Our Fearless Leader

Just ahead of us, our guide swerves off the trail, pauses for a moment, and allows the group to pass, single file. This is the third time she’s done this since we’ve started our trek to the back forty.

Which was five minutes ago.

No one knows exactly why she does this; she never shares her reasons for anything she does out here. From the way she carefully studies us as we pass, I’m guessing it’s some kind of inspection.

My mount, Goldie, and I are last in line. As we go by, our guide maintains a stern eye-contact with me, barely glancing at Goldie. If there’s a problem, she assumes that I’m the one causing it.

I offer her a stiff salute. For some reason, it seems appropriate. She lifts her head ever so slightly in response. Or maybe she just caught the scent of a nearby squirrel. If so, I wouldn’t expect her to suddenly take off after it.

Kaiah is one remarkably self-disciplined dog.

The Barn Boss

Yep, our fearless trail leader is an Australian Shepherd. Kaiah is in constant motion. I noticed that the first time I visited the barn. She buzzed from the barn to the arena, out to the pasture, then back to the barn.

She made her rounds like a hyperactive security guard who just knew that no part of the operation could function properly if she was away too long.

I wanted to pet her and make a connection, but Kaiah just couldn’t risk it. She was working, and with her breed, it’s always business first.

These days, she at least acknowledges my presence. In fact, she never fails to greet me when I arrive at the barn. I open the car door and she’ll be there, sitting and waiting. I gave her a treat once. Once.

We can’t get away with anything when Kaiah is around. Lay a piece of tack on the barn floor for even a second, and she’ll park next to it and stare at the perpetrator until he corrects his mistake.

She’ll watch us as we groom our mounts on the crossties, moving from one side to the other, examining, inspecting, and no doubt mentally critiquing. I’m glad she can’t talk.

Kaiah has impressive credentials for a barn dog. She’s big enough to handle rough terrain on the trails, but small enough to fit in the cab of a truck.

She’s intelligent, almost uncomfortably so. She has a way of looking at you as though she’s certain you’ll do something incredibly stupid at any moment.

Her energy is boundless. But this can be a double-edged sword. A slow day at the barn and somebody might get their boots eaten.

No mammal has been out on our trails as much as Kaiah. She escorts every group out and doesn’t rest until everyone is back.

I have no idea what she’d do if two separate groups went out at the same time in opposite directions. We should try that sometime.

Back at the Back Forty

After inspecting Goldie and me, Kaiah trots off to resume her position at the head of the group. Her job is to keep us moving forward and to make sure we all stay on the trail. Her work is aided by the fact that none of us has the slightest interest in leaving it.

I actually like having Kaiah with us. I always imagine that if anything goes wrong, she could always go back for help in the “Timmy’s in the well” tradition. Or help us dial our cellphones.

I bet she could even post a message on Facebook to let the world know we’re in trouble.

Every so often, Kaiah swings off the trail ahead of us and into the brush, like a cop who gets to drive wherever she darn well pleases. This flushes out any wildlife that may be lurking along side the trail, and gives the horses and riders ample warning.

The sudden appearance of a rabbit can be devastating to unsuspecting trail riders.

Our mounts seem more relaxed when Kaiah is with us, especially the newer horses. In this dog, they have a fellow quadruped who keeps her head when everyone around her is losing theirs, to paraphrase the great Rudyard Kipling.

Kaiah’s steady confidence moves the panic button just a little farther out of reach. That’s not something we bipeds are always capable of doing on our own.

Freelance writer Bob Goddard lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and assorted pets. His latest book is Horse Crazy! A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Parents of Horse-Addicted Girls. To order, and to read his humorous blog, “Bob the Equestrian,” visit www.horsecrazy.net

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