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The Edge Of Night


By Lisa Sparks & Autumn Watson

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The ground was dry, and the horses were ready to ride. Autumn, the young college girl who rides my horses, suggested it would be a good day to go on a trail ride at Shelby Forest. Since I was itching to go on an adventure, I readily agreed. We saddled our trusty steeds, Gigi and Dancer, and headed out. On our way there, we stopped at the Shelby Forest General Store for lunch before it closed, so our ride was pushed to mid-afternoon. It was a good thing we stopped for lunch when we did, otherwise things that night could have gone very differently.

At first, things were easy going. Autumn and Dancer led us out through the trails, seeing as he was in better physical shape. Gigi and I took it easy most of the time because she just had had a battle with thrush in her feet. Two and a half miles down the trail, we came across our usual resting spot by a rickety picnic table at the edge of the Mississippi River. The easiest part of the trails was behind us; ahead were steep hills, harpin turns, and switchback trails. Someone could easily get lost if they weren’t familiar with the terrain.

As we headed towards the trailhead, sunset was fast approaching. Autumn and Dancer ran ahead, losing sight of Gigi and me. We kept a steady trot and some soft canters as we followed the trail. There is no better feeling than being in sync with your horse in such a picturesque place, but as I reached the loop that divided the exit from the extended trail, I made a wrong turn.

I convinced myself that I could guide my horse out of this situation, so for the next forty-five minutes, we meandered around until darkness set in for the night. A dim light was reflected off the clouds, giving an overall shadowy effect looking upward and outward, but only obscure darkness remained below. As fear and panic took hold, I continued to pull Gigi whichever way I thought was the way out, but all my attempts were futile. Before I realized it, we came across the riverbank’s edge. Despite all of my best efforts, I was helplessly lost in the dark and desperately needed help.

Meanwhile, Autumn and Dancer had long since finished the trail, but she decided she’d ride back to find me so we could finish the trail together. After riding for a while and still not meeting up with me, she started to worry. At that point, she had no choice but to follow the trail all the way back, all the while trying to find any signs of me or my horse. She called out for me, and somehow, I managed to hear her. I called back, but when she didn’t answer, all I could do was hope she was okay. Having no other choice, I relinquished the reins to Gigi, hoping that she would be able to lead us both back to a trail, any trail! We wandered through the dark woods; occasionally, I would call out for Autumn again, trying to gain some sense of where I was. Suddenly, as Gigi continued on, the familiar sight of the rickety picnic table came into view. We were back on the trail! I dismounted and thanked God for the mild weather and my homeward bound mare. As we rested, Gigi’s soft gaze remained on me. There wasn’t a trace of fear or worry in her eyes. She somehow knew she was safe with me out here, half lost in the woods. Her quiet resolve gave me courage to press on. We had gotten this far, so maybe Gigi could get us home. Climbing aboard my only hope out of these dark, unforgiving woods, I rested my hand in her mane and urged her forward.

By that time, Autumn and Dancer had finished the trail a second time, but not without hardship. About three fourths of the way back, Dancer spooked and refused to carry her any further; however, Autumn’s fearless determination forced her to continue. They were still on the trail, and they couldn’t be far from the trailhead now. She continued on foot, leading her exhausted and scared horse behind her. Equipped with only her wits and a dull pocketknife, she pressed on. Not even the growing blisters on her feet stopped her; she just took off her boots and trekked the rest of the way only in her socks. All that bravery was soon rewarded, as she and her faithful steed finally came across the road leading to the trailer. Even though her heart was full of hope, the sight of an untouched truck and trailer made her stomach drop. First, she took care of Dancer, and when she heard an animalistic howl, she quickly loaded Dancer in the trailer to keep him safe. She waited for a while and still saw no signs of me or Gigi. So, she did the only thing she could do. She called the police and informed them of the situation.

For two and a half miles, Gigi found the open path that I couldn’t see. Up and down hills, through hairpin turns and switchback trails, we rode carefully through the dark abyss. Eventually, we came across flat land, and I saw the wooden bridge that signaled the start of the trail. Finally, we emerged from the woods. We had made it! Gigi got us back home.  We were greeted by a small team of search and rescue park rangers. Even though they were trying their best, they still weren’t sure how they were going to find me if I hadn’t shown up when I did. As soon as I got to the truck and trailer, I dismounted and gave Gigi a firm hug. I removed her tack and started to brag about her to the rangers, but Gigi had had enough excitement for one day and just loaded herself into the trailer. I could only laugh. The rangers gave me a quick once over to make sure I was okay, and they were absolutely baffled by the fact that my horse had brought me safely out of the woods in the dark. But I wasn’t. Gigi was my partner, rather than just an animal to command. We respect each other in our own ways, despite being from different species. If I wasn’t sold on that idea before, I sure was now because I would have never gotten out of those woods if our relationship had been any different. Gigi was God’s provision for the mess I had gotten myself into, and I am truly thankful for her.

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