Sometimes, Hogan’s bursts of speed came from a source Bonnie didn’t understand or expect. After all, she was – and still is – a rookie equestrian.
One day, with her boyfriend Kirk mounted on the horse, Bonnie walked beside them along the main road to Kirk’s job at the gas station. The gas station was at the far end of the little town, where the Barnet Highway left Port Moody and flowed along a forested scenic route to Burnaby.
The plan was for Kirk to enjoy the novelty of arriving to work by horseback, and Bonnie would ride Hogan home in time for dinner.
It was a bright, sunny afternoon. The stirrups of the heavy old stock saddle were long, to fit Kirk’s legs. The horse didn’t seem bothered by the steady stream of late afternoon traffic as the three of them walked quietly along the gravel shoulder of the road. They crossed carefully and without incident with the signal light at the busy Barnet Highway intersection and up the little paved slope to the fuel pumps.
The ride was a treat, and Kirk was smiling as he dismounted. Bonnie kissed him goodbye and led her horse back through the intersection , walking a short distance along the shoulder of the road while holding his reins.
Then, the girl made a fateful decision. It was the kind of decision that young people tend to make , out of an inflated sense of optimism, overconfidence, or simple haste.
That afternoon, Bonnie decided she didn’t need to readjust the stirrups. Adjusting the stirrups was a fussy business. Bonnie, a head shorter than Kirk, decided she could just go without her feet in the stirrups and ride home with her legs relaxed.
Port Moody was a small town back then; it was a distance of about two miles from the Barnet Highway intersection to her street. Bonnie mounted, and started off walking at a leisurely pace.
Suddenly, with absolutely no warning, Hogan took off, leaping into Hell Bent with a velocity that was astonishing.
Years later, she still wasn’t sure how it happened. Maybe they’d started a trot that excited him. Maybe the stirrups felt strange, or perhaps the horse heard a frightening sound.
That day, Hogan roared down the shoulder of the highway so fast Bonnie’s eyes watered. He ignored her desperate pull on the reins. He had the bit in his teeth- he didn’t seem to feel or hear anything. She pulled as hard as she could, calling Whoa! as loudly as her lungs could manage as the air banged out of them.
Still her horse pounded on, galloping hard alongside columns of oncoming rush hour traffic. It seemed he would never stop, but the horse did swerve several times, right into the lane in which the vehicles were advancing.
Hogan’s hooves slipped and clattered on the asphalt each time he left the gravel shoulder, and Bonnie thought she was about to die .
Now, as she vainly attempted to stop this suicide run, she knew the truth in the old saying about seeing your life flash before your eyes. Scenes from her life and fleeting images of her family were popping before her like little silent film frames, flipping across her vision as quickly as a shuffling deck of cards.
The drivers of hundreds of vehicles seemed oblivious to Bonnie’s plight.
She thought she’d go through a windshield any second now if Hogan kept up this mad rush, and they’d both be killed, and maybe someone else. She was too terrified to cry and had almost no air in her lungs.
Then, a few feet away from the place they routinely crossed the highway to go up the hill toward home, the horse plunged to a stop.
At the edge of the road, Bonnie’s legs shook so violently, they were beating the horse’s sides – so hard, she feared the horse could be triggered to resume his gallop.
A man called out from the open window of a sedan trapped in the traffic, asking if Bonnie was okay; at the very end of the ordeal, someone had noticed.
Bonnie was panting. She dismounted, her knees banging togeather, and waited at the side of the road for a gap in the streaming traffic. Suddenly the traffic stopped, from both directions, and she led the horse across to the other side.
She stood, shaking, at the bottom of the hill. She was alive. Home was just a few minutes away.
Bonnie knew that if she did not get back onto her horse now- right now- she might never get on a horse again.
Hogan was standing on the gravel on the shoulder of the steep hill that led home, sweating, clearly still infused with energy. Bonnie turned him around so she could mount on the uphill side, and still shaking, climbed aboard.
The horse immediately arched his neck, strained against the bit, and started up the hill – prancing sideways.
It was the kind of collected side-winding movement seen in performances of Lippizaner Stallions – beautiful, powerful and full of spirit. Bonnie clung to him, exhausted, feeling clumsy but in awe. All the way up the hill to their street, Hogan nodded his head and danced.
Did the girl remember to rub the horse down, to give him water after she removed the old saddle, along with the ineffective bridle and reins? Hopefully she always remembered to do those things. Bonnie was incredibly fortunate, she knew, to be able to keep her horse so close.
What we do know for sure is that she pulled the gate closed, climbed the back steps of her suburban home, and went to seek her mother. She was worried about telling her parents what happened, but just couldn’t help herself.
‘Mum!’ she cried. ‘It’s true – your life CAN really flash before your eyes!’
This has been Episode Five of The Shoeless Horse, by Diana Earth.
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