Tribute to a Trail Dog

In nature, canine types are not friends of equine types, largely because they think we taste good. The whole horse-and-hound pairing was invented and popularized by humans. I’m a little less dog-friendly than many of my friends, maybe because I tend to be the smallest in most herds and therefore perceived as the easiest prey. Dogs who have proven themselves to be trustworthy are fine, but any newcomers best be prepared to be chased. I once put the run on a chocolate lab named Jonah who attempted to escape through a gate she didn’t fit through. T rescued her, which was good since I found out later she was a sweetheart and had no interest in gnawing on my legs. Although, she did like my hoof trimmings, but then they all do. It used to give me the creeps to see them chewing on what used to be attached to me but I’ve gotten over it. It’s really just excess, like the hair I shed in spring. They can have it.

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Logan keeping me company on my first ride out of the arena.

Which brings me to Logan. He was another of the good dogs, one of the best maybe. I came to the farm in the spring of 2004 and he came the following January. We spent a lot of years together. I initially greeted him like I do all unknown canines, with a lowered head and flattened ears, but he quickly proved himself a good-natured beast. He liked to nip at our heels occasionally, but not in an effort to have a taste but rather to move us around. His Border Collie herding instincts were strong and he was quick to jump in and assist whenever the humans were moving us from one place to another, like through a gate. His efforts once cost him five teeth when he tried to put the moves on a cantankerous mare named Willow. The rest of us would just lift a foot and flick an ear in his direction, a peaceful “bugger off”, but Willow added bite to her bark. Didn’t stop Logan though. He continued to herd until this year, when his reduced reflexes and stability kept him at a distance.

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He never nipped when we were being ridden.

Although an avid barn dog, where we horses really got in our Logan time was out on the trail. He was trail dog extraordinaire. We did some long treks back in the day, and he’d keep up and then some. His normal position was right behind the last horse in the ride, but he’d often wander off the trail to take a dip in a creek or explore an interesting smell, increasing his total mileage for the day. He had tender paws on more than one occasion after a particularly long day over rough terrain, but did he complain? Never. At the end of most trail days you’d find him curled up in the shade near the horse trailer or wrapped in a blanket on a cool, autumn day.

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End of ride on a hot day.

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End of ride on a cold day.

We horses were sorry to see the premature end of Logan’s days on the trail. In 2011, Chico joined the family and he was a terrible influence on reliable Logan. The two of them were off in the woods chasing all sorts of varmints sending T and Nollind backtracking and whistling and waiting. I remember Logan’s (and Chico’s) last trail day very clearly. The six of us set out on a big loop at Etherington Creek. The dogs were pretty good all day, until we were almost back at camp. Chico spotted a deer and was off and running with Logan hot on his heels. The baying of the hounds faded into the distance as we followed as far as we could on the trail. T and Nollind were angry but also worried when the boys were gone a long time. They eventually returned, as they always did, but that was the last trail ride for those two. In 2012, dogs were left in the front of the trailer when we went to the mountains. As it turned out, it was probably best for Logan anyway, given the arthritis that started developing in his right leg around that time.

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On the trail in Kananaskis Country.

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Always keen to participate in a little rule breaking. 

Logan continued to join us on prairie excursions close to home for the next couple of years but, by the fall of 2014, he had trouble keeping up and making it home. The last time he came with us, he was on three legs at the halfway-home mark so Nollind dismounted, thinking he’d have Rosa carry the poor guy home. We’ve all seen the pictures of the cowboy with the dog riding in the saddle with him, well that dog wasn’t Logan and that dog had probably learned to do it as a pup. And Rosa’s expression was a lot like Logan’s … “What the?!” Just imagine two sets of buggy, brown eyes and you’ll have an idea of how things went. Logan limped home on his own steam. The next time we rode out, the heartbreaking sound of a dog left behind echoed from inside the house.

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Having trouble keeping up to Gidget and Judy in the fall of 2014.

We’re missing him at the barn these days. It became his thing, what he could still do, this past summer. Whenever T was out feeding or grooming or riding, he was never far away, sniffing around or just lying there watching the happenings of the farm. I could see the changes this fall, in his energy, his mobility. We animals sense these things before humans. For a short time in September, we thought we were going to lose both of our old campaigners, Logan and Nevada. But Nevada’s near-death experience is a tale for another time.

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Family photo when we were all a lot younger.

As for Logan, farewell awesome trail dog and keen-if-not-effective herder. This pony won’t soon forget you.

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Trail(er) Days

This year Teresa and Nollind have decided they want to get more trail riding in so their goal is to get out to the mountains once a week. I used to love the trails, went along on every ride, but then trail days for people and horses turned into trail-er days for dogs. Yup, we get left behind in the living quarters of the horse trailer these days. It’s comfortable and cool and there’s a window to look out if you hop up on the bench seat, but it’s not like the old days of following them down the trail.

The early days – at Indian Graves.

Leading the ride up a mountainside in BC.

I lost count of how many trail rides I went on over the years, all over Kananaskis Country, and even a couple of weeks in the Smithers area of BC. I was a “trail dog” and Teresa & Nollind bragged about how I was never too far away from the horses but never underfoot, able to trot for the 15-30 km without expiring, and not inclined to chase after wildlife. Life was good. And then, in 2011 … Chico came along.

The first ride out with Chico, I thought it might be his last. He chased after every living thing that moved, especially squirrels, dashing into the woods every time something rustled, squeaked or chirped. I didn’t bother, just stayed with the ride, following along behind the horses, only going off-trail to investigate something of the utmost importance, like a creek, or a spot where another dog had peed. You see, if you want to finish a 20+ km ride and not look like a bag of oatmeal with fur, you need to pace yourself. But anyway, to my surprise, Teresa & Nollind just laughed it off—what a funny dog Chico was, enjoying himself so immensely and exhausting himself in the process.

Chico post-ride. You can see why they were amused.

One of my favourite trails – Station Flats.

The second trail ride with Chico along, he chased after a deer, and I just couldn’t let him go on his own. Off we went into the woods, baying as we ran. Exhilerating! It was awhile before we gave up the chase and awhile longer before we found our way back to the horses. Teresa & Nollind weren’t laughing that time. They gave us a couple more chances but it seemed that each ride there was something to chase and off we’d go. I know, I could have stayed, and Chico might have stayed with me, but I couldn’t resist his enthusiasm. I didn’t want to be the old guy staying back and missing the fun.

And then the day came—it’s a few years ago now—the horses were tacked up, the saddle bags loaded, and we were put in the trailer and left there listening to the sound of hoof beats fade away down the trail. It was a sad day indeed. Admittedly, I find it hard to keep up with horses these days, even at a walk. Their walk is my jog and I just can’t jog for four or five hours straight anymore, in fact, a couple of hours across the prairie normally has me limping. So, as angry as I was with Chico for spoiling what was a great gig, he saved me from having to admit defeat and retire in disgrace.

A prairie ride – more my speed these days.

 

Cooling my paws in Bragg Creek.

So I’ll just enjoy our “trail days” for what they are, a chance to sniff around a new location, put my feet in a mountain stream and watch out the trailer window as the horses and bikes and hikers come and go. And, lying there on the bench seat, I can dream about the trails I jogged, the many people I met and all the wondrous smells and sights I experienced in those seven years as trail dog extraordinaire.

My comfy spot on the bench in the trailer.