Trail dogs are good company, especially for somebody who rides alone, as I do most of the time. They let me know when I need to be aware of something—a strange animal, a strange vehicle, a strange person. In magazine articles, total strangers insist that riding alone is not safe, and that people ought to ride with other people.
A little background here. I’m an only child, and I’m accustomed to amusing myself. I drew when I was very little (remember the crayon illustrations in my first book?), but as soon as I started writing, I realized I liked writing better than drawing, and that I was better at it. Since most of my family was musical, my mother steered me towards piano lessons, violin lessons, voice lessons. But as soon as I finished practicing I would escape into fantasy-land, either by reading other people’s words, or writing my own. That’s the thing about writing. You don’t have to practice scales over and over. Or train your vocal chords by singing “mAy, mE, mAh, mO, mU” one note at a time. You practice writing by writing. Or, as William H. Gass once wrote, “Literature is created in solitude and read in silence.”
My point: most of what I do in life I do by myself. Riding is no exception. And for many years—especially when my horses lived in my backyard (I wasn’t boarding them, in other words)—I had no one else to ride with. A good trail dog is an excellent companion. In the first place, my trail dogs don’t talk. I like trail riding because every time I ride, I get to know my horse better, and I can look around and enjoy the scenery. If I ride with other people, somebody inevitably wants to talk. If I want to talk to people, I’ll phone them or meet them for lunch. Pointless chit-chat is not my preferred method of communicating with my friends. Riding—like writing—is a solitary occupation.
My dogs have always been my bodyguards. If I pass somebody’s property and that somebody owns a dog, it will bark at my dog, not at my horse, who spooks at dogs. (She spooks at nearly anything.) In all the years I’ve ridden alone, I’ve had only two near accidents, and they both involved humans—one mountain biker who whizzed by me on the uphill side of a narrow mountain trail—leaving me on the edge of a ravine—and a stoned hiker I had to run away from because he was stalking me.
Give me a good trail dog as a friend and protection any day.