Swordfight with a Horse: A Writer Wednesday Post

August 20th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays | Publication News


Jim&DomJim & Dom, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Swordfight with a Horse

While all my posts won’t be about my recent wilderness trip,  I do want to share the following—

In the campfire photo above, my younger brother Jim encourages the remarkable young Domenic Lewis to read us a story from “They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?” a collection of funny essays by sportsman Patrick McManus.

Nephew of my nephew Don, fourteen-year old Domenic is quite a sport himself, as you’ll see at Hour Ten of our eleven-hour horseback ride into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The ride was the part of the trip I’d most grimly anticipated. Warnings had been issued: we’d likely ride all day with no break, we were bound to be saddle sore. Steep mountainside drop-offs can be scary– we might need to dismount and walk our horses. Saddlebags had to be light. I worried that my one measly bottle of water would not suffice for a whole day in the sun and you don’t want to be around a dehydrated, overheated Irene. Just mention noon on a sand dune to John.

As it happened, though, our guide gave us three breaks. Thanks to Don’s water filter, we drank our fill of cold, sparkling stream water. My preparatory stretches, padded bike shorts and chamois cream kept me pretty comfortable and we rode through immensely varied and beautiful terrain: dense moist forest, lyrical passages of wildflowers, a stunning field of creamy-plumed  beargrass. Shimmering lakes, a hefty wedge of glacier, vivid young pines reclaiming burnt land–it was a pleasure riding Sugar, my agreeable horse, over such scenic, well-maintained trails.  

But one spot during Hour Ten called for tough equestrian choreography. The horses had to make a short steep rocky ascent,  immediately and arrhythmically step over a large fallen tree and then instantly pivot into a sharp rocky descent. Most made it smoothly, but Domenic’s horse spooked, left the trail, and headed for a standing dead pine. One branch caught under the chin strap of Domenic’s river hat, tearing it off, but he kept his head, stayed in the saddle, grabbed his hat and managed to guide the horse back onto the trail. We proceeded.

Not long afterwards, he said, “I think I’m bleeding.” I was riding just ahead of him, and Don called, “See if he’s okay, will you, Irene?”

I turned in my saddle and froze. There, jutting three inches out of his left temple–“Domenic! You have a stick sticking out of your head!” Whereupon he screamed.

We halted. Don leapt down, helped Domenic dismount and carefully pulled out the sharp dart of white wood.  We were all shaken, no one more than Domenic, but when it appeared all would be well,  Jim patted him on the back. “Now you have a story.” A beautiful way, I thought, to mark such a moment in a young life.

I marked it later in my own way.  When we got to camp, I dug out my little sewing kit, and sewed the chinstrap back onto his hat. Finding a bit of red thread, I embroidered a tiny red star inside the brim, just at the spot of his injury.

By day’s end a smiling Domenic had come up with his take: “I was in a swordfight with a horse, and I lost.” Which, of course, he didn’t.


Publication News: While not publication as such, I supplied some narration for “Reel Herstory: The Real Story of Reel Women” a documentary on the remarkable history of female filmmakers, hosted by Jodie Foster. It’s a pleasure to see writer/filmmaker Ally Acker get well-deserved recognition on  FilmDoo, an international blog dedicated to indie and international film discovery. Look for it this fall at a film festival near you!

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  • Laura

    Heart stopping and brought back all the glories and fears of my own horseback riding days. I have dismounted- I think for good. I want more, more, more vicarious wilderness adventures…

    • IreneOGarden

      They’ll be coming round the mountain, Laura! But glad to hear you are safe on all -twos these days!

  • Cathy Gonick

    I love this photo, which looks like some kind of Old Master painting. I have had few horseback experiences. One was in Montana. I was 17, being led through the wilderness by cousins with a cabin on Flathead Lake. High up on a steep hill, my horse stepped on (I think) a hornet’s nest and we two were immediately surrounded by angry buzzing insects. Although I was an inexperienced rider, I managed to keep my seat as the horse successfully fled our attackers. Ah youth.

    • IreneOGarden

      Congrats on hanging on! Our trip was on the South Fork of the Flathead River, so the terrain was much the same–Glad you made it back as well!

  • Mark Rettman

    Love the story and the pic… as Cathy says, it looks like an old master painting!

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks, Cookie! I never really know what my lens is up to!

  • Stacy

    I agree! Photo looks like a modern day De la Tour . Great story! I used to ride in the Black Hills of South Dakota and once in a while the horses would get spooked. And those hills can get steep! Glad he’s Ok. http://www.abcgallery.com/L/latour/latour49.html

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks, Stacy! Just clicked on your gallery link and was flattered, indeed!

  • Scott

    Your magic red thread is always in your pocket, whether the thread be words, images, or an understanding smile. Domenic was so lucky that your thread was in three dimensional form on your comfort-object-free journey. I praise your nephew’s nephew for keeping his horse on the trail. Or course he didn’t lose that sword fight!

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