A man on horseback in the mountains above Santa Fe threatened to shoot Panama Pete, a rescue dog and canine model, who was hiking the Winsor Trail last Thursday with his owner and her friend.
While hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians are mostly respectful of one another on the popular multiuse trails around Santa Fe, some unpleasant encounters do occur — and this was one of them. The incident was reported to U.S. Forest Service officials, who have turned the case over to New Mexico State Police.
Lorna Dyer, Pete’s owner, said she and Kay Fitzgerald were about halfway back up to the ridge from the meadow known as La Vega when they came around a curve on Winsor Trail and saw two cows and two calves crossing the trail. The animals were followed by a man on horseback. Pete, who was off-leash, began barking and running toward them. The rider, who was armed, started yelling at the dog and at the women.
Dyer called to her dog. “Pete came right away, and she put him on the leash,” Fitzgerald said.
But the rider continued swearing at the women, repeatedly calling them vulgar names. Dyer said the rider, who had a holster on his right hip, put his hand on his gun and said, “If your dog comes at my cattle, I’ll kill him.”
“He was actually very scary,” Fitzgerald said.
All of those involved were legally using the trails, including Panama Pete. In the national forest, dogs must be on a leash or under voice command. At the same time, equestrians, especially those moving cows, are justifiably concerned about meeting loose dogs on the trail. The dogs can spook both horses and cows, causing a stampede. But the women insist Pete responded quickly to Dyer’s commands.
Pete is a 9-year-old, 90-pound greyhound/pit bull mix and also something of a supermodel, according to Dyer’s husband, Jerry Watts. Pete’s the dog with the white head and black patch over his right eye seen relaxing on a black leather recliner in a recent newspaper advertisement for Leishman’s furniture store. He’s not aggressive, Dyer said, and is known as a “splitter,” a dog who splits up fights. “He’s kind of the love of our life,” she said.
A tricky issue
Dyer said there were lots of dogs and hikers on the trail at around 1 p.m. Thursday when she encountered the man on horseback. When she confronted him over his tirade, she said, “He didn’t like my saying this is a multiple-use trail. This is not just for cows.”
The man was quite agitated, she said, and she was afraid that if he took a shot at her dog, he might also hit her. “This is a multiple-use mountain, and you can’t threaten people with guns, especially if I’m obeying the law,” Dyer said. She is asking that the still-unidentified rider be reprimanded.
As the rider continued to yell, she got more nervous, Fitzgerald said. “All the way down [to the parking lot] I was looking behind us,” she said.
“We were kind of a wreck,” she said. “I don’t think we should be scared stiff every time we go hiking.”
On their way down the ski area road, the women stopped at Hyde Memorial State Park to report the incident to a ranger, who also referred her to a district law enforcement official.
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Laurence Lujan confirmed that Dyer had reported the encounter. “We are looking into it,” he said. The case has since been turned over to New Mexico State Police.
In such encounters, he noted, “animals are spooked and startled, and they react and the owners react.”
Ray Contreras, a permit-holder who runs cattle in the Santa Fe National Forest, said he hasn’t had any confrontations with hikers or bikers this year. But when he does encounter trail users with loose dogs, “We talk to people. … If [dogs] attack a calf, we’re going to shoot,” he said.
A Santa Fe man who didn’t want to be named said people in his family have ridden the trails east of Santa Fe for eight generations. He said he frequently meets up with unleashed dogs, and “sometimes they are a little aggressive with me and my horse.” His strategy, he said, is, “I try to keep on going. I hate to get into a confrontation [because] people are real [law]suit happy. I try to keep my temper.”
But, he said, “Sometimes they’ll smell a horse from a ways and come out running,” and on occasion, “I’ll chase the dog back. You can only take so much. I’d hate for my horse to get bitten.”
A few years ago, forester ranch management consultant Henry Carey and his wife were thrown off their horses during a run-in with dogs on the lower Winsor Trail. Carey was bitten by one of the dogs, and his wife was knocked unconscious.
Carey, who doesn’t ride any more, said in heavy recreation areas in the Pecos Wilderness, the grazing has been curtailed, but, he said, “I expect to see cows in the wilderness.”
When horses and dogs meet up, he said, “It’s a tricky issue.”
In fact, the first section of the Winsor Trail from the ski area parking lot to the gate at the top of the ridge is so heavily used that he thinks it might be a good idea to require dogs to be leashed.
Spokesman Lujan said the Santa Fe National Forest is aware of user conflicts on multiuse trails such as the Winsor Trail, and “we continue to gather information. We want to hear about the problems so we can explore options.”
Meanwhile, he said, users should be considerate of others, make their presence known, comply with posted signs — and if they’re wearing headphones, be aware that it’s difficult to hear what is going on around them.
Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or email@example.com.