Sunday, February 25, 2018

In Defense Of My Lady Tahoe's Honor

     I am a dying mare, well before my time. I feel the prick of the Veterinarian’s Euthanasia needle in my neck and the rush of the drugs as they course through my body, and my knees buckle and I fall helplessly to the good earth, for the very last time. The earth whose soft motherly comfort that I haven’t lain on for over a full year for fear I could no longer get up. I take a breath, a deep rattling last breath. The light begins to flicker in my eyes and with the remnant of my soul leaving my body, I think of my final days at the rescue ranch. I feel the touch of this big warm wonderful man’s hands as he caresses my chestnut face in the twilight of my setting sun. I stare into his eyes and our lights connect for the very last time. I will always remember and cherish the gentle touch of these hands, the hands of god, that caressed me with a kindness and thoughtfulness and love I’ve never known. The hands that massaged my prematurely aging and aching body and eased my burdens and gave me strength to endure the sufferings of being ridden to, and starved to near death. Then having to endure the pain and humility of the auction barns and being tossed aside without even a name. The hands that raised me up, when I collapsed at the closing of the auction gates. The hands that wiped away my bloody noses, and massaged off my dead decaying skin and brought life, dignity, and vitality back to me, even if only for a short while to my prematurely dying soul. I look back on the past year and this man and his loving warm hands as the most wonderful days of my life. There were times when I felt like a young filly again and proudly pranced the fields for him. If I could only have spent many more years in his and his wife’s care and known and felt the touch of their massage students again, again and again. I leave my body now to this man and his hands and his mind who summoned the Veterinarian for this last act of kindness and compassion. I glance deep into his eyes and as the light flickers from my being, I plead. Let not my death be in vain! Please! Don’t ever let them take these hands from my brothers and sisters.
Today's Song
The Byrd's, "Chestnut Mare"

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Rainbow Warrior

     The Aspen’s of Gold Peak were blossoming green and shimmering in the breeze. The snow glittered as it melted. It trickled down the Gore Range to form a cascading stream joining Gore Creek from the top of the Grand Traverse. It echoed loudly off the Vail Transportation Center as it rumbled through the Upper Eagle Valley. The young man and the girl with him sat on a bench under the eaves of the building. The Express Greyhound from Los Angeles would arrive in fifteen minutes. It stopped briefly in Vail before going on to Denver.
     “Isn’t that a snowcat, pulling a trailer?” the girl asked, pointing toward the mountain.
     “Yeah, I guess they’re going to ski the back bowls,” the boy said.
     “You mean there’s still enough snow to ski?”
     “The bowls hold it pretty well. The corn snow must be great.”
     “It’s funny but there aren’t many trees in the bowls.”
     “It wasn’t always that way.” The boy turned to face her.
     “They must have had a hard time clearing all those trees to develop the back of the mountain,” she said
     “They weren’t cleared for development. The Legend is that when Lord Gore came through with his hunting party in the late 1800’s, the local Indians started great forest fires to drive them out. They were incensed by the shear desecration of all the animals killed just for sport.”
     The girl looked at the snowcat as the sun glistened off a window as it disappeared over a rise in the mountainside. She turned and faced the boy. “It must have been awful-the fires I mean, all that destruction. The Indians destroyed the trees as well as animals.”
     “The hunters had driven off most of the game or already killed them.”
     “Violence never solved anything! They still lost their land. What are you going to do next Tyler, join Earth First?”
     “I have to go, I have to go do this Susan.”
     “I don’t see why! You don’t care about me or you wouldn’t go.”
     “That’s not fair. You know I care.”
     “You could stay and spend the summer with me, here in Vail.
You could get a job landscaping or something, instead you have to run off to Boulder.
Why do you have to help Greenpeace protest against Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Facility? God knows where you’ll go after that.”
     The boy rose and walked to the cement retaining wall of the transportation center.
He listened to the rushing water sound of Gore Creek. The leading edge of a Spring storm moved rapidly down the valley. A brilliant rainbow formed on the mist of the advancing snow squall. The girl joined him and slid her hand into his.
     “This creek full of fresh mountain water flows into the Eagle River at Dowd Junction,” he chose his words carefully. “The river is now rust colored and mineral laden. It is contaminated from the tailings pond of the Eagle Mine. It’s a Superfund cleanup in the middle of a pristine wilderness. Don’t you see now why I have to go?”
     The Greyhound pulled alongside the terminal. The girl reached inside of her fanny pack and pulled out a book. She handed it to the boy.

     “The Complete Book of Monkey Wrenching, something for the Rainbow Warrior who has everything,” she said.
Today's Song
Barry Mc Guire, "Eve Of Destruction"

Monday, February 19, 2018

God Is The Boss, Francis


God Is The Boss, Francis


I was visited by an old friend the other day walking along the Rio Grande Trail through downtown Aspen. I had just passed the Aspen Art Museum on my way to the John Denver River Sanctuary, passing a stainless steel 30ft artist’s rendering of the “Last Tree.” The Rio Grande Trail is a beautiful scenic trail that skirts along the river and opens upon a small meadow by the river. There are large boulders with many John Denver song lyrics carved into them. It was there among the yellowing aspens that I sensed it, that very faint trace of the dampness of winter in the air. My good childhood friend came to me. I looked up and saw him hiding in the scrub oak turning red along the base of Red Mountain and the multi million dollar mansions that exist there. The Aspens’ turning gold along Smuggler Mountain, one of the last working silver mine, that made Aspen the Silver City.  How I used to wait on his arrival with great anticipation in Albany, New York. The fall season is different in the East because of all the hardwoods to be found.  In the Adirondacks, the Berkshires, the Green Mountains, and White Mountains, you will find an array of reds, yellows and golds. It signaled to me the coming of winter and my sport of choice, skiing. I imagined all of the hats that I have worn over the years to pursue my great love of the sport. How it has been my refuge through my trials and tribulations and how whenever life of the world got to me, I would simply choose another mountain to learn and ski.

It had begun simply for me in the early days. My grandfather filled my head with dreams of the Adirondacks and the beauty of them. I quickly made friends with the other skiers in my class. One of those friends was my good friend, Frank Thompson who has become “Captain Zooms” in my stories. I, a shy retiring bookworm, who found great solace in learned knowledge versus outdoor activity, was immediately attracted to him. He was already a ski technician and worked with skis and understood ski hardware. He turned me on to my first pair of jet foamed form fitting ski boots, called Strohlz, and my Rossignol Strato 105’s, they were 215 cm’s long. “My steel beams to hell,” I called them. My boots were purchased for me by my high school girlfriend Sandy. Frank’s room was a classic of ski posters and equipment leaned up in every available corner. One particular poster of a buxom woman in a tight fitting yellow Bogner ski outfit, unzipped to her navel exposing her abundantly large breasts, she was exploding through this incredibly awesome mogul field, and the caption read, “Keep those tips up.” It was a K2 ski poster. I thought he was the coolest kid in school. He was a real rebel where I was the nerd.  Other  posters, like the infamous Solomon Ski Binding Poster that said, “Solomon, Deliver Us From Premature Release.” These have all become great collector items. Frank became my ski mentor, and mountain teacher. Every available evening, weekend or cut day from school was spent chasing snow flakes and sunsets, until at a very young age, I took a year off from college, to pursue my dream of being a true ski bum, (I wish to write, Every Ski Bum’s Bible, a commentary of all the things you need to give up in life to pursue that dream.)
The culmination of that dream was skiing at Arapahoe Basin, which at the time was the highest lift operated mountain in North America. I had arrived. The steep, the deep, anti everything that corporate society stood for. No material hang ups or needs with a true disdain for the Corporate Whores who would sell their soul for the almighty dollars. I considered myself the self appointed King of the Mountains. I knew every inch and every skiable trail in America. Many places in America that I had skied were not accessible by lifts and had to be climbed. I was young, “no problem.” I conquered and truly loved every one of them.
Every year my friend that first trace of the wet dampness of winter would arrive and I would gear up for winter. In the early years we would leave Albany on Sunday to ski the mountains of Vermont, a state that I came to love dearly.

Francis’s mom, Bea Thompson, was a devout Christian and practicing Catholic. Her greatest concern was for our almighty souls and redemption from sins, she was sure that we were committing. Her concern included where we would attend church on Sunday if we were skiing. We were quick to allay her fears by informing Bea, that we attended Mass on the Chapel on the Mountains, every Sunday. We  justified our lie by rationalizing that God invented Mountains and they were places of awe and inspiration since the days of Moses and we were somewhat of Biblical Characters ourselves with long hair and beards. Modern day Prophets if you will, we attended the almighty church of the high mountains. Our justification was dashed one particular Sunday Morning when Frank and I dressed in our White Stag ski sweaters tight fitting ski pants with our brightly colored ski jackets were confronted by Bea Thompson in her large blue terry cloth robe on her snow covered concrete steps in suburban Colonie, New York as were fastening our skis and poles to the roof rack of Frank’s Tan Dodge Dart. (Algernon, named after the Book Flowers for Algernon, yes it had push buttons on the dash to shift instead of a typical stick or automatic shift lever.) We had to face down the wrath of Bea who had found out about our lie, that ski areas did not have chapels on them. Like Moses, delivering her edict to the infidels who were worshipping the false gods of gold they had wrought, she stood with her outstretched blue terry cloth arm raised in accusatory fashion delivering a divine message straight from the mouth of our Lord himself.  The cold chilly air crackles and rings in my ears to this day as she yelled, “God is the Boss, Francis!”
I have been more fortunate than most and have had the ability to build a tremendously successful Plumbing, Heating, and Electrical Service Business in perhaps the richest Ski Town in the world, where the occupants ask questions like, “Is it the biggest, is it the best?” How wonderful that I who took a year off from my pursuit of an Industrial Engineering Degree to go skiing in 1973, could be designing and installing mechanical systems in multi-million dollar commercial and residential building in Aspen, Colorado, owned now by exclusive Billionaire Industrialists.

During my early tenure as a property manager, before opening my business, my job was to decorate 8 of the most prestigious Commercial Buildings in the downtown core of Aspen with Christmas lights and decorations. My then Supervisor, (now turned Wife) and I decided to change the drab white lights on all the trees and buildings to brightly colored Salsa Lights, The red, blue, green, orange, amber lights, tightly woven from all the trees in front of the buildings, and hung along all the rooftops, literally set the up tight establishment of the Aspen Town fathers on their ears. I was summarily crowned the “The King of Lights,” in Aspen Colorado in 1994, in a ceremony presided over by our entire Property Management Team, which has since become the most prestigious Property Management and Real Estate Company in Aspen and the Entire Roaring Fork Valley. I was presented with a tin foil crown and in a mock ceremony became the King of Lights of Aspen, Colorado, by my boss and future wife.

So as I stand among the Words of “Annie’s Song,” and “Rocky Mountain High,” and listen to the gentle waters of the Roaring Fork River cascading out of the pristine mountains of Independence Pass. I can't help but hear the refrain of Frank's Mom, "God is the Boss, Francis."
Today's Song
Cat Stevens, "Where do the Children Play"

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Slick Little Fox

                                 Slick Little Fox

     Roobee Toosday looked at the little Tobiano foal struggling to stand. There was something terribly wrong with it. It looked like a hermit crab. Its front legs curved in an arc and couldn’t be brought under it to bear weight. Its attempt to stand ended the same. It would roll to one side and fall down. Roobee rushed into the large birthing stall in the sixteen stall riding arena. She slid a leather halter over the mare’s nose and buckled it.
    “Easy Foxy,” she said to the exhausted paint brood mare. “It’s Ok girl, I’ll look at your baby.”
    “Tyler, call the vet. It’s Foxy’s baby, there’s something wrong with his legs. Then get some straw and spread it in the corner for it to lay down.”
Tyler Thompson entered the stall and spread out several sections of straw for bedding. He liked Roobee. He cleaned the stalls of the arena and was responsible for the general maintenance. She had asked him if he would hold the horses while she worked. He was a bull dogger. Roobee teased him, she said she didn’t understand why a cowboy would jump off of a perfectly good horse. Tyler liked the young brunette therapist and took the teasing well. He listened to her singing in the mornings as she was working.
    “Here Tyler, take Foxy. Keep her by the grain.”
She walked to the foal and knelt down and rolled up her denim sleeves. Roobee feared the worst for the baby. She could only rub its head and face.
    Susan Mckenzie entered the stall. Her long black hair pulled in a pony tail hung loosely between her cap and its band. The cap read: Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy!
    “Roobee what’s wrong with the foal?”“I think it has contracted tendons, I’ve seen cows like this. We’ve called Dr. Trent,” Roobee replied.The cows she had see had been put down.
    “I don’t see how he can make it,” Susan replied.“Roobee, This is Dr. Trent,” Tyler said.
    “Will Trent,” the vet said.
    “I’m Roobee Toosday, the Barn Manager. This is Susan Mckenzie, the owner,” Roobee said.
   “Hi, let’s look at him.”
The foal was laying on its side. The vet reached down and stroked him. Foxy nickered deeply and the foal struggled to stand. It wobbled and fell. He attempted to bend its leg. He stood and faced the two women.

It is Congenital Flexural Deformity,” he said. “It’s a condition that is not generally cured. The animals are culled. I’m sorry to be so blunt but we have not had much success with this condition.”
    “Surely, there must some options,” Roobee interjected.
    “I-I don’t want a deformed horse in my breeding operation,” Susan was quick to say.
    “His legs may grow out, especially with a little massage work. He has such a strong soul,” Roobee countered.
    “Animals are beasts of burden and they don’t have souls, I put them down all the time, its just nature.”
    The hairs on the back of Roobee’s neck stood on end. She swallowed deeply in an effort to control her anger before speaking.
    “Are there any alternatives?” She glared at the vet.
     The vet took a step backwards. He looked closely at her. Her hands were clenched, her shoulders were square, and her jaw jutted forward poised for confrontation.
    “Tetracycline is an antibiotic. It weakens the tensile strength of connective tissues. His legs are rotated out. We still need to deal with that. There is a technique called blistering. We would go in and injure the outside of the knee by burning or cutting it. It would bring increased blood flow to the area and stimulate growth. I suggest putting a 4” PVC splint on both legs to immobilize them for a period of fourteen days. I would take x-rays today. I still recommend we put the foal down,” the vet replied.
    “We just can’t have a deformed horse in the stables,” Susan said.
    “I understand your concerns about the foal. Massage is what I know. The technique of blistering seems barbaric to me, and confining him in splints wouldn’t help either.”
    “These are proven practices,” the vet interjected.
    Roobee raised her hand in defense.
    “I’m sure they believed lobotomies were healthy,” Roobee said with a grin.“There is a massage stroke named tonic friction. It is a vigorous stroking of an area, it’s designed to bring blood to an area and stimulate healing. I believe that through hydrotherapy, stretching and massage, with the help of the shot of tetracycline I can correct the problems in the foal.”
    “Next, we’ll burn incense and ask for a Voodoo Priestess,” the vet said sarcstically.
    “These techniques are used on thoroughbreds around the world,” Roobee retorted.
    “That doesn’t address his deformity and its reflection on my breeding operation,” Susan said.

    “I suggest we give the foal the shot, and allow me a period of two weeks to work with it. If there isn’t significant progress by then, you can put the foal down. If there is, I will take the foal home and work with him. We will geld him when he is old enough. Please, just give me a chance to see if I can help.”
    “Susan you know my position,” the vet replied.
    “If I hadn’t seen the miracles your therapy has worked on my brood mares and stallions I’d say no right away. I believe you Roobee. I’ll go along with it for the two weeks,” Susan said.
     “I’ll x-ray him and give him the shot.”
     The vet and Susan turned and walked out of the stall.
     Roobee had the foal standing on the second day. Tyler walked to the stall.
    “Tyler, would you hand me the foal halter?”
    “Here you go, “ Tyler said.
    Tyler walked to the foal and restrained him. Roobee slid the halter over the foal’s nose and fastened it. The foal struggled for a few seconds, realized he was restricted, and growled like a bear cub. They both laughed.
    “Here, help me to lay him down.”
    Tyler lifted the foal and with Roobee’s help set the foal on its side. She slipped her first two fingers into his heel bulb. She used a little pressure and began a clockwise rubbing motion to stimulate blood flow to the area. The foal was curious and lay still while she continued. Resting a comforting hand, a mother hand, on the front of the hoof, she squeezed the tendon and began a chucking motion up and down the length of it. She repeated the motion several times. Supporting the hoof with the palm of her hand, Roobee used her thumb and fingers of her right hand to effleurage the front of his leg, paying particular attention to the inside and outside of his knee joint (carpus). She then set the first three fingers of her right hand on the outside of his carpus and began vigorously rubbing them in a back and forth motion called tonic friction. This would create friction to the surrounding area to promote and stimulate growth. It would help rotate his legs in straight. Roobee supported the leg at the carpus and with a hand under his heel bulb gently stretched the leg forward. When she finished the second leg she set it down and stood up. The foal was asleep. Tyler removed the halter and coiled the lead rope. They both slipped out of the stall to the hallway.
    “Do you think you can help me? He has to be worked on every 2 hours for the next several days.”
    “If I can sleep on the other office cot Roobee, I’d be happy to help.”
    “His sire is Slick Left Prints, and his dam is Foxy, I think I’ll call him Slick Little Fox.”

Four days later, Dr. Trent returned.
      “The x-rays show some bone growth on the lateral side of his knees and his legs appear to be turning in. They have a long way to go. The tendons have loosened and his legs have come up under him. It’s been a week already. You should let me put him down now!” the vet said.
    “Susan, Foxy doesn’t come into her foal heat for another three weeks. Please give me two more weeks,” Roobee implored.
    “I don’t know, Will says he hasn’t made that much improvement. Lord knows I don’t want anyone to see those crooked legs,” Susan said.
    “I’ll move them to the big back stall. Please let me continue.”
    “OK, but if Will disagrees in two weeks, you know what our decision will be.”
    “It’s a waste of time,” the vet said.
    “I’ll waste it rescuing Little Fox if I want.” Roobee glared.
    “You’re one tough little lady,” the vet turned and walked off.
    “I hope you know what you’re doing with the foal.” Susan left the arena.
    Roobee ran to Little Fox’s stall, haltered him and led him into the hall, his hooves clopping on the concrete.
    “I won’t let any one hurt you. We can do it, Little Bubba,” she said bending down and hugging him tightly.
Foxy nickered loudly. Little Fox turned and Roobee led him back to her.
    “Don’t worry mamma.” She slid the halter off and walked out of the stall.
    Tyler set the crock pot on the small table in the entry way and plugged it in. He dampened the cloth towels and placed then inside and set the timer for 15 minutes
    “We are going to have to be more aggressive in our stretching! The heat and moisture will make the tissue extremely pliable. I want to take some photos. I have an idea that might help,” Roobee said, entering the stall.
Tyler nudged Little Fox to stand and slipped his halter on.
     “What’s the idea?” Tyler asked.
     “I’m going to present Little Fox as a case study to a Veterinarian Professor from the University and try to get him to help me with Dr. Trent.”
    The timer rang and Tyler pulled out the towels. Roobee slid her camera into her pack.He handed them to Roobee and took the lead rope. He stood at the foal’s left side. Roobee started wrapping his legs.
     “Listen, Little Bubba, you have got to cooperate. I’m going to be more aggressive. But if you want to live, we have to get through this.” Roobee cupped Little Fox’s muzzle with her hands.He nickered his understanding and Roobee bent and kissed him on the nose.

    Roobee unwrapped his legs after 15 minutes had passed. She lifted his left leg, supported the underside of his knee joint with her left hand, and stretched his leg. She worked lightly at first, but began to use greater force with each successive stretch. Little Fox stood steady and countered Roobee’s stronger stretches with great fortitude. She worked both legs forward and backward very aggressively. She set the right leg down when she was finished.
    “Tyler would you perform tonic friction on the lateral section of his knee,” her voice cracked slightly and she wiped a tear from her cheek.
    “No problem Roob,” Tyler responded. It would be his good fortune to work closely with Roobee and Little Fox in this intimate setting.

    Three weeks had passed quickly. Will Trent stood in front of Little Fox. Susan shifted nervously. Roobee Toosday stood with her left hand resting on Fox’s neck. Tyler fidgeted at the foal’s side.
    “If I hadn’t spoken with the Professor from the Vet School, I would still have recommended that this horse be put down. I had no idea that hydrotherapy and massage therapy was having so much success with animals and birth deformities in the Veterinary Field,” he cleared his throat. “I’m an old dog learning new tricks. I understand the miracle that I see before me.”
    Fox rose on his hind feet with the sudden excitement and Tyler quickly brought him down and regained control.
    “I was hoping for this outcome,” Roobee said excitedly.
    “I never would have believed this could be accomplished. If any of my other clients have similar problems, could I recommend your therapy services to them?”
   “I’d be happy to save any animal that I can,” she replied.
   “I have many clients, and the Professor has made me aware of just how helpful massage therapy can be in my practice. Perhaps you could come into my office next week and we could talk about it,” Will said.
   “Next week would work for me, I’ll call and arrange the time,” Roobee replied.
   “Susan, we should go and look at Kate and see how her baby is doing,” the vet said.
   Turning, he and Susan walked down the long corridor. Roobee looked at Tyler and Little Fox and smiled.
   “I’ve been waiting for this day. Is everything set?”
   “Yes,” Tyler replied, “The baby goat is in the trailer and I have hay spread and stacked.”
   “We might as well do it now,” Roobee said taking the lead rope from Tyler.

   Tyler walked slowly behind Roobee and Little Fox. They had gone several yards when Foxy nickered loudly to her foal. The foal stopped returned her nicker and looked at Roobee. She bent and placed her face next to the foal’s.
   “Come on Little Bubba, please,” she pleaded. “Walk on, Little Fox.
    They walked forward in silence. The sound of the foal’s hooves clapping against the concrete, was the only noise. They reached the trailer door and Tyler stepped around and opened it. A small brown and white Nubian French Alpine goat greeted then with a loud “Baaaa-Baaa.”
   Little Fox stuck his head in the trailer and Roobee stepped in and gave the lead rope a slight tug. The horse stepped quickly into the trailer and sniffed the small goat.
    “Little Fox, this is Jack London, Jack-Little Fox, You’re going to be the best of companions,” she said and laughed loudly.
   “I’ll hold Little Fox and ride in back,” Tyler said.
   Roobee stepped out closed the horse trailer door and walked to the cab. She slid into the driver’s seat, started the truck and began moving forward. She couldn’t think of a time in her life that her future had liked brighter.
Today's Song
The Byrds. "Turn Turn Turn

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Coal Seam Fire

                                                             The Coal Seam Fire


            Katie Delaney posted around the arena in a walk, trot and canter, warming up Fortune. All the while she glanced at the ominous three foot jump set up in the center. She knew the Hanovarian cross Quarter Horse, at over seventeen hands tall, could easily do it- she, herself, was the problem. She tried not to think of it, but it was like not thinking of a white elephant. Once the image is etched in your mind you can’t think of anything else.
            “Katie, concentrate on your lead changes,” Marie Maclevey said.
            Thin, muscular Marie was an expert dressage rider Olympic competitor and jumping instructor. She came to Storm King Mountain Rescue Ranch in Glenwood Springs, Colorado from Aspen three times a week to work with Katie.
            “Good boy, Fortune,” Katie cued him to stop and patted him gently on the neck.
            She reached into her riding jacket pocket for a handkerchief and wiped her brow. It was oppressively and unseasonably hot with no rain in over two months. Katie was acutely aware of fire danger living on Storm King Mountain, the site of the worst American forest fire tragedy. The fire had spared the ranch but had taken the lives
of fourteen hot shot smoke jumpers from Prineville, Oregon, further up on the mountain several years earlier. The silent charred sentinels above the ridge were ominous reminders of what westerly winds whipping through the narrow Colorado River Canyon can do to a fire.
            “Stop focusing on the jump, Katie,” Marie said harshly. “I want you to make one more pass on the jump, circle around and then jump.” She stepped closer to Fortune.
            “Your knees aren’t going to save you! Get your heels down! Lose your feet and lose your seat,” Marie tapped Katie’s knee to emphasize her point.
            “Walk on, Fortune,” Katie cued him with her heels.
            She quickly broke into a canter and made a large circle around the jump. She felt the familiar fear return. It wasn’t the fear of jumping, she loved the feeling of going up into the air. It was the landing that she feared. The horse’s front legs coming down and striking the ground ,so many things to remember: chin out, heels down, seat planted firmly into the saddle.
            Fortune approached the jump, lifted his front legs and soared cleanly over it. His front legs came down, struck the ground and it appeared for a second as if Katie would keep her seat. However she leaned forward and landed with a thud on her back. Fortune took several strides, returned, and stood over her looking down. Katie struggled for her breath, she relaxed and it slowly began to return. She stood and dusted herself off.
            “Katie, you have just got to stop clamping your knees. If you do the same thing every time you’ll keep getting the same result. I don’t think you have many more extreme
landings  in you,” Marie simply said.
            “I know, Marie, I know in my mind what to do, but then I land and panic and clamp my knees,” Katie said as she remounted Fortune.
            She gathered herself, and started over. This time she and Fortune soared cleanly over and they trotted to a stop.
            “I just pictured myself doing just that,” she said to Marie with a smile.
            “I knew you could Katie, your jumping is all in your mind. Let’s call this a day. I’ll see you next week.”
            “Thanks for all your help Marie,” Katie said.
            She turned and led Fortune toward the barn where her husband Will Delaney and the hired hand Tom Billings were working with the horses.
                                                   *                 *                *
            The intense afternoon sun beat down on the already baked and parched Colorado earth. The oils from the sage brush and pinion pines oozed from cracks in their bark.
 A strong wind moved down the Interstate 70 highway and Colorado River corridor. A red tailed hawk flew along the steep cliffs and the jagged mountain sides circling , lifted
ever higher by the hot thermal drafts. A large crack appeared and the ground split open. From  inside the earth, a coal seam that had been burning for years leapt to the surface and sought out the dried alpine grasses and ignited them. They exploded in a ball of flames and consumed the sage and pinion oils with a ravenous hunger. The flames growing in size and intensity leapt into the cedars and pines creating a massive orange                  
wall of flames darkening the afternoon sky. Large embers and ashes flew into the air,
easily jumping the Colorado River and four lane highway. The wind funneled between the narrow corridor whistled and howled as it raged from the west out of Canyon Creek, pushing the fire toward the Storm King Rescue Ranch.
                                           *                    *                        *
            Katie tied Fortune to the hitching post outside the barn and loosened her billets. She gently patted his neck.
            “Good jumping Fortune, I know I’m going to get it, you’re such a good boy,” she said as she slipped her hand to the back of his neck and gave the horse an exuberant squeeze.
            “Will, Will,” Katie called as she turned and ran into the barn.
Turning at the sound of his name, Will saw Katie running down the hall in her riding jodhpurs.
            “What is it Katie?”
            “I jumped on Fortune, Will.”
            “You did,” Will said hugging Katie.
            “The smaller jumps were easy, but I fell on the big one the first time. The second time I soared over it. It was exciting . I pictured myself clearing the jump, then I did it.”
            “I’m really happy for you. You’ve come along way.”
          “Yes I have, Will. How are the horses this morning?”
     “They’re good, Big Will is nursing. I’ll show you what Tom and I did right after I 
finish with Little Man, Sage and Buddy. We’ve already taken care of Sister and her foal Precious.  Come on and look at them with me.”
            “Ok, but I’ve got Fortune tied. I’ll have to be quick, he’s in the shade but Will, it’s so hot,” Katie reached for Will’s hand.
            They walked across the hallway, past Bo the Buckskin Stallion, to Little Man’s stall. The three day old orphaned foal was standing next to the older red dun Quarter horse, Sage. She moved slowly towards the couple on arthritic swollen front knees. The foal shadowed the mare closely. Even though she could not nurse him, they had become very close.
            “I have his bottle here,” Tom said to Will and Katie as he entered the stall.
            “He’s taking the bottle well,” Katie said.
            “I think he’s going to be all right, that is if we make it, between feeding him and Big Will every four hours,” Will chuckled.
            “There isn’t anything that any of us would do differently, is there?” Katie asked.
            “No,” both Will and Tom said simultaneously.
            “I don’t think that Buddy likes sharing his wife,” Will said.
            “He thinks that being twenty six makes him head of the ranch, I guess being a 
grandson of Poco Bueno and great grandson of King, he really is!” Katie walked over to Buddy.
            “ Let’s look in on Big Will, then I need to get Fortune out of the heat,” Katie replied.
            Katie walked to the stall and stopped abruptly, she turned to the cowboys with a sheepish  grin and asked, “What’s this?”
            “I guess you could call it a horse jumper,” Tom was the quickest to reply.
            “It seems to be working,” Will chimed in. “The harness fits around his torso and the spring hanging from the ceiling allowing him to stand and move in a small circle.”
            “He is able to nurse if we bring Brooks right alongside him,” Tom said.
            Katie turned and faced the boys, there were tears in her eyes.
            “He’s going to make it, isn’t he?” she quipped confidently.
            “Only time and a lot of late nights will tell.” Will said walking to Katie and putting his arm around her shoulder.
            “Let’s get Fortune,” he said.
            They began walking toward the barn entrance. Buddy started blowing, snorting, pacing, and began frantically kicking at his stall door. The other horses followed his behavior in rapid succession. The trio looked at each other and then back at the horses.
There was a loud crash from Big Will’s stall as Brooks threw herself against the stall wall and yelled loudly. Fortune returned a terrifying scream at the barn entrance. Something was terribly wrong.       
Will was the first to react. He raced toward the entrance at a dead run, with Tom then Katie at his heels. They reached the front entrance almost simultaneously. Their nostrils were assaulted by a thick acrid burning smell, they instantly looked southwest to see the sun slowly blotted out by a huge wall of orange flames licking at the tree tops. They were  jumping, and  racing, almost gleefully, from tree to tree, sage brush to pinion pine, to dry brittle scrub oak and alpine grasses. The sky was dark as a large black ominous cloud billowed ever higher.
            “We only have minutes!” Tom yelled as he ran toward the flatbed and goose neck horse trailer.
            Will looked at Katie quickly and saw the fear and panic in her eyes.
            “Hurry ! Start with Sage and Little Man and finish with Brooks and Big Will. I’ll have to hold Will or he will be trampled. We both may be anyway,” Will grabbed Katie and yanked her into the barn.
            They grabbed lead ropes from the stall door and clipped on to the halters of Sage
and Little Man. Katie gently held the young foal’s halter and urged him to follow Sage as they hurried toward the barn door and the awaiting horse trailer. Tom waited with the door open.
            “Easy Sage, easy,” Will tried to soothe the older mare.
            She spun in a circle and came dangerously close to pinning the foal against the barn
wall. Katie and Little Man scooted quickly around alongside the mare. They followed Will in.
            Tom closed the door and glanced at the approaching flames, coughing and covering his mouth. Will and Katie reached Sister and Precious. They moved them through the now thick smoke. Will brushed glowing embers off of the horses and they loaded them.
            “Katie, grab Buddy,  I’ll get Bo!”
            Bo, was in an uproar. He was standing on his hind feet pawing at the stall door. Grabbing the lead rope in his right hand, Will let out two feet of rope with the big knot at the end. He swung it gently at Bo to back him up. The stallion came down on all fours with Will alongside grabbing the leather halter he clipped the lead rope in.
            He busted out of the stall door and almost crashed into Katie and Buddy . They ran toward the trailer and the large orange flames just beyond.
            Tom reached Brook’s stall first and was already slipping Big Will from the
harness. Katie had Brooks clipped in her lead rope and was calming the frantic mother as Will helped Tom.
            “The only thing I can think of is to bear hug him,” Will said.
            He reached one hand around the foals front legs and another around his hind quarters. Lifting the foal up he hugged him tightly to his chest.
            Big Will struggled to get free but couldn’t. He stopped struggling and let out a low
growl. Will, with his eyes watering, ran behind Brooks and into the trailer.
            Katie looked at Tom and then to Will. The reality hit. There would be no room in the trailer for Fortune.
            Will set the foal on his wobbly legs and pinned him to his lower body for support. The foal struggled and swayed but with the support of Will was able to stand. He turned to Katie with a pained look.
            “I’m sorry Kate. Their just isn’t room for him, turn him loose, just pull his tack and let him go, at least he’ll have a chance,” Will turned his eyes to the ground avoiding Katie’s questioning stare.
            “I -I can’t Will, it’s a death sentence and I just can’t do it.”
            “Katie, listen to me, you have to, we have to go, we’ve got no choice, let Fortune go and get in the truck with Tom!” Will barked at Katie.
            Katie stepped up in the trailer close to Will, she reached out and touched his arm.
            “I won’t Will, I’m going to ride Fortune out.”
            “No, No, You won’t be able to ride him, he’ll be wigged out, uncontrollable,” Will pleaded.
            “I’m riding him Will, I love you and I love him, I can’t just turn him loose,” Katie leaned over and kissed Will on his cheek.
            She turned to leave.
            “Kate- Kate, If you’re going to ride him, put a panic strap on him, take your fingers and lace them into his mane tightly, and give him his head, he won’t listen, let him run at
his pace. I love you Kate. Be careful.”
            “I love you Will,” Katie said as she turned towards the frantic horse.
            Tom closed the trailer door and slipped behind the wheel of the truck. The truck
and trailer lurched forward and disappeared around the barn.
            Katie moved to Fortune’s side, slid the panic strap around his neck and buckled it. She reached down and tightened his billets. Grabbing, the reins, and the panic strap in her left hand she slid her fingers into his mane. Katie swung her leg up and over Fortune’s back and landed into her seat. She slipped her feet into the irons and wheeled around to his left so he couldn’t rear up. Leaning forward across his neck, she whispered into his ear.
            “Run like the wind, Fortune, run!” She gently kicked him up.
            Fortune rounded the barn just in time for Katie to see the flames leap across from the trees onto the roof of the riding arena, the structure immediately burst into a ball of fire. Her gaze went to the lane, bordered by a stone wall and ditch all the way to the entry gates. The fire raced along the fence line toward the gate and the truck and trailer. There would be no time for Tom to stop the truck, and wait for the iron gates to swing open. The fire would roll over them before they had a chance to pull through the gates. Her heart raced. To save the horses and the boys she would have to jump three Oxers. She gripped the panic strap and Fortune’s mane tighter. She tapped him lightly with her left
heel and the big Hanovarian Quarter Horse Cross turned toward the first jump and tucked his front legs up under him and soared into the air. Katie’s mind reeled, she looked at the flames, the fence, the horse trailer with her babies and husband in it, and set herself for the jump. Fortune came down his front feet striking the earth hard at a full canter. She lurched forward her left foot slipping out of the iron. Teetering sideways, she barely regained her balance. Katie clung tightly to Fortune’s mane. The cross fence was  approaching, and if she did not regain her iron she would be pitched from the horse’s back as he jumped. She used her left foot to kick the iron forward, it swung out, and she slipped her foot alongside Fortune pointing her toe downward. The iron gently bumped her toe as it slipped over it. She regained her seat just in time as Fortune leaped into the air clearing the second Oxer. He hit the ground hard, and Katie lurched forward precariously. With heels pushed down tightly and seat pressed firmly in place, she kept her balance. 
            A large wooden loafing shed erupted into a glowing ball of fire off to Katie’s right. Fortune swerved wildly to the left almost spilling her to the ground. She adjusted her balance, leaned forward against his sweaty neck and steadied him for the last jump.  She prayed she could pull him up in time to hit the button and open the gate.  She glanced back to the left to see the truck and trailer rounding the final arc of the curve and entering the long straightaway to the gates.
            “This is it, you’ve got to clear the fence and the ditch.”
            Fortune bounded into the air. Katie held tightly onto his mane. Driving her heels down hard in the irons, she set herself firmly into her seat as Fortune landed. He cleared the ditch cleanly but was at a full canter and approaching the gate control rapidly. Katie struggled for control of the reins. The fire roared across the dry grasses toward them. She could see the flatbed and the trailer with its precious cargo speeding down the lane. Katie relied on Fortune’s age and great instincts. He was a good horse and listened intently to his riders cues. She pressed down hard in her seat and set her heels down against the irons.
            “Whoa Fortune! Whoa!” Katie said confidently.
            The large Hanovarian Cross pulled up immediately at her command. He danced and spun in a circle shying away from the  approaching flames. Katie looked closely at the gate control and distance, Fortune was a trained dressage horse. He understood and
waited for his cues and commands. She tapped his right flank lightly and cued him to side pass. Just as if he had been in an arena in full dressage regalia he lifted his big head high and high stepped sideways right to the gate control. Katie reached down striking the button. The large iron gates swung open slowly. She held Fortune in place and the truck and trailer sped by with a honk of the horn and a large hoot and hat wave out the window from Tom.
            Katie could hear sirens coming up the gravel road. She looked off in the distance and saw the Glenwood Springs Fire Company arriving. She reached for her panic strap and tuft of
Fortune’s mane. She tapped his flanks and urged him on. He responded swiftly and cantered down the lane.
            Katie looked over her shoulder as she made a sharp right turn and started down the mountain side. The winds were whipping up the hillside and pushing the threatening flames up the hill and away from them. She moved Fortune to the side of the road and pulled him up.
            “Your husband and horses are headed down the hill. It’s safe there. We’ve got the fire contained and have set up a rescue station at the corner ranch,” the young fireman said.
            “Thanks, I need to cool him down and give him water. Thanks so much,” Katie replied.
            She turned to Fortune patted his sweaty neck, laid down across it and gave him a big hug.
            “You saved us, all of us Fortune, You’re the best horse ever,” Katie said.

            They walked down the road toward the awaiting rescue station.
Today's Song
Michael Martin Murphey, "Wildfire"