Dashing Across the Dunes

Ron Karpinski 1999


In June of 1984, my best old friend, John, got married, and I fell in lust with the maid of honor.  The affair lasted a full three days, before she gave me the dump.

Bonnie worked in the office of a veterinarian and owned two horses herself.  On the second day of our courtship, she asked if I cared to join her on a horseback ride along the California seashore.  "Sure," I replied.  After all, I had ridden a horse before . . . once.

A fine mist fell, as we drove to the stables on the south side of San Francisco.  The barn sat back from the beach, a broad stretch of damp windswept coast line.

For my mount, Bonnie selected a gentle roan gelding named "Colonel" which proved an unfortunate choice.  A career army man, I held the rank of warrant officer; but, in the army, a colonel outranks a warrant officer, so this horse wasn't about to follow any orders from me.

Sure enough, when we tried to leave the barn, Colonel balked.  Bonnie explained that the horse simply did not want to venture out in such cold, wet weather.  "Prod him in the side with your foot," she advised, "and he'll obey."

Hugging the shoreline, we ambled north.  Colonel kept straining at the bit, trying to turn back for the barn, and I kept nudging him forward.  Suddenly, he broke into a trot.  We shot past the others and raced ahead, my arms and legs flapping in the breeze.

Colonel had clearly taken charge here.  He meant to dump me and get back to his warm, cozy stall.  Man and beast tore down the beach at full speed ahead.

Somehow, the reins found their way into my hands, and I pulled back hard, trying to slow the pace.  A strange resolve settled over me, determined not to lose this test of wills.  The horse, ears pinned back, resented my lingering presence and veered to the right.

Fifty feet away, a long berm  of sand marked the rear edge of the beach.  It rose twenty feet above sea level, ten feet wide at the top.  Colonel charged forward and climbed the small hill with ease, massive rear legs pumping like huge pistons, muscles bulging, veins standing out like road maps.  I marveled at the strength of this enormous beast.

Atop the berm, Colonel rose on his hind legs and whinnied.  High in the saddle, I found the presence of mind to wave at Bonnie on the beach below, hopefully conveying the impression that I had control over Colonel and not the other way around.

A thought flashed through my mind:  Lawrence of Arabia must have looked like this, dashing across the dunes at a full gallop.  It felt both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.  Colonel, if he could think, held no such romantic notions.

With my weight still firmly on his back, Colonel tried another tack.  Down the hill we raced, past the other startled riders, straight for the ocean.  Colonel might have thought I would jump off at the prospect of getting wet; but he thought wrong.

Splashing through the surf, Colonel came to a halt in six feet of water, and there he stood, glaring out to sea.  Glued to the saddle, I grimaced, as the rising tide soaked my underwear.  This seemed to bond us, and, for the rest of the day, we got along just fine.

That night, Bonnie bid adieu.  Her loss broke my heart; but I did not leave the scene empty-handed, having acquired a new reputation as quite the dandy horseman.


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