Wednesday December 31 2008
With much of the snow having melted, today was the first time we could hit the trails horseback in a couple of weeks. The horses were a little on their toes - who knows what could have taken up residence behind the sagebrush in that time. Things like... Horse Eating Monsters, just waiting to snatch some unsuspecting horse into their gaping maws!
It was a Horse Eating Jackrabbit that, soon after we started out, almost devoured Surri, who was leading Jose down the road. Surri skittered on ice, and Carol turned him right up the steep hill right after that killer jackrabbit. Jose followed, amused at the naivete of Surri and his Horse Eating Monster.
Near the top of the climb, Surri found his jackrabbit, which turned out not to be a Horse Eater after all, but what Surri DIDN'T see, and what Jose DID see, was the COUGAR on the hill.
Neighbor Charlie is, among other things, a sculptor, and he has a unique cougar sculpture on a hill. If you get a fleeting glimpse of Charlie's cougar on the hill from a distance, your heart will skip a beat and you'll do a double take - there's no mistaking what it is supposed to be.
As Jose and I followed Surri up the hill, to our left on a parallel hill, standing out on the ridge Jose saw something that struck every fiber of his prey-animal-being as danger. His head snaked high in the air, his ears pinpricked, his eyes grew wide as saucers, his nostrils dilated, and he snorted and inhaled and blew, trying to get (although fearful of getting) a scent of the cougar that he clearly saw.
I could feel his pounding heart shaking his body with great thuds, and it wasn't from exertion from the hill we were climbing.
I stroked Jose's neck, and told him there was really nothing to be afraid of, and he couldn't smell danger, but Jose knew this really could be a genuine Horse Eating Monster. One great thing about Jose is that he doesn't panic, and when I asked him to turn away from the cougar and keep moving, he did, though he was clearly alarmed. I let him turn to look back at it a few times - "See Jose? It didn't move" - but he kept snorting until we'd moved well past the danger, out of range of a big Horse Eating Cougar with big claws that might jump on our backs.
The rest of the ride was relaxing, and Jose found many fresh piles of horse poo on the flats to sniff. Wild horses? It was probably a rancher's horses turned out for the winter - we came across a herd of them last winter, though they certainly acted like wild horses.
Back at the ranch, Jose told his Horse Eating Cougar tales to his pals gathered round the hay feeder. A golden eagle flew in and alighted in our tallest tree and listened in.
I would bet that's not the first cougar, sculpted or real, that Jose has seen or smelled.