Headless Horseman Road
Photo by Steve Hudson
Canoga Avenue from Mulholland to Oxnard was overwhelmingly wild. It was only a two-lane avenue lined with residential homes, farms, and empty fields. The big eucalyptus trees monstered along Canoga Avenue gracing through the heart of Woodland Hills. We chased wild rabbits bareback where Warner Center now suffocates the land. Stealing pumpkins late at night from the many pumpkin patches was a scary treat for us kids around autumn. Now Kaiser Permanente stands tall over ghostly pumpkins that linger there only as memories.
Ruff and I rode our horses after school which did not give us much time. We had to make it back home around dusk. This gave us a couple of hours to ride. We had it in our minds to visit down an old dirt road up near Canoga moving south towards Mulholland. We noticed this dirt road a few times on our rides up to Mulholland where it seemed endless trails awaited us, but now was not the time.
The dirt road branched off to the east and was a long lonely one. Pepper trees mixed with eucalyptus trees mingled along the road as large trunks and heavy branches. A small forest. We got off our horses to look around. This is what I liked best about growing up here. There were adventures and places to discover around my home town. Shadowy places of earth and trails leading sometimes through the fog. This dirt road led us to a hill that was very steep to the right side of it. We passed this hill and galloped about a mile or two up and then decided to turn back because the sun was getting close to the horizon. It was a cool night and the smell of trees, moist earth, herbs, and smoke from nearby fireplaces filled our senses. But the darkening sky called us back home. It was getting late.
We were about a mile from Canoga when Sony galloped forward. I am not sure how it happened but he went for a tree. A long tree reached out and I thought I could go no further under it. I realized as Sony went under the tree it got lower. Sony stopped and my legs jammed under the tree. I was stuck under the tree bent backwards, and Sony was still moving forward. Ruff quickly positioned her horse in front of Sony as I pulled on the reins backwards. I cried because I was being crushed. We all moved backwards and Sony and I were released. It was a focused effort for all four of us, horse and rider and it took a good ten minutes.
As we all gathered our breath we took some time to look at the tree and cuss it out. Then there was silence, except for the sound of a galloping horse in the distance down the dirt road coming towards us.
“What the hell is that” said Ruff?
“I don’t know but it is coming this way!”
The echo of the sound was due east. We jumped on our horses and ran them about a mile towards Canoga. The dusk had almost brought down the nights curtain. As the dirt road ended and the street began, the metal sound of the horse’s hooves running on asphalt was loud enough to hide the echo of the unknown galloping horse behind us. I then yelled at her,
“Ruff, do you hear the screeching sound?”
“Yes, let’s get out of here!”
Maybe it was a screeching sound behind us or maybe it was the sound of our horse’s hooves on the asphalt. The haunting feelings subsided as we left the dirt road and made it home by night fall. It was smart to look forward and never look back. We knew the headless horseman returned and we never again wandered down that dirt road together.
A few years ago, I went back looking for the dirt road we referred to as the headless horseman road. It is an asphalt street now with a few nice homes lined along its narrow way. Driving by in my car I did not drive down it due east. I passed it by due north with the memory of days gone by.
To Ruff !! One of the best wild friends to have as a girl!!