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January 29, 2011

My Little Red Rocket

I took Raudi for a ride late yesterday afternoon. She’s more antsy at dusk, which is why I sometimes ride her at this time of day. We proceeded around our one mile, neighborhood loop. Raudi did very well crossing our neighbor’s driveway, which because of overflow, resembles a miniature ice-skating rink. And she maintained her composure when Jack, a black lab something else cross, leapt into her path.

However, I didn’t have Raudi’s full attention. She repeatedly fell back into pace when I asked for trot, and she paid attention to everything but my hands and seat. At the half-way point of our ride, Raudi put on the brakes, planted her feet, and lifted her head high. It didn’t take this rocket scientist long to figure out what the problem was. Our neighbor had parked his pale blue Subaru by the side of the road rather than in his driveway. A black Yakima Space Cargo Carrier was on top. Raudi, being a creature of routine, was unnerved by this. It bothered her even more than the sailboat, which like the car, one day appeared from seemingly out of nowhere at the road’s edge.

Raudi shifted her weight to the right side of her body and prepared to do one of her legendary cow horse spins. I turned my core to the left, sat more firmly in the seat, and took a few deep breaths. She then took one step forward. I reached over, and shook her mane. Raudi took another step forward, and I squeezed and released the reins. She took another step forward and then two steps backwards. This reminded me of the movie, Groundhog Day. We could move on with our lives if, and only if, we got it right.

I thought about getting off and walking her, then I decided against it because Raudi was calling my bluff. There have been days in which she has truly believed that SUVs, snowmobiles, ATVs, and swamp buggies are alien vehicles, and that that they contain three-headed aliens who’ve been sent to earth to abduct her and to whisk her to Planet Zorbitol. She reads the National Inquirer, so I’ve sometimes had a hard time convincing her otherwise. I figured that this time, the worst that could happen was that she’d pivot around, take the bit in her teeth, and head for home. Zanyatta she was not. I was going to ride this one out.

I’m not sure what prompted it, but I broke into song. I mean, really broke into song. At the top of my voice, I began singing the refrain to Elton John’s song Rocket Man:

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

Till I touch down brings me round again to find

I’m not the one they think I am at home

Oh, no, no, I’m a rocket man

Rocket man burning out his fuse out here all alone.

I’m tone deaf. I sound good to me, but bad to others. Or at least this is what the horrified expressions of family members and friends have led me to believe. But as James Taylor so aptly notes in Sweet Baby James, “Singing works just fine for me.” Singing also works well for Raudi, who sighed audibly, and sidled past the mother ship. I took her back over to it and said “Touch.” She did as asked, and snorted. I resumed singing and drawing from my seemingly infinite assortment of arcane tunes. You don’t want to know what they are. Suffice to say, Star Trek actor William Shattner’s singing Amazing Grace has nothing on me. We continued on. I asked for a few serpentines, got them, and then let Raudi be. Once we got around the bend, I got off and walked.

It’s hard to believe, but in three month’s time, this horse and I will be embarking on a trip of a lifetime. When I purchased Raudi, I told Virginia Crawford that “I just rode my bicycle from Canada to Mexico, and I’m going to do this trip in reverse on horseback!” I didn’t really believe what I said when I said it – this, after all, was just one of those show of bravados that I’m famous for. And too, Raudi was then just eight-months old and 400 pounds soaking wet. I presumed that in another seven years, when Raudi was road ready, that my life would have taken me in a more predictable direction. By then, a teaching job would have materialized at nearby Mat-Su College, and I wouldn’t have time for travel. I now have the time. My career as a freelance writer affords me more flexibility than I’d have otherwise.

A few years back, Pete and I watched a video, Cowboy Astronaut. It’s about this rancher who decides that he wants to go into outer space. He rides his horse while wearing an astronaut suit, and builds a rocket ship in his barn. No one believes he will do this, except himself. I won’t ruin the movie for you. Suffice to say, I saw a metaphor here, and embraced it. Raudi was my rocket ship.

The articles that I’ve written for this newsletter have attested to the fact that Raudi is by nature willful and has a strong temperament. Her now being a reliable mount is due to the fact that I’ve always considered these traits to be virtues rather than flaws. She’s taught me how to stay relaxed in times of duress. Working with Raudi on a near-daily basis has also impressed upon me the importance of staying in the moment. If everything is okay, it’s going to remain okay. Indeed, we’ve come a long ways since the day in which Brandi Herr, quoting Icelandic Horse Trainer Benedict Lindahl remarked, “You know, this horse of yours, she’s a powder keg waiting to explode!”

It hasn’t always been this way, but I’m glad to have taken on a young horse, and this one in particular. We’ve become adept at reading one another, and acting accordingly. If, for example, I’m on edge, Raudi will immediately take note. She will, when I’m grooming her, sidle away, and swish her tail. I then know that I need to take a few deep breaths and shake my arms and legs out. This works, as does my giving her a wither scratch.

Raudi, Siggi, Pete, and I will be blasting off, and leaving for New Mexico on May 1. The pre-trip preparations are already underway, and the countdown has begun. We’ll pick up a loaner horse in southern Colorado, one named Signy. She’s an older mare and will do Tinni’s job of keeping the younger horses in line. (Tinni is going to Soldotna for the summer.) Pete and I are in the process of setting up Mission Control and will have a cell phone, a laptop, and a solar charger on hand. I’ll write up the trip log for publication when we return to Alaska, which will be in the fall. In the meantime, I’m writing trip dispatches on a near-daily basis, and posting them on our website. Check us out at www.alysculhane.com. The site contains information about us, our animals, and our trip preparations.