The soccer field behind Gardner Bullis school sits about fifteen feet above the rest of the school property. It’s always a toss up between whether to risk traffic and electronic gates on Campo Vista or to pass by a soccer game behind the school. Usually we chose the school and usually there isn’t a soccer game. There was today. You can’t tell until you are just about on top of the field whether there is a game or not. There is plenty of room for us to pass safely. We only have to cover 100 yards, but about half way across we always hear, “Don’t look at the horses! Look at the ball!” As we descend the slope from the field down to the playground, we are inevitably trailed by three or four children, usually female, all of them looking like they’d give their right arm to hop on the horses and join us. Today was no exception as three eager faces, full of longing, appeared at the edge of the rise, all of them desperately trying to think of a way to keep the horses around for just a few seconds longer. My standard reply is, “I hope you get to take riding lessons soon!” In response to which they start eagerly jumping up and down.
(For the record, we don’t make a habit of riding the horses through school grounds. We are barred from the school property until 4:30 pm, weekdays. For the rest of the time, there is a pathway easement that runs through the property.)
Today’s riders are Savannah, Julia, Victoria and Jill, with Jill, who is 5’9″ and bean pole thin, riding 12.2hh Cowgirl. The planned ride is to head for Clark’s field. Clark’s field is the quickie ride. The girls wouldn’t stop yacking so we got a late start and were left with about an hour of daylight. The Clark’s field ride also takes us through the middle, and more heavily trafficked area, of Los Altos Hills.
On leaving the school property we cross Fremont only to be stopped by an older woman driving a white Mercedes. “Oh I LOVE seeing the horses! This reminds me of when my girls were young. They used to ride all over Los Altos Hills on their horses!” Because I stopped to chat, I’ve gotten behind the girls. There’s is short stretch of pathway up to where Manuela comes in that is perfect for a little canter, which has served to widen their lead. As the girls cross Manuela, a family of five, all adults, walking on the opposite side of Fremont, have all stopped and are waving and hollering and smiling at the horses and their riders. They have stopped their walk to enjoy watching the horses go by.
The girls proceed down Fremont towards Town Hall, which is, fortunately, downhill and I can catch up in time to over hear an older woman saying to, I assume, her granddaughter, “See that horse there? That was just like my horse when I was young; a palomino!” Whether there were more comments from more passers by for the next mile, I don’t know, because they kept up a brisk trot and I trailed them by several blocks.
Clark’s field was delightfully empty of people, allowing the girls to run the horses back and forth across it to their hearts content and run they did with tiny Cowgirl bringing up the rear. When Jill rides CG, her feet almost touch the ground and her torso is as tall as Cowgirl is long. Cowgirl has to run so fast to keep up with the other horses that her legs of the chestnut pony make a blur of red. With the tall figure of Jill balanced atop, it was a sight that belonged in a cartoon, the humor of which was not lost on the girls and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
By the time the girls were done romping through Clark’s field, it was almost dark. The walkers and players had gone home. We didn’t encounter anyone else until we finally crossed back over Fremont to head down Campo Vista towards the barn. As the last horse crossed Fremont, a girl is a passing car shoved her body out the window and yelled, “HORSES!!!!” Sigh.
Today was probably the last beautiful day of fall, which accounted for the larger than usual number of encounters on the pathways. But we have days like this regularly. Every ride, every day, at least one person stops and smiles and waves because they are happy to see a horse; not a horse behind a fence or a horse riding in circles around an arena, but a horse out and about and in their midst. That’s the true, real magic of it. Go to a town council meeting and you’d never know it was the same town. It’s hard to imagine a wider gulf between the administration of a municipality and the people who live there.
“I’m so glad you like the horses. When you get a chance, could you let the town council know?” This request is always met with a dismissive nod.
“Have you heard about LAHHA? Would you consider joining the horsemen’s association?” The response to this is, “But I don’t own a horse.”
What these people don’t understand is that the power struggles and petty concerns of an unhappy few will create enough collateral damage to make backyard horse ownership untenable. If the horse fans would just speak up, even just a little bit, the places of the horses would be secured. But most people just don’t seem to understand how tenuous the presence of the horses is. Horses in and around Los Altos HIlls will be lost if they don’t speak up and how sad would that be?