The last time I rode a horse was in fifth or sixth grade. We’d go horseback riding near our cabin in Hayward, Wis., and I always enjoyed it — usually because my brother got the gassy horse, and, being the child I was, would suggest the horse’s flatulence was somehow my brother’s fault. Ah, kids.
Horses are such beautiful creatures, and I’ve since learned their important role in therapy and rehabilitation (see We Can Ride for a great program in the Twin Cities). When I watched Temple Grandin with Claire Daneshorse back riding, I was further amazed and moved. Yes, horses are awesome. And the horse-human connection cooler still.
Kyle and I had talked about horseback riding on past vacations, but frankly, I felt a little uncomfortable at my old weight. I knew the horse could handle it, but I worried about my own control. Would I be comfortable? What if the horse decided to run — could I hang on?
I still had some concern about the horse taking off, as one did on my mom when she was in seventh grade. (She fell off and broke her ankle, but didn’t fear a repeat accident as she mounted a horse again to take her kids riding.) With all things there are risks, but I’m a pretty trusting person, particularly with animals.
We arrived at Sombrero Ranch in Estes Park, Colo., and met our guide Becky. She was a no-nonsense woman in a large white cowboy hat and designer sunglasses. As I mounted my horse, she reminded me to be firm with him and hold tight to the reins in one hand. “He’s a kicker, so you’ll be at the back of the line,” she told me.
My horse was aptly named Cheech, as he was a bit slow to keep up with the group and stopped several times to munch on grass. He also seemed a bit distracted. Once we climbed a trail to heights of 8,000 feet, I heard some rustling in the woods behind us — and Cheech heard it, too.
Off in the distance was a huge wild turkey, bopping his head and waddling around. He was far enough away, but the sight of him startled Cheech and he started to break from the group. I did my best to stay calm, as I had read animals can sense your fear, and gave him a calming “Whoa, boy!” with a few pets on his mane. He jumped a bit and pulled away from the group, ready to run, but I shortened the reins as Becky instructed and directed him back in line. She trotted over to help him (and me) relax.
What did I learn from Cheech?
Stay calm, don’t get distracted by non-threats, and keep in line with your path.