Back in the Saddle

A friend whose son is thinking about going to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimmaron, New Mexico, asked me about my experience there. Of course, I immediately recalled stories like this one:

One of our activities was a trail ride on “line ponies,” docile beasts trained to follow the horse in front of them, and accustomed to having a new, and inexpert, rider every day. We were excited. We learned how to get on the horse from the correct side. We felt tall in the saddle, and terribly authentic in our cowboy hats.

One of our hikers, however, always wore a white sailor’s cap; it looked odd on the mountain trails in the southern Rockies, but it was especially out of place on horseback in this most Western of settings. About fifteen minutes into our ride, as the line of ponies and riders crossed a dry creek bed, the sailor’s horse suddenly stopped and seemed to stretch out, almost like a rocking horse without the rockers. I think the lad said something like, “Whoa!” and we all looked. At this, the horse began to piss, an impressive stream to us city boys who had never seen such a large animal relieving itself, and being 15 years old, we found the moment fraught with humor. We laughed. We hooted.

The lad atop the rocking horse, his curiosity outweighing his ability to see into the immediate future, tilted his head and looked down to see what everyone else could see, a growing pool of horse piss, and quite a pool it was on the baked, dry ground. At this moment, his hat fell off.

This would have been enough. It would have been enough to see the white hat fall into the pool of horse piss. But fate was about to hand us a Lifetime Scouting Memory. For this was a sailor hat, and it landed right side up and floated, and then, almost magically, it began to turn in the eddies of the pond, and draw ever closer to the foot of the waterfall where the splashing pee sparkled like diamonds in the morning sun. The boy shouted, “Hey!” but this did nothing to stop the horse, the hat or our laughter, which now bordered on hysteria.

But all good things must come to an end. The horse finished, one of the guide Scouts rode over, picked up the hat and handed it back to its owner. He did not put it on.

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