Incident in San Francisco (Chapter 1, page 1 of 6)

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Chapter 1

The early morning sun felt very good on Monty's face as his horse took the last few steps to the top of the hill. The late October morning held a strong hint of the coming winter, and he had noticed the small puffs of breath visible as his horse worked its way up the shadowed side of the mountain. When they had left the corral in the valley down by the ranch house it had been too early for the sun, although out here in the Peachtree Valley the sun rose almost every morning unobstructed by the fog and clouds which were so prevalent thirty miles to the west at the Pacific.

Because he wanted to soak up a little of the sun's warmth, and also because he liked to let his horse catch his wind after starting his day hauling a fifty-pound Western saddle and a one-hundred-eighty-pound cowboy up a mountainside, Monty gave the almost imperceptible tug on the reins which let the horse know that he could stop. To give them both more benefit of the sun's rays, Monty moved the reins against the horse's neck at the same time as he nudged the horse's side with his heel. In response, the big buckskin gelding shifted so that he had his side toward the sun's rays.

To a casual observer, it might have seemed that the horse had decided on his own to stop once he had reached the top of the hill, and then to turn sideways on the trail. On television or in movies, horses were controlled by great violent motions. Riders clapped both legs wildly against the saddle skirts, leaned far forward in the saddle, slapped the reins, and yelled when they wanted to start off. Turns were made by yanking hard on the inside rein so that the horse's head was pulled around in that direction: stops always involved hauling back suddenly on both reins so that the horse skidded to a stop, its haunches hunkered down low to the ground. Monty always shook his head, partly in amusement and partly in disgust, when he saw riding represented that way. It bore as much resemblance to the way horses are ridden by real cowboys as the movies' depiction of car chase crashes, in which vehicles could seemingly leap into the air and perform several barrel rolls, caused only by striking an empty garbage can.

Monty and Buck, his favorite horse, had been together now for over eight years. Buck had been well trained originally, and those lessons had been imprinted on his mind. Monty recalled reading once that a horse was about as smart as a three-year-old child, and that habits learned by a horse tended to stick, whether good or bad. Buck had no bad habits. Monty's consistent treatment of him, and his consideration evidenced by this morning's rest stop, made it very easy for Buck to respond as he had been taught. By now, neither horse nor rider was consciously aware of the cues given to communicate the rider's desires. Monty rode with slack reins held in his left hand, which usually rested on the saddle horn. When he needed to direct Buck to the right or the left, a movement of his hand a mere inch to that side caused the reins to touch the horse's neck on the opposite side, and horse and rider took a new path. A squeeze of both legs was all that was required to start up, and a slight tug back on both reins was enough to effect a stop. Over the years, the familiarity of the routines of ranch work had made Buck well aware of what he was supposed to be doing, so man and beast seemed to be of one mind as they moved about the ranch.

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