Cheryl and I have been raising puppies for so long now that we see most everything through the eyes of a 6-month old lab. If Cheryl does something noteworthy at work, I am likely to rub her head and say "Oh, what a smart girl you are." Likewise, she often just says "No!" to me, and this serves about the same purpose as an extended conversation.
It's no wonder that here in Santa Fe, after being away from Coach and Willow for several days, we signed up to go horse-back riding down in Cerrillos, New Mexico, just off the Turquoise Trail, up into the beautiful mountains nearby. We've gone riding before, but not for several years, and not since we have gained all our guide-dog puppy experience (making us animal experts in nearly all things), and we felt confident that we would have a special affinity with the horses, certain that they would obey us instinctively, even if they would not technically be able to do a real Sit or Down Stay. The horse wranglers would no doubt be impressed with us, etc.
My horse was Duke. "Good boy, Duke," I said and patted his head. But Duke didn't wag his tail or, to be honest, even seem aware of my existence. This was not Duke's first time down the trail.
We were soon on our way up the mountainside. By chance, the other rider in our group was a young movie actor named David, all dressed up like a bad-guy cowboy and wanting to sharpen his riding skills before an upcoming audition. Our guide, a funny cowgirl named Stephanie was in the front, then the movie cowboy, then me and Duke, and then, bringing up the rear, was Cheryl on her horse Danvers. "Good girl, Danvers," Cheryl said.
Once on our way, it became clear to me that Duke had no interest (unless snorting with contempt counts as interest) in my instructions to him. He certainly did not intend to turn around and double back so that Cheryl and I could ride together. It turned out that Duke never let Danvers ride ahead of him or beside him. And Duke was prepared to deposit me on the ground if I didn't like it. Therefore, I didn't actually see much of Cheryl for the next two hours.
We had signed up for the advanced beginners ride, which meant we'd do some cantering--a canter is the rocking-horse sort of gait between a trot and a gallop. On the way back we were cantering down this ravine and I could see Stephanie looking back at us with wide eyes and some real concern on her face. Apparently Cheryl was leaning to one side, perilously so, and was just about to fall off of Danvers. Her saddle was not on quite right, or maybe she could not quite stay on it. I'm not sure. But by this point, I knew that Cheryl would not be sad when the ride was over.
On the way back to Sante Fe we adjusted our opinion of horses (untrainable beasts) and horse riding (too bouncy and dangerous), and we felt more homesick than ever for our sweet Coach and Willow.