Playing in the Imaginary Paintball Championships with my Horse and the Yellow Crested Cyclist…



Playing in the Imaginary Paintball Championships with my Horse and the Yellow Crested Cyclist…

I know, I know… what the heck is she talking about?!…

Well, “imaginary paintball” was the only description I could think of to tell this story.

Let me explain.  As I’ve said before about Finn, he thinks he is Daniel Boone’s horse.  He has to blaze new trails (as long as they aren’t scary) and he has to explore new horizons at every turn.  The problem with this is that Finn forgets what horizon he was exploring before another thing catches his interest…  If he were a human, he’d be one of the guys in THE HANGOVER.  He’d start out just going for a boys’ weekend in Vegas and end up with a broken tooth, a lion in the bathroom, $40,000 in his pocket and no memory of how any of it happened.  That’s Finn.  A trail ride is never just a trail ride.  We don’t just mosey down the path… we have to go here, check this out, explore that, touch the other thing, look above, jump down, jump over, sniff and basically behave like a ten year old kid in a candy store with ADD.

On the other hand, it is never boring…  And, truth to tell, I find him endlessly entertaining and I spend the entire ride just musing over his horsey thoughts.

So, back to imaginary paintball.

OK here goes:


Finn and I were doing our usual multi-tasking while trail riding…

Me:  OK, let’s go up here…

F:  Up here?

Me:  Yup

F:  What did you say?

Me:  Go up here.

F:  Didja see that??!!

Me:  It was a bird.

F:  Uh uh!  It was a… hey, look — BLACKBERRIES!  YUM.  Can we stop?!

Me:  No, keep going.

F:  Puleeeze?  I’ll stand right here while you get off and pick some.

Me:  No.  Get up here!

F:  OK.  Let’s canter!  Wait!  I think I see…

Me:  C’MON.

F:  A low hanging branch!  (screeching to a halt)  Are you going to cut that?

Me:  No.

F:  What?

You get my drift… It is a constant jibberjabber of nonsense and chatter as we ride.  He always has an opinion and has no fear voicing it.  I always have an opinion about his opinions so we meander down the trail at uneven speeds, often stopping or playing at will.  It’s so much fun!  It is also a good thing that we do this alone or else I’d have no riding friends left…


So, we were making our way up a hill and over a steel pipe that led us into another part of the State Park, when for no reason, Finn defied gravity.  We were in mid-air jumping over the steel pipe when he managed to change direction and crab totally to the right while looking frantically to the left.  As we hit the ground, he was still looking fully left but going to the right in the best side pass run I’ve ever seen!  I was scrambling and trying to figure out what was going on as we flew sideways towards some mean looking brambles.

“Hey, did I scare you?”  It was a biker who had appeared out of nowhere.  A nice biker.  He stopped and said that he didn’t see me.  I told him that we didn’t see him either.  I told him that we were fine, no worries.  We both smiled and parted ways.  He went down one trail and we went down another.

Little did I know, my fuzzy trail riding accomplice had other ideas.  Finn was not happy to have been snuck up upon.  He was making a plan.  And, that plan began with the simple words he uttered to himself, “Game On, Yellow Shirted Dude, Game On!”


Now, the funny thing is that no one but Finn knew we were playing.  I had a hint that something was up but I had no idea what.  You see, immediately after we parted ways with the cyclist, Finn had a vigor that he usually reserves for racing or heading back to the barn!  He was on a mission.

I hadn’t fully grasped this yet.  I was just happy that he had focused on something and that we were really moving out.  He was gaiting and popping his teeth and really happy.  I thought about how fun this was and how much we need to find some flat areas to scream over more often.  La-De-Da.  Here’s me, all happy and singsongy on the back of my horse while Finn was planning his equine revenge.

And then he stopped, ears pricked.

“Huh?  What is it buddy?” I asked innocently.  His ear twitches from side to front.  He was listening…  And then he took off again like a bullet, straight towards an opening in the trees.  Yes, there was a slight deer trail but it wasn’t really cleared enough for a human on a horse so I didn’t let him go there.  Arrrrrgh!  Oh he was pissed.  He wheeled around and took off down the trail, beating tracks like he was late for a train.  I was starting to get concerned.  Were we late for a train?

All of a sudden, we burst through the foliage and stopped dead on the trail.  Finn was still listening intently.  No one was around so I gave him the rein because I was now really, really curious what was up with him.  As quiet as a mouse, he backed up ever so slightly into the brush and we waited.  Actually, I didn’t realize that we were waiting.  I just thought we were listening.  And then, in a powerful jet of emotion, Finn leaped out onto the trail, took about 6 steps, rounded a corner and came face to face with the cyclist again.  BLAMMO!, Finn planted his front feet right in front of the cyclist and halted like a statue.  The cyclist stopped immediately and Finn did a little jig and jumped backwards about 5 feet.  “GOTCHA!”  Finn was tittering with glee!

It all happened so fast.  Did I just experience what I thought I experienced?  I was floored.  I could not comprehend what had just happened.  Did Finn just ambush the cyclist?  How could that be?  I dismounted and asked the cyclist if he was OK.  He was.  He asked if my horse did that on purpose… because it seemed like he did.  I said that horses don’t think like that.  They are prey animals and blah blah blah.  Weird, though.  I apologized profusely and told him that I had no idea he was coming down the blind trail.  (But obviously my horse did.)

OK, fast forward about 10 minutes.  I had totally forgotten the cyclist and was just keeping up with Finn’s ongoing chatter.  We were jerking down the trail, doing this and that when all of a sudden, he pricked his ears again and really, really wanted to go very quickly towards something.  I went with it because I could not believe it was happening again.  (I still don’t.)  This time, Finn perched us above a path.  He purposefully went to the spot and stopped.  We were on an upper hill of a path, looking down.  His ears were pricked up the path.  I heard nothing.  And then, flappyflappyclickyclick…  The bike was coming.  I couldn’t believe it.  How could this possibly be happening again?  So, I waited.

Yup.  It was him.  It was the same yellow shirted cyclist, coming down that particular trail.  And, as if in a dream because I couldn’t believe this was happening, Finn asked me if we could jump down there.  Finn was agitated and excited.  “FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, NO!”, I yelled at him.

The cyclist heard me and stopped.  “WHAT IS GOING ON?!”   Now he was a little upset, sort-of.  More startled, really.

I said, “I’m so sorry!  He is crazy today!  He thinks we are playing paint ball or something!”  The cyclist was pretty amused and he started laughing.  “OK, are you saying that the horse is playing with me ” he said.  “I know it sounds impossible, but I think he is…”  “Fine, let’s play!”  He said he would go down this path and then veer off somewhere unknown.  He dared us to find him.

I didn’t need to tell Finn.  He was still playing…

Now this is the part where I feel like I’m from another planet when I tell you that Finn continued on with a mission… He ran and jogged and smelled the ground and the air and we were flying through the brush like it was an open meadow.  Finally, he paused behind a very skinny tree next to a single track.  (Isn’t it funny how horses sometimes think they are hiding if the tree is as wide as their heads?)  He stopped so quickly, I was about to eat his mane…  And, we sat there, waiting.

Low and behold, the cyclist was behind us.  Finn’s ears were pricked backwards.  He knew.  But, I also think he thought he was hidden by this measly tree in front of us.  Of course, this made no sense, but in his horseyhead, this was hiding.  Anyway, the cyclist came up behind us and stopped.  Finn erupted backwards and wheeled around as if to blow at him.  But, the cyclist was just standing there on the ground with his bike next to him.  Finn was confused.

“Sorry, Dude, you lose… Gotcha!”  and he reached out and tagged Finn on his loin.  With that, the cyclist shot off down the trail, laughing really, really loudly.

Finn looked at me as if to say, “But how could he see me?  I was hidden?!”

It was clear that the biker was going back to the parking lot so I made Finn go another way.  I felt weird and kinda stupid that my 1100lb horse was playing paintball chicken with a cyclist — or I am insane…   After about 10 minutes and long enough for the cyclist to have driven away with his bike securely fastened to the roof, we headed back to the lot.  Finn charged forward, thinking he might just meet his foe once again.  And, as he pranced into the trailer area where all the horse chariots awaited, Finn set his eyes on the car lot instead.

Out from the trees stepped the yellow breasted cyclist.  “Hey Buddy, wanna carrot?”  Finn was in horsey heaven!  “Sure!”  We gaited over with the same gusto as when we were on the trail.  Finn stopped on a dime in front of the cyclist and sort of sneeze/blew/whinnied at him and gingerly took the carrot.   While he chewed, he bobbed his head so pleased with himself…

“I’ve never seen a horse act like this horse,” the cyclist said with a smile.

“Me, Neither”, I said as I looked at him and shook my head, “I forgot my camera and no one will believe this.”

He smiled, got into his Subaru and said, “Well, I’m gonna tell this story for the rest of my life!”

Finn just stood there so proud — obviously he had won the game.  He got a carrot!  You coulda popped his chest with a pin.

You see, with Finn, what might start out as just a trail ride, ends up as the Imaginary Paint Ball Championships against the Yellow Crested Cyclist!

I love him.

“Game On!”

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APRIL BUCKET FUND FOR SUMMER RAFFO (who was lost in the mudslide) and her remaining 19 horses!

APRIL BUCKET FUND FOR SUMMER RAFFO (who was lost in the mudslide) and her remaining 19 horses!

FROM A MOTHER’S BROKEN HEART – I received an email from Summer Raffo’s mother, Rae…

This month, our Bucket Fund is dedicated to the horses left behind in the mudslide of Oso, Washington.

Summer Raffo, known and loved by everyone in the town, was swept away in that tragic landslide.

Summer left behind 19 horses…

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to Summer’s brother Dayn.

Today, we have a letter from Summer’s heartbroken mother, Rae.


He is Rae’s letter:

I’m Rae Smith, Summer’s mother.  Dayn said you may like a few personal stories or just some personal information about Summer.  Somehow it was almost always the horse that was the underdog that caught Summer’s eye.  The one no one else wanted.  Or the one that had a little flaw.  She had the ability to see through those things.  But her main horse was Shera.  Named after the show ‘He Man” on TV in the early ’80′s because it was her favorite show. 

Summer taking a group out riding...

Summer taking a group out riding…

Shera was foaled in 1982 and when she stood up in the stall for the first time she walked right over to Summer and I instead of her mother and she was a people horse her entire life.  She ‘owned’  Summer for 32 long years.  We had her put down just before this past winter when she was having too difficult of a time getting up and down any longer.  While it was a really difficult decision Summer was fine with it because she remember the young filly racing across the pasture while we held our breath as she neared the fence thinking she’d got right through it but always put on her brakes just in time to skid to a stop right at the fence.  Not the old mare that was having a difficult time walking across the pasture and was always the last one back to the barn. 

SheRa, the favorite who passed just last year at 32.

SheRa, the favorite who passed just last year at 32.

I insisted that Summer do all of Shera’s training herself even though she was only about 7 years old and remember how my heart jumped out of my chest one day when Summer and her friend asked if they could ride one of the horses and I told them sure.  When I looked out the window I saw Summer and her little friend on that ‘untrained’ three year old filly’s back walking out across the pasture with nothing on her but a halter, lead and two little girls. 



We’ve had a lot of horses over the years.  Many we bred on our farm.  Some we purchased and my ‘famous’ phrase to her was ‘get up there, it’s just a horse’.  And she always would.  A few years ago she was starting a three year old gelding and did his ground work, rode him for about 10 minutes in the round pen and then told me he was ready for a trail ride.  I rode a mare that we hadn’t had long but she’d started rearing under saddle. 



We were half way up the mountain behind our house and my mare came up and over backwards pinning me under her.  My back was sprained and I had several compression fractures.  I didn’t know how I was going to get out of the woods and off the mountain.  Summer dismounted and put that green gelding in a ditch so he was lower and told me to get on him, he’d bring me down, she said.  I was scared knowing if he spooked and I came off again I’d be in so much trouble.  But I had to remember ‘it’s just a horse’ :). 

She-Ra and one of her many foals...

She-Ra and one of her many foals…

She helped me up on him and that young horse took such care with every step he took carefully placing his feet so as to not jar me on his back.  And like she said, he brought me down.  She could read horses like that.  She truly had a gift.  Not just for looking into their eyes and seeing into their being but she could look at a horse that was ‘off’ and tell what was wrong.  She’d run her hands over it’s neck, back and legs and could said she could ‘feel’  hot spots where they needed adjustments.  I tried.  Many times and never felt anything.  She’d push or pull and adjust them and they’d run off sound as can be.  Usually kicking up their heels as if to thank her for relieving their pain.  She was such a hard worker from the time she was just a little girl.  No one ever had to tell her twice to do her chores.  She’d usually be done before any of the rest of us got out of the house.  

My favorite shot of Summer and one of her beautiful Arabs

My favorite shot of Summer and one of her beautiful Arabs

She’d tell me she was going to the farm to check the horses and be gone all day.  I’d call to see where she was and she’d tell me the fence was down and she’d been fixing it all day.  Or she’d just go down and spend the day sitting on the ground with the horses, talking to them.  Sitting on all of their backs as they lay on the ground.  Petting each and every one.  Feeding them treats.

Keeping the broodmares in shape!

Keeping the broodmares in shape!

 We had so many rides together starting young horses.  We loved to make our own trails through the thick underbrush in the woods here in Washington.  So many times little things happened that made us laugh until we cried.  One time we were both on young horses.  She was behind me and I kicked my filly into a good gallop wind blowing through our hair making our eyes tear.  It felt so good until my horse came to a puddle that was across the entire trail and abruptly put on her brakes.  I managed to stay on but the back of my saddle came straight up and when it came back down I was more on her neck then her back.   Summer laughed so hard she nearly fell off of her horse.  Some days we’d ride so long we had to get off and walk for a while.  So we decided we’d just throw the reins over the saddle horns and teach the horses to just follow us. We’d weave on foot in front of them back and forth across the trail and they’d dutifully follow our every step.

Mother and Daughter.

Mother and Daughter.

  At the end of that summer I decided to sell that gelding I’d been riding.  Some folks came to look at him.  They rode him and played with him but I could tell they weren’t sure he was the ‘one’ they’d been looking for.  So I unsaddled him and threw his lead over his neck and he dutifully followed me step for step right back to the pasture gate.  They bought him on the spot.  Summer and I got the biggest kick out of that for years.  I know I’m rambling and I have so many wonderful memories of my wonderful daughter.  She was my horse partner, my constant companion and my best friend.  I lost a daughter.  The whole world lost a truly gifted, loving, caring young woman who had a profound love for horses.  

Addendum (added a day later):

One thing I think I forgot to tell you.  We took a lock of Gavi’s (Summer’s Paso gelding)  mane and had it cremated with Summer.  Rae

Seven Cedars Arabians
AKC Yorkshire Terriers
Rae L. Smith
PO Box 826
Darrington, WA  98241

This is Gavi, Summer's Paso.  A lock of his hair was cremated with Summer.

This is Gavi, Summer’s Paso. A lock of his hair was cremated with Summer.





HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!