Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Moonlight Rides and Lost Loves
Published in The Signal, 3-20-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2004     Horses. Growing up in Pico Canyon, we always seemed to have three, four or more of them critters. I can sit astride a horse pretty well, but compared to my younger sister, Alyce, I'm not much of a rider at all. Alyce could — and maybe still can — handle any steed she could saddle.
    She rode them because she loved to ride. I rode them because we had to herd cows or check fences. I'll always relate riding a horse to working.
    I made the mistake of riding on the same horse with Alyce one time too many. Between the Big House and Felton School, a small creek drains the canyon east of Mustard Hill. Alyce loved to use that creek for jumping a horse over.
    I was sitting behind her when she jumped. Alyce and the horse made it across. I landed in the mud.
    With horses, there is a lot of work to be done. It mainly concerns — in this order — feed, shovel, feed, shovel, ad infinitum.
    A more exciting time for me was being on the east end of a westbound herd. Suckin' dust. I didn't say "better." Just a mite more excitement.
    During the summer months, I got to do real cowboy work. I got to check fences. There was a fence of some sort on every trail out of Mentryville. I always liked the one at the top of Minnie-Lotta Canyon on the trail to the Wickham place. It was a steep ride, but the view was fantastic. Same goes for the line at the top of Mustard Hill behind Felton School.

* * *
    I can't forget the "romantic" moonlight rides in Pico Canyon. Once I was moving some cows toward the barn while my father had a spotlight from the pickup truck on me, the horse, and the cows.
    I had to get off the horse and lead it under some trees. I suddenly dropped out of sight. I dropped into an old basement about eight feet deep. The horse just stood there, looking down at me. My father just about had a heart attack when I disappeared from his view. I wasn't hurt and crawled out of the hole.
    A few times I was actually able to take a moonlight ride up the canyon with a young lady on a horse next to me. It was romantic — until the canyon walls closed in and the moonlight didn't make it to the road at the canyon bottom. "Scared" isn't a strong enough word to describe her feelings at that point.
    She had very much enjoyed a ride up the canyon in the daytime. Once we rode all the way to the end of the road. We stopped to water the horses at the upper fire tank on top of PCO Hill. She had agreed to a swim in the fire tank (skinny dipping), only it wasn't full enough to do so. We settled on watching a golden eagle stalk some prey, along with some "heavy petting" in the shade of the abandoned jack-line building.
    Our romance lasted most of a summer. Then she left me for another who had horses and a regular swimming pool in Sand Canyon.
* * *
    In the intervening years, I've found myself on horseback from Spain to Hawaii and points in between. Still, horses are not my favorite mode of transportation. I still think of horseback riding as a form of work, not play.
    When we moved from California to Virginia in 1989, we found ourselves at a resort hotel near Williams, Ariz. Behind the hotel was a small stable where you could rent a horse for a guided trail ride.
    The stable and horses were owned by an old Newhall Ranch hand who recognized me. Our son, Joel, was going on the trail ride, and when his stable owner's hired hand hadn't shown up, he said, "You can ride for free if you don't mind suckin' dust behind this group of teenagers goin' on the ride."
    Five years ago, an old shipmate who lives on Oahu in Hawaii and also runs a small string of "hack horses" for tourists made me the same offer, "The ride's free, brudda, if you'll help herd the tourists." Side note — it is easier to herd cats than it is to herd tourists.
    How could I refuse either offer? I knew how to "suck dust." I had learned to do that in Pico Canyon and Mentryville. At least those rides I didn't have to "feed, shovel, feed, shovel" before or afterward.
    I'd love to take another ride up Pico Canyon and Mentryville. The chance to once again watch a golden eagle stalk its prey. Maybe I could ride into a herd of deer without them running away, as I've done before. Maybe I could ride to the top of Mustard Hill and only look at the view — and not a fence line. Then maybe, just maybe, I'll look at horseback riding as fun — and not as work.

    Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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