Popcorn's first solo camp-out in Silverado Canyon didn't involve s'mores, scary ghost stories or even a tent.
The 13-year-old quarter horse was among those helping to ferret out why 52-year-old drifter Henry Lee Brown opened fire in Baker Canyon on Saturday and wounded three before being shot and killed by deputies. But Popcorn's job went from routine to adventure after the gelding lost his footing when a trail gave way, trapping him overnight Sunday in a narrow ravine.
The butter-colored horse was fourth in a string of four horses to cross a deteriorating path in Baker Canyon when the soil crumbled about 3 p.m. Sunday. Reserve Deputy Gary Morris, with the county's Mounted Enforcement Unit, jumped off the horse as Popcorn skidded several feet down a slope.
When Popcorn regained his footing, Morris removed the horse's saddle and tried to lead him back up to the trail. Instead, Popcorn took another 20-foot spill before coming belly to bark with a tree.
At that point, it was a no-brainer for Popcorn, said Morris, a Riverside man who has been riding at least 30 years. The horse stayed draped across the tree before deciding to go the way of gravity.
Popcorn "was just like 'Oh, you know what: I'm done,' " Morris said. He "kinda skidded on his butt" the rest of the way down -- another 40 to 50 feet.
"At the time, you're just worried about your horse, you're not worried about yourself," said Morris, who had borrowed the horse from his wife, Debbie, because Popcorn is more sure-footed than Morris' regular mount.At the bottom of the ravine, Morris said, an unfazed Popcorn patiently withstood a rescue helicopter's attempts to tow him up the embankment using a harness.
"It just didn't work, it was just too steep," said Morris, who added that a younger, less confident horse would have shied at the noise and other strange goings-on.
When darkness fell, Popcorn's 12 rescuers got the horse ready for a solo camp-out, then called it a night. Good Samaritan Mark Ferguson -- who manages the recycling center where Saturday's shooting occurred -- intermittently checked on the horse until rescue efforts resumed about 7 a.m. Monday.
Outfitted with shovels, firefighters and deputies dug from soft soil to hard-packed dirt to clear a path for Popcorn, said Deputy Guy Bremer, who helped etch out the more than 80-foot trench-like path at an angle up the embankment.
Almost five hours later, Popcorn scrambled out of the ravine. "He was just so into it, he was like 'Yeah, let's get on it, let's get me home,' " Morris said.
By noon, Popcorn was slurping water from a bucket, as flies buzzed around the small scrapes over his left eye and haunches.
"Popcorn, he's ready to go home," owner Debbie Morris said with a smile. "More adventures next weekend, I'm sure."