Picture, if you will, Nicole and Murray cruising around a 4 acre pasture after their ride. It has rained recently, but not in the last day or so. The grass is green and growing, the ground is soft, and the world smells fresh and clean.
There is an American kestrel sitting on the fenceline, staring intently into a small willow bush. This fascinates Nicole, our avid young naturalist. She steers Murray toward the hawk with her knees — riders in fantasy stories always steer their horses with their knees. Also, she steers with her knees because she is holding her phone in one hand. Inside the willow bush, starlings are chirping noisily. The Cooper’s hawk is absorbed in the commotion.
Murray is not interested in the kestrel. He is thinking about grass. Or perhaps water. Maybe his friend Logan. But definitely not birds.
The pair turn away from the kestrel before getting too close. They do not want to disturb it. The kestrel chooses this moment to jump into the willow bush, pouncing upon its prey. The bush shakes as the birds scuffle within it.
Murray hears the shaking bush – rather, he hears a nineteen foot tall monster shaking ten foot willow trees at him in hot pursuit. The monster is right behind him. He does the only thing a sensible creature would do in such a situation. He runs. Murray feels that he runs with the speed of the wind. He runs with the force of a thousand hurricanes. In reality, Murray runs like a small, not-terribly-fast ex racehorse who is a little chubby and not really in shape right now.
Nicole is surprised by the sudden acceleration. Surprised enough that she loses her seat and is laid out flat behind her saddle for a moment. She still has a hold of the reins, but has lost both of her stirrups and all semblance of control. She slides off Murray’s right haunch, holding on to the reins longer than she probably should in a desperate hope to stop the bolt. She lands on the soft earth and skids through the wet grass, glad she put on her windproof breeches.
Murray reaches the end of the pasture and stops. Nicole is not with him. He turns. Nicole is on the ground. And behind Nicole… there is no monster. There is just a small, insignificant willow bush that isn’t even moving.
He walks back to Nicole. He does not step through his reins. He does not stop to eat grass. He is a good boy.
Nicole makes Murray an extra big bucket.
The American kestrel smiles over its breakfast of starling.