Saving gas, one bale of hay at a time

ARLINGTON — Kari Alskog kept teasing her boss by threatening to ride her horse to work at his Smokey Point dental office.

As the price of fuel climbed, the conversation in the office grew to include the idea that everybody on the staff should ride horses to work. After all, more than half of the dental assistants and office staff who work for Dr. Keith Leonard own horses of one kind or another.

“We decided that when gas got to $4 a gallon, we would all ride in,” Leonard said.

That’s what they did Wednesday morning, as a way to encourage their patients to find alternative ways to get to the dentist office during the month of July.

Those who ride their broncos, bikes or the bus will be awarded with a T-shirt that reads, “I Participated in Dr. Leonard’s July Commuter Challenge.”

Armed with a special permit from the city allowing them to ride on city streets as a group, Leonard and his staff saddled up at his home northeast of Smokey Point and headed off to work. He lives about four miles away from his office.

“We can’t dictate how much oil companies charge, but today we’re not buying,” Leonard said. “We’re using one-horse power.”

Horses in pastures along the road galloped with the 10 riders and two bicyclists. Dogs barked. Road apples were dropped and people cheered the group’s parade south along Smokey Point Boulevard.

Most people won’t be able to ride horses to get to their dental appointments, Leonard said, but they can ride their bicycles, as he often does on sunny days.

The dentist, whose bike was stolen recently, said he is considering installing a bike rack at his office to make sure his clients have a safe place to lock up their bicycles. Other business owners would do well to encourage the use of bikes, Leonard said. He also would like to encourage municipalities to provide wide shoulders on which to ride bikes.

Or horses.

After a ride that took less than an hour, Leonard and his staff dismounted in a small field across 174th Street from his office.

Dental assistant Alskog brought along her sons Casey, 16, and Jared, 12. Another office worker, Shelli Churchill, brought her son Blake, 12. The boys rode their own horses and planned play football while watching the horses in temporary pens until it was time for the ride home.

With dental patients arriving, the staff scurried to change from riding boots to soft-soled shoes.

Because the horses were transported to Leonard’s home in trailers and staff members drove cars there, the air pollution the staff created for the day may not be significantly smaller than it usually is, Alskog admitted.

“But in the long run we will save a little bit on gas,” she said. “More important, we made a statement that something needs to be done about gas prices and alternative transportation.”

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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