"What the heck is that?"
I'd just caught a glimpse of the Victorian-era mansion that stands on the Historic Nelson Ranch in Woodland, Calif. It was early afternoon, and I was there for a weekend horse show, but I drew up short when I spotted the imposing structure.
"That?" the ranch owner said later. "That's our haunted house."
I thought she was kidding.
After bedding down my horse for the night, I discovered she most definitely was not. Several of my fellow competitors were gathered around a barbecue, listening to her tales. Seems the 150-year-old home had a long history of other-worldly activities.
"Several people have reported seeing a woman standing in the upstairs window," the owner explained. "When we go inside, your cameras might not work, or they might shut off, but if you do manage to get a picture, it'll more than likely be white orbs. That happens all the time."
White orbs? As an avid fan of the SyFy channel's "Ghost Hunters," I knew what those were, or what they were reputed to be-balls of ectoplasmic energy. Or, more plainly, ghosts. Hot dog! If ghost hunting was on tap, I wanted to be in on it.
Later, as we walked toward the brick mansion, we heard yet more stories: doors slamming closed on their own, radio broadcasts being heard (even though there's no electric power), and most intriguing, a dog that disappeared for days only to be discovered, cowering, at the top of the home's staircase, growling at an invisible adversary.
OK, so maybe I'm not that brave.
My heart had begun to pound. Would I be possessed by an angry spirit if I dared to set foot inside the mansion? Should I bring a silver cross? A wooden stake?
Viewed up close, the home looked like the poster building for haunted houses, with its missing windows, sagging roof and faded front door. We had to go around back to enter, and was it my imagination, or did it feel eerily cold once we stepped inside? It was nearly dark. One of the first rooms we toured had a daunting history--people had reported seeing apparitions or strange lights, or feeling the presence of... something. I was one of the last to leave the room, and I couldn't resist one look back for a final glimpse of its faded walls.
What I saw raises goose bumps on my arms even today. It was a glowing ball of energy, with sparkling tendrils of light hanging down from its bottom. I watched, heart pounding, as the apparition floated toward the ceiling.
"Did you see that?!" I asked my 8-year-old daughter, who was rooted to the ground next to me.
"Yes," she breathed in a small voice, her little hand thrust suddenly into mine.
The rest of the group huddled around as my daughter and I attempted to describe what we'd seen. It resembled a jellyfish, I told my horse-show friends, right down to the phosphorescent glow. It was only later, as I lay uneasily in bed that night, that I realized the traditional ghost costume--a sheet draped over a person's head--was exactly how our specter had looked, only much smaller. Plus, shimmering with a light of its own.
There were other odd occurrences that night. Someone else spotted strange swirls of energy. Some cameras did, indeed, shut off, while others captured orbs on film. But I didn't need to see a photograph. What my daughter and I had witnessed was seared in my mind.
I recently returned to the Historic Nelson Ranch for another show. This time, though, my visit remained uneventful. I tried to capture something on film, to no avail. But whenever I happened to find myself near the old mansion, my gaze was invariably drawn to the front window, and I felt distinctly uneasy. Was I being stared at? Or was it my imagination?
I'm not sure. But the one thing I don't doubt: Those show grounds are haunted. You should hear the stories about the tree where they used to hang convicted felons in the late 1800s... but I'll save that tale for another day.
When not riding her Quarter Horse gelding, Bippidy Boppin Along, on the West Coast Quarter Horse circuit, Pamela Britton-Baer enjoys writing for various publications, including The American Quarter Horse Journal and NASCAR Pole Position Magazine. She also pens romance novels; her latest release, Slow Burn, is in bookstores now.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.