This was the day. Bonnie would ride Hogan to Burke Mountain Riding Stables, and a farrier would trim his ragged hooves. It would cost some serious cash, but it had to be done.
She slipped her wallet into her pocket, bridled the horse, and slid the pad onto his sturdy back. There was a reason people often called Port Moody ‘The Gulch’, but today it wasn’t raining.
Bonnie and her horse walked slowly out the gate, and down the hill on the gravel shoulder of the street. His unshod hooves made a gentle ‘cluff, cluff’ sound whenever they strayed over to pavement.
It would be a bit tricky, this trip. The pair would travel some way along the shoulder of the main highway, then make their way up a long hill.
Hogan had proven in their second year together that he was capable of calmness along the busy highway, but along the way there was a metal bridge to cross, over the Coquitlam River. There was always an element of the unexpected in the narrow confines of a bridge – a backfiring engine, someone honking, an issue with strange footing.
Bonnie decided to brave the river below rather than face the brisk traffic and other risks of the highway bridge above. Nervously, she guided the little horse along a dirt trail that led to the riverside. The banks of the river were not too steep, but large rocks lined the edge and the fast-flowing water was fairly high.
Being seventeen, Bonnie fleetingly thought how cool they must have looked from above if anyone was walking across the bridge and watching. But she was scared.
Hogan, however, didn’t seem worried. He acted as though he was pleased to be out and about, and unafraid of the rocks or the river. Bonnie estimated the water to be up to Hogan’s belly. She peered across the river to the opposite bank, and decided to give it a try. Hogan willingly waded into the water, and picked his way across without incident. His human was grateful and happy. He’d been brave, but careful.
Hogan ploughed up the rocky embankment on the other side of the river with little trouble, and away they went on the next leg of the journey, damp but safe.
Bonnie, who’d always struggled with a lousy sense of direction, took a few minutes to reorient herself, and turned the horse to the north. Again they were on a public roadway, but here traffic was light. They kept to the gravel shoulder, and Bonnie tried to go easy on rough ground for the sake of the horse’s shabby hooves.
At last, far from the suburbs and seemingly miles up the mountainside, she saw a sign above a gate leading to a big paddock and a set of tidy stables. Bonnie was charmed by the sets of three-rail fences, all in perfect repair. These stables looked prosperous. She felt she’d borrowed a bit of respectability, bringing her steed here. She walked into the paddock, and made her enquiries.
‘You’ll have to wait a bit until we’re finished with this last horse,’ the farrier told her. ‘How is he?’
Bonnie confessed that she’d been advised her horse may be nervous. The farrier glanced briefly at Hogan, noting the horse was small, and went back to his work.
Bonnie felt jittery now, and when she took another look at her horse, she saw something she’d never seen before. Hogan was bunching his muscles. The large muscles at the tops of his legs were rounded and twitching. She looked quickly at his eyes and saw they were white-ringed. He swung his head from side to side, trying to get a better look into the stalls where the farrier and his assistant were working.
‘Stay calm,’ Bonnie said to herself. ‘Be calm for the horse.’
Oh, God. The horse was showing palpable stress.
The farrier, a sinewy and graceful man with a tool belt strapped across his waist, walked over and looked closely at Hogan. The horse was now vibrating all over.
‘Get the twitch,’ he called to his assistant. Bonnie started. She knew what a twitch was. Surely the farrier knew what he was doing?
Her horse was shaking, and Bonnie filled with dread.