored the trails and enjoyed the scenery. Then Marilyn came to Horse Heaven and Roundtop Park. She and Sam have been at the stable for four years.

I met Marilyn last spring when most of the activity picks up at the stable. I had just come to Horse Heaven and began leasing Pepper in the fall of 2009. We both liked to ride in the morning so we could do other things in the afternoon. We became good riding friends.

Pepper hadn’t been on many trails. She is a Standard bred. When she was young, Pepper was a trotter at the race track. Sam on the other hand is that great kind of trail horse many people dream of. Whenever we lost the trail or the trail was blocked by a fallen tree, Sam easily blazed a new path, picking his way through the woods and out the other side to find the trail again.

Last summer, Marilyn and I were riding at Roundtop Park. It was one of those long summer days that never seem to end. The sun had dropped below the tree line and was headed toward the horizon but there was still an hour or so of light before nightfall. We were riding up the North ridge and came to the Green Trail. Neither of us had ridden the Green Trail so we decided to try it. The trail meandered through the dense woods, switching back on itself in big half circles. Often we saw part of the trail through a few trees as we looped around. The sun was getting lower and lower in the sky and the woods darker and darker.

“Maybe this trail doesn’t lead back to the road like the others,” Marilyn said.

I saw a trail which looked like it headed in the right direction and said, “Why don’t we take this trail?”

We headed down the trail only to find that the trail doubled back on itself and ended up where we had started. The shadows were getting long. We were feeling very lost in the woods as the sun continued its descent towards the horizon. Panic set in. Neither of us knew where we were and the thought of being lost in the woods at night was scary.

“Let’s just turn around and head out the way we came, “said Marilyn.

“Ok, that makes sense,” I replied.

We both knew it was a long way back, and that time was getting short. The woods were getting dim and gloomy but we rode on. Finally, the horses came to a trail we knew led up to the road. Quickly, we trotted out of the woods. Once we were safe we started laughing and giggling.

“I feel like we’re school girls again,” said Marilyn.

“I do too. It’s funny how fear can make you feel like a kid,” I replied laughing.

We rode towards the barn, happy and chatting as the sun set into the western sky.

The summer of 2010 wore on, but Pepper’s bare feet were sensitive to the gravel on the dirt roads leading to the park. Connie’s farrier, Gene Fletcher, suggested hardening her hooves by cleaning them with a mixture of ½ chlorine and ½ water, and then applying Venice turpentine to the sole. It would take 2 weeks for the hooves to harden up and then riding barefoot shouldn’t be a problem.

Marilyn offered to meet me at the barn after work to hold Pepper and CJ so I could apply the ointment to their hooves. Pepper was pretty good about standing, but CJ wasn’t obliging. He wanted to pull his foot out from my grip and dance around. Marilyn put a stop to that by placing the lead rope around his nose. He settled down so I could work on his hooves.

The summer was hot and dry, the barn dusty and the tack areas were a mess. The five riders at the stable agreed one evening to sweep, dust and rearrange the tack areas. It was what I call a Work Party. The dust flew into the air as we sweep and cleaned. It was a good thing Karen had brought masks for everyone to wear.

After we finished Donna opened the back of her SUV and we helped ourselves to the food. Everyone brought a dish to pass; there was homemade chili, pasta salad, homemade cinnamon rolls, and several types of cookies. Connie stopped by with some tasty blueberry muffins. Everything was delicious. We sat on overturned pails, old folding chairs and whatever else we could find. It was a great picnic.

The summer faded into early fall. Annie, Donna, Marilyn, Karen and I planned to go on a moon ride. Donna and Annie had gone on one earlier and explained how enjoyable it was so now we were all planning a moon ride. By the time I drove up to the barn the black, night had fallen. All the lights were on in the barn and it felt warm and safe. I was late but even though all the horses were saddled everyone was waiting. I hurried and saddled Pepper while everyone went outside to see if the moon had risen. It hadn’t. We waited and watched the night sky; the stars came out over the hills but not the moon. Finally, we gave up and went home. When I turned in for the night I looked out my bedroom window and there was the illusive moon shining bright in the night sky.

Marilyn checked what time the moon would rise and discovered that it was still going to be full for a few days. We could still ride under the full or mostly full moon. Annie and Donna decided not to come so it was just Karen, Marilyn and I who met in the barn, saddled our horses and headed up the road. It wasn’t a clear night, it was a little overcast but there was plenty of light. I was surprised how calm the horses were; even though the road passed through the deep woods they walked and trotted without any problem. It was as if they could see better at night and nothing spooked them.

Karen, Marilyn and I rode together on park trails during the summer, into the fall and throughout the winter. Donna had coined a name for the five riders at Horse Heaven. She called us the Murray Street Riders since the road in front of the barn is Murray Creek Road. In the fall and winter, Marilyn, Karen and I were the only members of the group riding, so we amended the name to the Murray Street Three.

I asked Marilyn, “What was the best time you had riding Sam?”

Marilyn replied, “I’d have to say this past year, and riding through the winter at Roundtop Park.”

Marilyn, Karen and I had a lot of fantastic rides through the changing seasons at Roundtop Park. It was great just riding, enjoying nature and talking about anything and everything. Last week, Marilyn told us that she is giving up riding. There comes a time in every horseback rider’s life when its time to hang up the spurs and take off the cowboy boots. For Marilyn, that time had come and she arranged for Sam’s sale.

It was a beautiful spring day when Sam left Horse Heaven in a horse trailer bound for his new home. He is going to the home of a co-worker and friend of Marilyn’s who loves horses. Her friend has grandchildren who have already ridden Sam. Their adventures are just beginning. Marilyn took Sam’s name plate off his stall door and gave it to one of her friend’s grandchildren. Marilyn will be over to help her friend work with Sam. She is already making plans to teach them how to lunge a horse.

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