The Tunnel

     During one of our riding adventures around the freeway underpass, up near the trail to the creek, we found a cement tunnel. Our neighborhood riding gang on this day was my little brother Jay Jay riding his pony Peewee, Angela on her pony, me on my sister’s pony, Wendy on her pony and my friend Nancy on her tall buckskin horse, Pride. We loved to find adrenaline charged adventures to go on, usually the summers held the most action. On this particular adrenaline rush-filled day, it was more fright than fun.

     Previously my friend Jill and I had already found this tunnel on another trail ride. She was on her horse Champ, I was on my horse Tivio. But we’d foregone the chance to go through it, just sitting atop our horses, looking at it and discussing when or how we’d take it, and who we’d bring with us. We already knew we’d be on horses, that was a given. The question in mind was, what was it. We’d ridden around it, over it and to the other end of it, seeing that it went down under the freeway and came out on the other side. But we hadn’t yet ridden inside it. We called that area the Sunset Stables. The wide dirt trail had Rosemary bushes growing literally everywhere in meadows on either side, with the heady herbal scent almost assaulting our nostrils. On some days it was so strong that it smelled like skunk.

     The first thing that we had to do when we found a new place to explore and accost was to decide whether there would be any adults around. In this case the tunnel was a long one, with a narrow walkway, where the cement walls were close together than the other tunnels we’d found. We’d already found the other end.  It was just a matter of time.

     Pride was a super tall buckskin gelding, who walked with his head high. When Nancy was on his back, her legs didn’t even reach all the way around his barrel. The rest of our posse’  were on ponies, because we’d known for a few days that we’d be traversing this tunnel. Nancy wanted in on it, but insisted on riding Pride. She said she’d just be the last one in, that was the plan. Single file we each entered the blackness of the cement, with a dirt floor and the smell of mildew and a slightly watery fragrance. I went in first. Star my sister’s pony didn’t even hesitate, walked right in stepping over large rocks, sticks. My brother followed on Pee Wee. Angela followed Jay Jay on her red pony. And then bringing up the rear was Nancy on Pride.

     As we walked along we couldn’t even see the other end, except for a tiny white dot that was “the light at the other end”. This was what we talked about as we walked, and walked and walked, the tiny light. “I can see a light, don’t get scared, I can see it!” I said a few times, I could feel the fear behind me coming from my little brother. There was some complaining going on too. I had to lead them on and on, to the end. I couldn’t show fear. No matter what, I had to be brave.

     After what seemed like a hell, we were in what was the middle. I could just tell we were at the middle of the tunnel, because it was pitch black. And then I heard a ruckus behind me, in the inky air. Nancy was yelling, and Pride was spooked. Her horse wanted out of the black tunnel. I heard what sounded like cursing and some “look out, look out’s”, and I looked back. It was so dark that I couldn’t see the horses. All I could see was sparks shooting off the roof a distance back, and Nancy’s blonde head banging against the roof of the tunnel.  I could see the silhouette of her body being pulled along while she held on to her horse’s mane. Her horse had begun rearing up and bucking wildly, making her head smack into the cement roof over and over. I saw his huge body rear up and she tumbled in a backwards somersault, over his hind end. And then I was being violently pushed as my pony was being shoved to the side. He’d literally smashed his way past the other three ponies on his exit out of the blackness.  I saw this monstrous animal jump over my pony’s withers, and flying ahead, barreling on out of the tunnel, rider less, the reins like loose straps flailing around both sides of his silhouette, without hands holding them anymore. That was the last thing I saw was the outline of the reins like tiny black strips, at each side of him, as he blasted out on his own, his hooves clattering, echoing off the cold walls of the cement.

     It all happened so fast that before I knew what had happened Pride was gone. He’d begun his long striding gallop, his black tail and mane flying behind him, hooves pounding the ground hard, heading for home, his corral, rider-less. I stopped and let Nancy up on Star. Riding double now, we continued on, our ponies now alternating between walking and trotting. They wanted out too. But they were now afraid. I could see the whites of Star’s eyes, as if he was caught, trapped.

     We could see the sunlight coming in, streaming in through the rectangle in front of us. Our pony’s little hooves were making straight for it, their little fuzzy ears standing up, seeing freedom. They shuffled over the small cement floor and like a new breath of life, we were standing in blinding white sunlight, blinking, squinting, and holding our hands up over our eyes to shield them from the onslaught of light. And then I began laughing as Nancy slid off the back of my pony, stood there. “I saw sparks coming off your head!” I choked between coughing laughs. “There were sparks, your head made sparks!” Nobody else saw the sparks but me. Nancy’s eyes flashed, and she was saying “that’s not funny, Christine, It’s not funny. I could have been killed”. My brother in the verge of tears whines “I want to go home, can we just go home?” “yeah, let’s go” was all I could say.

My first Crush

    There were olive orchards to ride through, in the summer, on my little sorrel horse. I love him, dreamed of him for years before I ever laid eyes on him. My yellow sun-bleached hair was like his yellow halter. I didn’t own a pair of boots yet. He could step on my toes with his un-shod hooves. I did not mind it.I learned how to make slip knots with the lead line. Dirt, brushes, hoof picks and manure were my tools of trade. The fragrance of rosemary and horse sweat on my mind and in my nostrils. I loved my existence then.

     The words “stallion” , “stud” and “gelding” were new in my ten year-old vocabulary. New friends who wore suede pointed-toe boots who I both envied and emulated. I wanted to be like them. My prancer had strong leg muscles, and a sleek round back, that I loved to wrap my legs around while we rode together. I loved to touch him and saw him peering at me as I walked away into the tack room. What did he want to eat? Anything I’d give him anything, carrots and alfalfa, for he was my new love.

  For what did I owe, who did I owe my beautiful and fun, long, hot, rural days too? I did not know the answer to that question. I only thought that it would never end. I made up a new me, by wearing cut-off shorts and mocassins, riding bareback like and Indian.

    We rode in groups, several of us rode together. The horses were all different in size and color. There were seal brown ponies, and seal brown thoroughbreds, sorrel geldings with white socks on their hind legs. There were appaloosas with splatters of brown on their white round butt. There were black little ponies with long black tails and manes, and shaggy coats to keep them warm in the winter. There was a buckskin too.  We all looked good we thought, on our horses even bareback. For once we learned the art of riding, we could go without a saddle.

      My father and another man bought and sold small horses. They were too small to be horses and too tall to be ponies. I was given these horses to ride around on. They were “greenbroke”. Some weren’t even used to having a person on their backs. I loved these horses, one by one. My favorite was Toby. Toby was a black and white mustang. I wanted to keep him as my own. I held onto him for the longest I think. He fell on me one day, on a gravel driveway. My right leg slid under his barrel and we slid. It all happened so fast. But he got up and ran off after the other horses.  I still have the scars on my right leg and foot. My scars are something I am proud of. For they are the only proof that I lived this life.