Cory Carries the Mail
By Penny Dees
            I had intended (key phrase here) on participating in one of the two planned rides the MBHA (Morongo Basin Horsemen’s Association) had planned to put on during the Frontier days that is held annually here in Yucca Valley; that is  located in the high desert of Southern California. Both the rides would be following the same route. First ride out was a group ride for the general membership of MBHA; the other ride was for the pony express relay riders who would carry the mail up to the Post Office in Pioneertown. (Both would leave Black Rock Park, located out in Joshua Tree Park) Once the group ride had reach Pioneertown, the first pony express rider would take the mail, in saddle bags, and leave Black Rock. The rider would travel to the first of several prearranged exchange spots for the relay riders. While the group ride would be leisurely, ease on down the trail, (the ride I had planned being part of) the pony express riders would be doing the route at speed. The mail must go thru.
            At this time, my husband (then) and I had been looking for some months for a home to buy. Wouldn’t you just know it, we found a house and we would be moving critters and possessions during the week and weekend of Frontier Days and both rides of MBHA.  
            Just two days before the Frontier Days weekend while we were packing and moving, my husband amazed me by asking if I would consider being one of the Pony Express relay riders. Seems they were unexpectedly a rider short. He suggested I take my gaited mule for my ‘leg’ of relay. Well, pressing my brain cells into service, I thought it over very carefully. I could: pack, load, drive, unload, stack, do it all over again……….. OR I could ride. Oh yeah, that was a difficult decision……. NOT. I said I would love to ride but preferred not to ride my mule but my tried and true trail partner of many, many years. I would take my Spanish Barb gelding. Register name, El Corazon De Oro, Cory. (or as he is adoringly known by many, the Grey Beastie) Cory is a black dun with all the primitive markings, stands a handsome 14 1 hands and has nothing but try in his soul. Yes, Cory would be my mount of choice. The mail must go thru.
            Despite Cory’s advancing age, turning 18 on his last birthday, I was confident he would do me and the club proud in being a pony express participant…... Our part of the relay was a mere mile to carry the mail bags. Shoot, easy for the grey beastie. So, while holding Cory’s morning feed ransom, I took great pains to explain how short a mile was. Nothing for a firry steed such as he, a walk in the park. I had asked for a non ascending ‘leg’ and was granted one with a slight decent and then flat going. I thought this description of the trail would cheer him up, give him something to look forward to. Cory kept both eyes on the ransomed feeding I was holding; he whickered and tossed his head.  I took the head toss for his eager agreement that he would love to be a pony express mount and carry the mail. The mail must go thru. 
            The express riders going out later in the morning was a good thing. Suffice it to say, Cory is not really a morning horse.  By leaving later, Cory would be fully conscious of the fact that we were indeed, on a ride. I was hoping the shock would not be too much for him. The mail must go thru.
            There was a riders meeting super early at Black Rock the day of the rides. It was a welcoming kind of morning with a breeze ebbing and flowing as the relay riders gathered around the persons in charge to get our final instructions that included a map of our assigned ‘leg’.  Map???? Me????? Now I am worried. No one told these folks that I give getting lost a whole new dimension. Sadly, there are way too many people who can attest to this fact. While the individuals who were running the ride were agreeing it was pretty much impossible for me to get lost; I am thinking of how many times I have heard, “How could you have possibly gotten lost, the trail is clearly marked.” Or “You have ridden this area so many times; you should know it like the back of your hand.” I can make a compass a completely useless item to have. However, the mail must go thru.
            It was pointed out that the trail would be visibly marked with white chalk powder in the form of arrows to follow and make turns and circles and numbers where the exchanges were to take place. The concern must have been showing on my face as I was asked if I would be more comfortable if I was shown my ‘leg’. This did help alleviate most of my deep rooted fears, I quickly agreed. I didn’t want to have, “What do you mean Penny never showed up with the mail?” become a reality. After all, the mail must go thru.
            I was shown my ‘leg’, it looked pretty simple, a dirt road with few other roads either running onto it or going off of it. My husband said I wouldn’t have any problems……… the man had optimisms.
            Now back to the house to get trailer, horse and appropriate tack. Load up and go. Since we were in the process of moving, my little two horse trailer was packed to the brim to take stuff to the new residence. We had just taken a load and emptied the six horse slant. Sooooo, Cory was put in the six-horse slant gooseneck. Like a pea in a boxcar………. Cory was still looking expectedly for more equine company when we closed up the back. My poor grey beastie……
            We arrived at the place we would park the trailer and unload. Jim took a second look at the map and said there was a better place and closer to my exchange spot. (That being a truck driver is really paying off) Off we go to the new location. (Cory is waiting patiently in the trailer to get unloaded since we had stopped and we up and leave without even consulting him. He is not happy with the way his day is going.) The new spot Jim had decided on was on the other side of the hills off of 247 (old Woman Springs) instead of being off of 62. Making it much closer to where I needed to ride to the exchange spot. As we drove along the dirt road, there emerged a wide area, perfect to park, unload and allow other traffic to pass, if other traffic happened along.
 Once Cory was unloaded and tacked up, I was in the saddle when Jim called me over and showed me an unpredicted additional benefit. Several feet in front of the where we had concluded our crusade to get closer was the chalk circle, arrows and number where I was to hand off the mail bags to the next rider. That was the good news; but it was spiked with the comprehension that we were the only ones there. Well, it was still two hours before the next relay rider needed to be there for me to hand off to. I must say, it was with some unease I left to go to the spot where I was to await the rider carrying the mail bags. The mail must go thru.
            While Cory transported me to the exchange spot, I was thinking that the great, ahem…….. grey beastie could do two ‘legs’ if it became required. So, as Cory and I rolled along, (this is not a reference to Cory’s rotund frame) I couldn’t help but wish that when I came back to the now riderless exchange spot, the wind whipping thru my helmet and Cory’s mane, my view would be pleased with a rider waiting with eagerness to take the mail bags from me. A pleasant revelation as I rode towards the mail bags switch over location were all the hoof prints from the group ride that had passed earlier that morning. I rode on with more conviction that I would not become lost and become news at eleven.   The mail must go thru.
            I knew we had reached our destination when I spied another large, white chalk circle with an arrow and a number sitting off to the side of the road. I stopped next to it. Cory immediately became perceptive to the fact that this white chalk circle with markings was central to me and I wanted to stay close to it. Cory failed to see the significance but has found it is best to humor me in such circumstances. It didn’t take long and the grey beastie became bored and restless.   I started doing some exercises; circles, turning off the forehand and backhand, backing but all staying in the vicinity of the chalk circle. Now Cory is beginning to see this chalk circle that held a strange appeal to me in a new light. This ‘spot’ and being in the neighborhood of it had taken on the hue of work for the grey beastie. You can believe me when I tell you that Cory’s idea of work is having to chew his food and everything above that is just an unadorned nuisance to him that he must suffer in this old world.
            By now it was an hour past the time of the mail hand off. I was thinking about returning to where Jim was waiting when Cory alerted to something coming. Around the curve came a very welcome sight of a striking buckskin with a rider. I took Cory to our official ‘spot’ and awaited the mail hand off. The mail must go thru.
The rider was a gal who arrived apologizing for being late as she handed me the mail bags. Said she had to do two legs as the person she was to hand off to was a no show. (Is there a pattern?) She was a bit exasperated as she said she had done her first leg with a lot of speed. We began to ride back to where our truck and trailer was waiting and the mail exchange spot. As we rode along, I told her that the rider I was to hand off to had not shown up as of the time I had left, close to two hours now. And I was hoping during my absence, he had arrived. I also suggested that we might give her and her horse a lift back to her trailer since she was much further away now. Save her from riding all that way back. And our horse trailer was parked at the next exchange spot.
We came around the corner and emerged where Jim and the trailer were waiting. Seeing the big six horse slant drew a peculiar look from her. She looked around like she was expecting to see other equines. I casually stated there was plenty of room for her horse as we had only brought Cory. She regarded Cory, who is not quite 14 2’ hands. Not exactly a horse that would require a six horse slant all to himself. I believe it crossed her mind to question this whole small horse, big trailer, but the welcoming invitation of the trailer ride over rode her curiosity. She accepted the invite quickly as we approached Jim and our rig. The mail must go thru.
As we drew closer to the trailer, I pulled up Cory some by the chalk circle (Cory briefly sees here again the chalk circle has value) to tell Jim about offering the trailer ride. Cory is a bit opposed to this as he is concentrating on the fact that he is now getting ahead of this other horse and he is impatient to pick up his pace and lengthen his lead. I let Cory pick up his pace and away we fly down the sandy desert road. Cory is happy now! He is beating the socks off this other horse! I was not going to point out that the other horse had stopped at the trailer, some things are just better left unsaid……
It wasn’t long before age and lack of use during winter days caught up with my Cory and his blistering (no laughing from those who know him) pace. Cory never intended to beat the other horse so bad that he ended up all by his lonesome. I am sure Cory was thinking if he slowed his pace, the other horse could catch up. Cory’s idea of slowing down is a stop, works for him. I split the difference with him and put him in a jog. The mail must go thru.
My Cory was tiring. I was really looking forward to handing off to the next rider when I spotted traffic ahead. That could only mean one thing; we were coming up to Highway 247 and the next swap over spot. Sure enough, we weren’t that far from the highway when the chalk circle appeared. It looked pretty forlorn all by itself. No relief rider unless they were doing the whole sniper camouflage thing. Er, nope, no one popped up as we came to the circle. Cory spotted the chalk circle about the same time I did and decided he was going to keep a wary eye on this one.
I rode up to the marking, stopped and found both Cory and I peering at the chalk circle. Ya know, I have never been able to understand what makes me do this type of behavior when things don’t go quite as planned.  But, I have repeated it time and again over the years. Let’s say I have a flat tire. I will get out of my truck or car and walk to a first-rate vantage point. You must have an excellent point from which to stare, and then look intently at the flat tire. It doesn’t seem to matter how long I watch the flat tire, it remains flat until I change it.
Now I am trying to let the grey beastie know he is not finished yet. We must go further. I discover we are both still gazing at the chalk circle. As I ask Cory to leave the white chalk circle, he is busy coming to his own conclusions about these pesky circles. They have meant nothing but work for the grey beastie.   The mail must go thru.
I sighed, told Cory we must go on a little further. Cory cocked an ear back and listened, then he sighed. Then we both sighed and let our eyes rest on the chalk circle sitting quietly on the ground for a while longer before we set off to the next exchange spot.
We waited for a break in the traffic, crossed 247, and started down the trail that was twenty feet or so away from the highway. Cory was really spent. I tried telling him the sooner we got to the next circle, the sooner our obligation was over. No response. I even tried telling him the trailer might be waiting at the next circle. Nothing, nada. Hmmmmmm, I told him all the people driving by in the cars had never seen such a handsome horse as he. That I bet they were even taking his picture! Perhaps he should try and muster them a better photo op. Well, that was the right thing to say to my tired boy. Cory’s head came up, ears forward, puffed out his chest and we shot down that trail at an explosive ground eating extended trot that was astounding. Cory kept one eye on the trail and one eye on the cars on the highway. He was sure the cameras were snapping away and he was going to see to it that they had the best pictures of him for keepsakes. The mail must go thru.  
            We came to where the route turned off the trail next to the highway and as soon as Cory felt we were out of picture range, he made a halt to blow. While Cory was recuperating, I showered him with pats, words of praise for his valor. I told him how exceptional he had looked for his adoring public. That I had heard copious; ‘Auhs’ and ‘Ohs’ and ‘What a horse’ coming from the passing cars. I pointed out that these mere humans were in awe of the picture he had presented as he had swept down the path. I got out one of my water bottles and poured a quantity of water down both sides of his neck to help him cool. This helped revive him and he mustered up a jog for me and on down the trail we went.   The mail must go thru.
Our present path merged with a road that was marked for us to take. Down the road we went, sometimes a jog, but mostly a walk now. Cory is really weary. I decided that if there was not another rider to hand off to, the mail was not going thru. They had made provisions for rain, sleet and snow but not a tired grey beastie.                                                                    
            We crested a little rise in the road and there at the bottom, Hurray, riders were waiting at the chalk circle. Cory didn’t even rally a whinny in greeting for the other horses. Looks like the mail will go thru.
As I was handing off the mail bags to the next carrier, another rider comes down the road towards us. This was the next rider in line and was worried because the mail was so far behind. So, all the riders left to resume the pony express mail delivery; leaving Cory and I to ponder our next action.
Wow, I suddenly realized that Both Cory and I were eyeing the white chalk circle on the ground. “Stay here,  wait and hope Jim comes looking for us?” I asked Cory. Yep, he wanted to stay right there and wait, what was he, new? Cory was very tired and I liked the idea myself, but the reality was Jim would have no way to realize just where we were now. He was probably waiting back where we had parked for our return. Cory and I sighed simultaneously and then we both considered the chalk circle intently for a while longer.
Reluctantly, Cory and I gave up our duel contemplation of the white chalk circle and started back.  I kept hoping I would see our trailer at every turn but my wish remained unanswered as we crossed back over Hwy 247.
We now came to the previous chalk circle in our retreat; Cory came to a standstill on his own volition. We both proceeded to gaze at the quiet chalk circle.  Cory bordered on the reluctant to leave his surveillance post. He now perceived the inert chalk circles not as the enemy, but as a kindly refuge from carrying me further. I was left no option but to murmur my secret phrase. Once whispered, we left the circle and progressed back towards the trailer.
There was a stretch of road that was very sandy, a mini wash that had a bend in the end. Visualize the mutual glee of Cory and I when the little wash expelled us around the bend and there was Jim and THE TRAILER. (Sorta felt like the person who has had a scary plane ride and how they feel about the ground when they land safely) Jim had decided to come looking for us as we were so long over due.         
After watering, untacking, a good roll and grooming, Cory pretty much drug me into the trailer to go home. He didn’t even care about the horse he was sharing his trailer with. Tired boy.
The next morning when I took Cory’s breakfast out to him, I asked him if he would like to do the Pony Express ride again next year?! Cory regarded me intently for several seconds, then walked over to a spot and relieved himself. Guess not.
Penny Dees and the Grey Beastie