Every rider needs a good trail dog, especially if you ride alone.
Some dogs don’t enjoy the outdoors—they’re couch puppies and would rather stay indoors. My dogs—nearly all of them rescues from the county animal shelter—all love being outdoors. When I ride, my dog usually puts in twice the mileage my horse does. I live in the foothills—below us is the high desert—and while the horse and I usually stay on the trail (even if we go off-roading, I follow game trails or water courses because otherwise I get lost), the dog explores smells. The horse and I travel in the bottomland, you might say, while the dog goes up the hill on one side, comes back down, and goes up the hill on the other side. By the time we get home, the dog is one tired, happy girl.
This girl, with her exotic eye-liner, I should have called either Maybelline or Barbra, after Streisand’s faux-Egyptian eye makeup. But I called her Chance, because that’s how I came to own her. On a visit to the animal shelter one rainy morning—spring semester was over, and I was giving myself a reward—I went up and down the rows of cages and saw three females I liked. But I was waiting to fall in love, and when I came back, looking only at the three I had first chosen, I fell in love with the pretty little girl with the fawn-colored coat and the coaxing eyes. I flagged down one of the attendants, who went with me to the enclosure.
“Hmm,” she said, frowning. “There’s some weird notation on her cage—I’ll have to find out what it means. Meanwhile, why don’t you go to the office and get your paperwork started?”
It sounded good to me, so back I went to the office. I was halfway through the paperwork when the girl came back, leading my twelve-week-old fawn puppy. “That notation I told you about?” she said. “She should have been euthanized this morning, but for some reason they skipped her. This is one lucky girl.”
Chance appears in photos throughout Backyard Horsekeeping: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need (Lyons Press, 2004; revised edition 2007). She has followed me and Prim up and down the foothills for fourteen years now, and sometimes she’d rather stay home. I think she deserves it. I think the lucky one is me.