February 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
I had planned to take a horseback riding lesson as one of my new adventures between 29 and 30, but procrastination reared its slightly less than beautiful head and I found myself with too few days to schedule a class. However, my friend Jen, who actually owns a horse and rides regularly, invited me up to Steadfast Farms in Hoschton, GA to fulfill my goal. In fact, by going I would actually be doing the horse owner a favor by taking out their beast for a little exercise during the week. And it was free. I was sold, and on Day Three Hundred Sixty-Four I headed north on I-985 for a great horse trek.
I should disclose now that prior to my Hoschton trip I had in fact “ridden” a horse before. I was twenty-one, traveling solo through Europe and while staying at a pretty Tuscan Hostel had the opportunity to tour the countryside via horseback. Duh, right? I joined up with a pair of Australians who were near horse experts and we jaunted through a nearby woods that trailed next to a vineyard. It was gorgeous, but with my lack of riding knowledge and the leader’s lack of English knowledge, I pretty much just bounced around on the mare for the majority of the journey. Every time my ride would speed into a trot I was pushed up and down and down and up, jiggling all over the place. This prompted uncontrolled bursts of hysterical laughter from yours truly and I never calmed enough to even attempt to stand in the stirrups. So it turned out to be terrific fun, but I could not comfortably say that I had ridden (and controlled) a horse.
Back in Hoschton, Jen lent me a pair of boots and we carved our way through a muddy path to capture her Haley, grazing in a nearby field. I wandered through the small gatherings of the majestic beings just a little scared, but since everybody knows horses can sense fear I squashed the nightmarish visions of stampedes that marched through my mind and instead focused on the beauty of the beasts. They may have been big, but they were certainly pretty. Once Jen had harnessed Haley we headed off to pick up what I hoped was a gentle, friendly pony for me to ride.
I was assigned to Dakota, a male Appaloosa with a shiny brunette coat. Unfortunately, there were two horses that fit the description in the same yard, and neither were responding to us calling out. Jen felt pretty confident she had singled out the right animal, so we gathered him up and headed for the grooming station.
Jen demonstrated how to brush the flank, clean the hooves, and feed my mount carrots throughout the cleaning process. I began brushing the back and belly of Dakota, enjoying the rugged sleekness of his body. He tittered when I made it forward to his head and my heart skipped a few beats when I stared into his eyes as a sort of test. There was certainly judgement on his part, but fortunately I wasn’t found lacking. The carrot I managed to proffer under his nose may have sealed the deal and I was allowed more brushing and petting.
When I moved to the rear of my new friend for hoof cleaning and tail brushing, Dakota showed his sense of humor by farting in my face. Because I now have that experience, I can tell you that horse farts smell like grass and poo. Probably what you’d have imagined, and now no one else in the world needs to get crop dusted by a bronco.
Eventually Dakota was all brushed to a shine and it was time for saddling. Jen took over this part of the dressing while I watched from the side, slipping him chunks of carrot. Jen readied Haley and we were set. Now I just had to get on the horse.
We led our animals to a set of wooden stairs expressly used to aid in horse mounting and Jen held Dakota while I climbed up and rather clumsily positioned myself astride the saddle. Then she did the same with much more grace and experience. We headed to the woodsy trail, with Jen keeping up conversation, giving me pointers, and answering all my horse related questions. I really didn’t have to do much but sway in the saddle, since Dakota seemed to know the way and had acres more experience than me.
We trotted along the path with a grassy field on one side and thin woods on the other. With Jen’s encouragement I even got into the rhythm of the bounce and managed to not burst into a giggle fit. The cadence of our canter became relaxing. Every so often I would rub Dakota’s neck to let him know I was still hanging on and we progressed nicely; I barely had to tug on his reins to keep him on the path. Only when we passed a sweet smelling crop of greenery or crossed over a bubbling brook did Dakota need any steerage.
Toward the end of our jaunt, Jen asked me if I wanted to try galloping. Um, yeah! That would certainly be something I had never experienced. I was giddy at the prospect. We piloted toward an open rolling field and Jen gave me instructions, namely to be confident when I pulled back on the reins at the other end of the grass. She told me Dakota would most likely follow Haley, but in case he didn’t, I could do the whole leg-squeeze-to-make-him go thing.
As soon as Jen and Haley took off across the brush, Dakota was right behind, with me pretty much holding on for dear life. The gallop was much smoother than the trot had been and I felt like an awkward lump on the back of grace itself. I teetered to the right and left a little and caught my breath as I pulled back on the reins when we neared our touring partners. Dakota slowed, sneezed, and stopped.
“Whew,” I exclaimed. “That was awesome.” And it was.
We headed back to the stables and did a shortened reverse of our pre-ride grooming. I was surprised how sweaty Dakota’s back had gotten, where my English saddle had rested. And instead of farting on me this time, the horse let a torrential downpour of urine wash into the gravel. At least he didn’t lift his leg like a dog and aim at me.
I rewarded Dakota with the remaining carrots and a thorough brushing. I think we bonded. When I led him back to his field for chill time, I was comfortable enough to give him a nice head rub before I left. I romantically imagined that Dakota was a new animal friend and he would never forget our afternoon ride. Well, at least until the next rider.