They say you’re only as old as you feel. What a load of turtle droppings. I approached the whole horseback riding venture as a cheeky 23 1/2 year old and staggered out of there a feeble 76 . . . and that’s after a round of Bengay. As I sauntered up to my horse named Chief, I knew we were going to be kindred spirits. I had even taken an off-schedule shower that morning just for our first date. I don’t know the criteria for how good a person should smell before she climbs on a horse, but I passed with fluorescent colors. No, as I swung my leg into that stirrup and nestled my bottom into that saddle, I knew this was going to be legendary. I was loose; I was alert; I was one with Chief. I just wish someone had told him that.
We left single file behind our tour guide, an adorable blonde girl not even old enough to drive. I don’t guess there’s a law that makes you get a license to operate one horsepower, but I did give pause to the fact that I was following a kid so small she wore a bicycle helmet and drove a pony. Originally, I was second, but Callie’s horse Bugaboo kept trying to take her back to the corral for a quick snack, so she cut in line. Chief wasn’t crazy about this demotion, so he spent the first leg of the trail with his snout so close to Bugaboo’s haunches that even a gnat couldn’t have slipped through. Given the load I saw Heather’s horse release right after we mounted, I labeled Chief a born risk taker.
We soon left the path by the country road and took a trail that cut into the woods. Sunlight dappled the dirt and brush, and we passed under an arbor of oak trees. I felt myself relaxing, and I allowed my body to sway with the horse. I was indistinguishable from a centaur.
Our guide asked if we wanted to try running the horses, and I eagerly looked around to gauge Callie’s and Heather’s reactions. They nodded like a couple of bobble head dolls, so as we turned the next corner onto a long straight, the pony went into a trot and the others followed suit. Ever been on a trotting horse before? Your mind collapses under the equal concerns of whether you’ll compress your spine enough to lose two inches of height permanently or you’ll present such an orthopedic challenge to the doctors that they’ll just skip traction altogether and go straight for a body cast. But while the mind is busy fussing, the spirit is set free, and I heard myself laughing through the intense jarring, even squealing from the delight of flying along on Chief, my magical unicorn. Callie’s horse blew past me in a full-blown run, and I envied in my heart. I wanted a taste of that velocity, that wind-blown abandonment, but just then, our guide brought us back to a walk.
We laughed and exclaimed over our experience and asked our horse whisperer for tips and insights. As we were talking, Bugaboo slipped ahead of us, and suddenly our guide called out a command for us to halt. Directly in front of my horse and right beside Callie’s was a five foot snake. As it turns out, horses aren’t overly fond of snakes.
Our guide showed a maturity beyond her years as she calmly instructed us. I turned Chief on a dime, and he snorted his disapproval against the whole reptilian kingdom. After Callie and Heather were out of reach, our guide moved in for a closer look.
“Come on, you fat fellow. Move it.” She tossed a rein over it, but it lay stationary in the grass, miffed at having his afternoon sunning disturbed. “I just don’t want it to get trampled by the horses,” she told us. I confess, that on my list of current concerns, that one fell right between cleaning out the lint screen on the dryer and looking up the original meaning of the word termite in Greek.
Instead, I was harboring two vivid scenarios in my mind. One, Chief would bolt, and I would adhere myself to the saddle like Saran Wrap. And I’m talking about the real McCoy stuff and not that cheap mess you get at Wal-Mart that wouldn’t stick even if you super glued it to the bowl. As my trusty steed galloped across the country, I would be heard bellowing out, “Whoa, you beast! Whoa, I said!” as I crossed one state line after the other. Or two, and this was my least favorite of the scenarios, Chief would bolt, and I would find myself on the ground with a couple of fangs embedded in my fanny asking the girls about their last-minute opinions on an open or closed casket service. Thankfully, neither of these materialized, and as Monty Python slithered into the brush, our guide declared it a harmless oak snake. Tragedy averted, we resumed chattering.
Now that I had a taste of true riding, I wanted more. I sent word up through the chain of riders asking for another opportunity to ride the wind. When Heather’s horse started to prance, I saw my chance and seized it: I gave Chief a swift kick. Chief responded with the alacrity of a teacher’s pet, and I passed Heather on the outside in a reenactment of Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes. I thought that running would be easier on my body than trotting. I was dead wrong.
Ever watched that movie The Avengers? Remember that scene in which that little intergalactic dictator guy with the antelope hat gets sassy with the Hulk, so the Hulk snatches him up by the ankles and pounds him against the concrete about a dozen times for good measure? I know exactly how Loki felt.
I reached the head of the pack quickly, and our guide reined us in. I was exhilarated but absolutely certain that I’d met my running quota for the day. Callie obviously disagreed, as those with bodies more than a decade younger than you will, and when the guide suggested a third term of running, Callie didn’t even think to take a group consensus before putting that horse into drive. Chief, a mammal with a competitive streak that makes Lebron James look like a sloth suffering from apathy, leapt into what our guide called a canter. Which is appropriate considering that with each blow my body took I thought, “I canter hold on much longer!” But of course I didn’t dare voice this since opening my mouth might allow three of my fillings to escape.
When we came to a stop from this last jousting session, Callie took over as spokesman and made a statement on behalf of the group: “Owwww.” I concurred.
As we made our way back to Skunkie Acres, I gently shifted around to test the integrity of each disk in my vertebrae. I noted a scrape and trickle of blood along my ankle where my sock had left hide exposed to the stirrup, and I could already feel contusions forming around my knees and along most of my organs, not the least of which included my brain. I know for certain there was some swelling there because when we passed through the gate and I saw a couple of chickens roosting under my Corolla, I didn’t even care. I dismounted from Mr. Chief’s wild ride, gave him a couple of good-natured pats as thanks for the excitement, and staggered back to the car, girls in tow.
The next morning I woke up sore from the eyelids down. I had a bruise the size of a tennis ball on one knee, and let’s just say that hard surfaces were not my friend for many days to come. So while I would definitely attempt this activity again, I think next time I won’t be quite so quick on Ole Trigger, or afterwards they’ll just need to go ahead and put me down.
© 2012 – Traci Carver