My bed at the bunkhouse – seriously – was the most comfortable bed I’d ever laid my weary body on. It could have been just because of the extreme exhaustion that plagued my body from day after day of fourteen-hour workdays. Or it could have been because the pen was located just twenty yards from my window and I could hear the soft shuffling of the horses at night – they were every bit as tired as the wranglers, so there were very few scuffles in the pen at night.
One night, though, I woke up to a different type of shuffling and snuffling. I immediately chalked the new sound up to VW Bear, who had been checking in on our dumpster ever since his first successful break-in. I lay in bed, thanking my lucky stars that he was on the backside of the bunkhouse and didn’t seem at all interested in the dumpster, which was located far on the other side of the building. I had a tense moment when I swore VW snuffled right at my window, a mere eighteen inches away from my head on the pillow, and cracked open just enough to let a breeze in.
I breathed a sigh of relief when VW moved away from the window, toward the pen, but I knew that he wouldn’t bother to attack the horses – bears are lazy by nature and a pen full of forty horses would be just too much darn trouble, especially with all of the full dumpsters in the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell one of the horses that VW wouldn’t bother with them. Whichever horse got stuck with sentry duty sounded the alarm when VW got too close to the pen and it was instant chaos. The pen went from quiet shuffling to stampede in about half a second flat. Normally, the horses would have just made a few panicked laps around the pen and settled down once they realized that VW was outside the pen, uninterested, just passing by, and they were safe inside the pen. Normally.
I don’t know what caused the horses to try the gate, but they did. Or at least one did and the gate gave way. Suddenly, the night got a whole lot more interesting. By that time, I was up and in my boots. I had intended to just go out to the pen fence to try to calm them down, but – damn – now they were loose in the yard. If I acted quickly enough, I might be able to keep them in the yard and off the mountain.
I stepped out of the bunkhouse and into the yard, right in front of the leading horses. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” I called, trying to keep my voice calm. “Just chill out, you’re okay. Sshhh.” I’d gotten the lead horses to pause in their escape. They looked at me, like I know you, you’re the boss. I had every intention of just blocking their way to the road until I could get some reinforcements to help herd them back into the pen. Things were going according to my plan right up until somebody came slamming out of the other end of the bunkhouse, yelling. I have no idea what they were yelling, but it was enough to startle the horses and start up the panic again. Since I was blocking the way to the road, the smart ones in the back whirled and took off out of the yard and up the mountain. Four or five managed to squeeze by me and head down the road. The night, at that point, officially became a disaster.
I heard my parent’s van start up and realized that they were coming to help, despite the fact that they didn’t work for the livery and had been sound asleep in their own bed at the B&B when the manure hit the fan. My mom appeared at my side with a couple of halters and Bill was in the van, swinging around the block, hoping to head off the horses on the road and herd them back to the yard. The Barn Boss hopped in the truck and tried blocking the other exit from the yard, but it was far, far too late. I could already hear the horses scrambling up the switchback on the mountain.
Bill managed to herd the escapees from the road back into the yard, but they heard their buddies up on the mountain and skirted the truck to go join the rest of them. Damn. Well past the witching hour and we had horses loose on the mountain. Not much to do but go get them.
Mom and I started hiking up the switchback, each with a couple of halters. We knew that if we could get our hands on just one or two and lead them back, the rest would follow. Bill took off in the van to make sure that there weren’t any horses running up and down the highway. In all honesty, I was so focused on getting up the mountain I don’t remember what the Barn Boss was doing. Mom, Bill and I worked so well together, that we kind of shut out the “real” boss.
The moon wasn’t too terribly bright, but bright enough that we could see the trail without the use of a flashlight. We had decided against taking a flashlight because the horses hadn’t been desensitized to them and we didn’t want to drive them deeper into the forest. Once we got into the trees, we stepped off the trail and just listened for them in the darkness.
We could hear them headed toward the meadow, so we split up to circle around behind them. Mom moved out ahead of me to go toward the east end of the meadow and I headed straight down into it. After a few minutes of travel in the trees, I could hardly see my hand in front of my face and knew that I was flirting with disaster so I just stopped. I could hear the horses shuffling around, very close to my position, and hoped that they would get curious and come up to me. They knew my smell and I knew that they would be able to scent me out if they were interested. There were moments when I would have sworn that they were within just a couple of feet of me – I could feel them circling up around, but I didn’t want to move because I didn’t want to set them off again. I decided to let them make the first move. I kept murmuring that it was okay, that I’d take them home if they’d come see me.
I heard the Barn Boss’ and one of the wrangler’s voices on the trail and saw the bobbing flashlights as they rode up on two of the Boss’ personal horses. Unfortunately, the horses also heard and saw them coming and took off in a frenzy again.
Mom came back up from the trail to the meadow muttering under her breath about the horses being scared off a second time. She, too, had a small herd surrounding her in the trees and we both felt that if we’d had just another ten minutes before being interrupted, we’d’ve been able to bring them back home.
We met up with the Boss and another wrangler on the main trail and gave them an approximate location of the horses. Boss decided to push on to see if they could round them up and herd them back to the livery. Mom and I headed back; she and Bill went back to the B&B to see if they could salvage a little bit of the night before they had to get up and cook for thirty guests. I stayed up until Boss returned an hour later empty handed, at which point he decided to leave the horses on the mountain until the next morning.