A cowboy never says that he has been bucked off his horse…But he’ll admit that he’s come off his horse a time or two. And this here story starts with me coming off my horse…
Last Saturday, June 10th at about 7:00am, Banner and I were riding out of Pleasant Valley early in the morning. We got to the top of the bluff of the Volcanic Tablelands. We stopped to take in the view of Bishop and the valley below. The sunrise was too beautiful to pass up so I had to stop for one last photo before we headed north and up Sherwin grade. Well I thought it was going to be my last photo of the valley because when I asked him to stop as we were walking to the edge of the bluff. Banners new name became ‘Whoa God damn it!’ as he reared up so high that I thought he was going to flip over backwards and land on top of me. Putting me between a rock and a hard place…. Literally! So, before that could happen I said to myself ‘I’m out!’ and baled off him. Unfortunately for me, no matter where I baled off I was going to hit rocks and boy did I pick a good one to fall on. Well not a good one per say but it was a good one if someone wants to do a number on their back. I hit the ground and that rock so hard I thought I had broken something, but among the sparks flying from Banners feet and the fear of getting stepped on I managed to climb out from under him as he came down and started to buck only to watch him R-U-N-N-O-F-T with my saddle, head stale and favorite set Mecate reins dragging.
I got on my feet and that’s when the real pain set in. I wear a knife on my belt that goes horizontally that I made many years ago, and when my backside met the ground and the rocks, that sucker was between me and the rock.
There was no way that I was going to be able to track Banner with how much pain I was in, so I hobbled and limped back to the camp to wake up mom and get the truck. With a fist-full of pain pills and a few choice words as I crawled in the truck we were off down some of the worst dirt roads you could imagine. Which was just wonderful on my back, but I had a horse running, alone, and very afraid out there. I had to find him. The Volcanic Tablelands are 580 square miles of open range with little to no feed and no water other than a few water tanks here and there for the sheep. Gives a whole new meaning to finding a needle in a hay stack.
We raced along Chalk bluff Rd where I could then turn up Casa Diablo Rd where I was hoping to get in-front of Banner. When we got up on top there were a couple of shepherds there tending to their flocks. They barley spoke English, but through broken English and drawing in the dirt we learned that Banner had already passed by and was heading north over the hill into an area called Fish Slough. Leaving in a cloud of dust, I raced back down the road and up Fish Slough Rd. There’s a lot of land to look at, and my binoculars are in my saddle bags making this search that much harder. But then came Earl McWilliams. A rancher in the area with an in-depth knowledge of the land and how it pulls on an animal. He also had a pair of binoculars that you could almost look at the moon with. Compass included in the lens! I told him what had happened and he gave me some suggestions of where to head. Side dirt roads that aren’t on the map that would possibly get me to Banner or to where I could at least use the binoculars and spot him. He handed over his binoculars and said “when you find him, just drop them off at the police station in town and I’ll pick them up”. The kindness of strangers continues to amaze me. I put my truck in 4-wheel drive and headed up a little dirt road that was tight fit for my Ford 350. Within minutes I spotted Banner but there was no way I could get to him from where I was, so we headed around the bluff through Chidago Canyon to try to get closer.
By the time we got there he was gone. That would be the last time I saw him until I picked him up at Andy Beavers alfalfa farm the next day. We continued to drive around looking for him until it was too dark to see. Feeling worried about Banner, we headed back to our camp at Pleasant Valley for a restless night sleep.
The next morning at 6:30 we were back in the truck and heading back up to the Tablelands. While driving down a dirt road that was going to take us to closer to where I had spotted Banner the previous day I noticed what looked like snake tracks in the dirt road in-front of us as I was driving. I pointed them out to my mom, and that’s when I realized what we were looking at. Because right next to them were horse tracks! I jumped out of the truck and took a closer look. Sure enough I was looking at Banners tracks with heel and toe shoes in the front and plain shoes on the hinds. I’d recognize my mustang’s tracks any day. And what I thought was a snake, was actually my favorite set of mecate reins from Buckaroo Leather dragging on the ground! I grabbed the binoculars and headed off into the desert following is tracks leaving my mom worried in the truck. I was a little excited when I headed out and didn’t give her the best instructions on what to do. I tracked him for a while over several hills putting me out of sight of the truck and me with no water. I had tracked him long enough however to figure out where he was heading and I could pick up his tracks again. So I headed back to the truck dragging my heels to make my tracks more obvious if I needed to come back to it. With a quick apology to my mom, we were off.
Once I arrived to the middle of my reference points and where I figured I might pick up his tracks again I stopped the truck and started looking on the ground. Within minutes I picked them up, heading in the same direction as before. North! I followed them for a few more minutes up and over the hill and clued into what he was doing. He was heading home. Not back to the Double L Ranch, I figured he was heading back to his wild heard in the Eagle Lake area of northern California. He had passed all the Alfalfa fields and all possible sources of water. From his tracks, I could tell he was moving. He wasn’t stopping for nothing, not even to eat. He was on the move and so was I. I left his tracks after making a Carin and headed back to the truck where Earl had just left on his dune buggy He had gotten up that morning and set out to look for Banner as well. My mom, who was at the truck when he came by had told him what I had found and what I was thinking he was doing. Earl had come up with the same conclusion as well. We headed back to Fish Slough Rd that would eventually connect me back onto Hwy 6.
Once we got back on the Hwy, that’s when we got the text! Andy Beaver had found Banner. He was stopped on his northern path by his fence line. Andy said that “I noticed a horse out there walking back and forth and figured it was the same mustang that had been visiting my farm for a while now. I grabbed my binoculars to take a closer look and that’s when I noticed that this horse had a saddle on and I thought Oh Shit!” Andy went out to the fence line and was able to catch Banner right away and brought him back to his barn and began to unsaddle Banner. Once he got him un-tacked he looked through my saddle bags to put the story together of where the rider went. That’s when he found my phone and the best decision of this ride so far paid off. You see when I started this ride I took the passcode off my phone figuring if I was ever separated from my horse, then I WANT people to be able to get into my phone and my call records to hopefully connect them with me. And it worked! However, he didn’t know much about cell phones so he wondered over to his neighbor Jennifer Farton’s house where she could connect the dots. Finely… the search was over with a text saying that Banner was found! We raced up to Jennifer’s house which was 30 plus miles north of where this all started and she took us to Andy’s farm, and to Banner. The relief that I felt is hard to put into words however it was short lived. Because the very next morning while riding out of the Pleasant Valley camp…..Banner bucked me off again while I was opening my saddle bags. This time I landed on soft dirt and I was able to catch him almost immediately. So, I know have a new pack horse for the this ride. And the rest will come with time as he discovers by following his brothers that the world isn’t as scary as he thinks they are now. Through being packed and taking every day step by step in the hoof prints of Gary & Minaret, Banner will mature in ways that no amount of time in the saddle can do.