One day my friend Louise invited me to go horseback riding with her. Once a week she went to “loosen up,” she said. “When I ride, I forget all my problems and I come back renewed.” She wanted to share this experience with me because she says I work too hard and don’t relax enough—and I have a teenager who’s driving me nuts.
I never got on a horse before, but how hard can it be? Look at those Western movies. They jump from the roof right onto their horse and are gone before the sheriff pushes through the saloon swinging doors. And look at Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. She rode like a Pro at age 12. If she can do it, so can I.
We drove north to the stables where you paid an hourly fee to ride. We parked and walked over to the barn. Louise was a regular, so they knew what horse to bring out for her when they saw us coming. They handed Louise the reins and she was up on that horse in three seconds. This was a side of her that I had never seen before. Seeing her up there on a two thousand pound beast that could crush her in an instant gave me great respect and admiration for her. It also made me want to show her that I had the potential to handle a horse, too.
The stable hand looked at me and asked, “English or Western?” That’s a strange question, I thought. Whose nationality is he asking about? The horse’s or mine? And what does that matter?
Louise spoke for me, “Western,” and in a few minutes he came walking out of the barn with a horse. .
“This is a good one for you,” he said. “Name’s Gypsy.”
Gypsy? What kind of name is that for a horse? I didn’t know why, but it gave me an uneasy feeling.
I don’t know how I got up on that horse—I think the guy helped me—and I tried to look brave, but I was scared to death. My feet were no longer secure on the ground, and this beast was starting to walk away with my body.
The man shouted after me, “Pull on the reins if you wan’er to stop!”
That was stupid! Everyone knows that!
I followed closely behind Louise and tried to imagine that this was really living. I expected us to lope along the whole bridle path enjoying the beautiful trees and the twittering birds, and after a One-With-Nature experience, return to the barn happy and restored, but it was not to be. Gypsy had other plans.
She suddenly bolted away from the bridle path and went down the side of the hill. Once she hit another bridle path, she galloped as fast as she could with my helpless body on her back. I pulled on the reins over and over, but nothing happened. What’s the matter with this horse? Doesn’t she know the signals? No wonder they named this horse Gypsy. I knew in my gut that the name was a description. It means wanderer.
Why did I ever let Louise talk me into this? I’m not an outdoor person, I’m a cave dweller. Just put me in a place where I have my piano and my books and I don’t care if I ever come out again. Air and sunshine would have to seek me out. My feet need to be on solid ground, not in stirrups three feet above the ground on a horse that was taking me god-knows-where. This was terrible.
I only knew one thing on this runaway horse, I had to get out of there, so I decided to jump. I was so nervous that when I raised my leg to get off the horse, my leg felt as heavy as a steel beam and it shook so out-of-control, my heel accidentally kicked Gypsy in the behind. The unbelievable happened. She stopped. She didn’t understand reins; she understood a kick in the butt.
I jumped down off that horse and began walking back toward the barn. A group of people were riding by and saw me walking. “You can’t leave the horse back there,” and I answered, “Oh, yes I can,” and I kept walking. I never wanted to see the likes of Gypsy again.
One of them grabbed Gypsy’s reins and pulled the horse over to me and stuck the reins in my hand. “You don’t leave a horse unattended on the bridle path.” Hostile as I was, I begrudgingly took the reins in my hand and continued walking toward the barn as she followed docilely behind me.
A group of stable hands—including the one who matched this horse with me—saw me coming and they all burst out laughing. I am sure that my matchmaker knew what he was doing when he gave me this wanderer. It had to be deliberate.
In order to use up the rest of the time that I had already paid for, they brought me to a paddock where there was a pony tied to a revolving central post, and they put me on the pony so I could ride in a circle. They convinced me that once I got used to being on a pony, it would be easy to graduate to a horse. I bought it. They never told me this contraption was for young children. I thought it was for all beginners.
When Louise came to find me, she stood at the corral fence in side-splitting laughter at the sight of me riding in a circle along with a 6-year old who had joined my circular trek on another pony.
Ok, so I can’t ride a horse. Well, SHE can’t play piano! So there!