Today I was in Walmart, and saw an outdoor fly trap. That’s a battle you’re gonna lose, frankly.
Anyway, We went to visit with friends recently, and went on for a ride on their horses. Now, this may not seem odd to you – but this was my second, no – third horse ride ever. Let’s review what led up to this point…
When I was eleven we had exchange students from America visiting us. They were fourteen and therefore my life was Hell for two weeks, obviously. I remember distinctly them picking on me so badly one night, I ran out of the house crying and ran away from home in an eleven-year old kind of way. (In that I ran from the front of the house to the back – and hid). One of them opened the door and accidentally let our dog out – who, of course, came running to find me. Of course, I say ‘our’ dog – he was, in fact, my Brother’s dog (and called ‘Colonel’ for reasons lost to time). I grabbed him and decided the two to three minutes I’d been hidden was enough time for them to truly understand the error of their ways – and if I returned home now they would undoubtedly apologize and ask what flavor milk they could make me before I went to bed.
Unfortunately I had grossly underestimated their stress-tolerance levels, and one of them grabbed me when he saw me and tried to throw me back in the house. Luckily I was still holding Colonel who was quite fond of me.
So he bit my attacker.
On the nipple.
That’s when I discovered the meaning of the word ‘Awesome’. And I discovered that our guests pain-tolerance was not quite as high as his stress-tolerance. I still never got my milk though.
Anyway – as is the case when you have guests from elsewhere, several ‘days out’ had been planned. Unfortunately, we lived near the New Forest in Southern England – and there’s not a whole lot to do there. There’s ‘orienteering’ which is basically finding your way out of the Forest when you’re lost. And there’s having a picnic – which is finding your way into the Forest, and then getting lost.
However, they had found a ‘Riding School’. They had arranged a day out riding – and I was going with them (whether I liked it or not). Now, I’ve always had a slight fear of horses – of course, I have a slight fear of anything eight times my size with huge teeth and a bad temper. (There are people I could name, but I won’t). So I was a little concerned, but when I explained this to the instructor (okay – when I cried) – she kindly explained to me they would give me the horse that they give the reaaaaaaally bad riders (which just made me think it would be in an even worse mood by now). I got lowered onto the horse, put on my helmet, and we were off.
We started to head out of the front of the riding school, toward the road. I immediately saw the flaw in this plan as, for quite some time, England has also had cars on their roads as well as horses. And I saw a potentially lethal combination of speedy metal things and flighty horse things in my future. I was assured that my horse would just follow whoever was in front of it.
It seems odd now, but they didn’t actually give us any instruction on how to pilot a horse (or whatever you call steering one of them). They just kind of assumed it would all work out. Unfortunately, when we hit the road, my horse stopped. Now, I don’t mean to suggest it stopped before we got onto the road. It did enough to get us onto a bend on the road, then stopped. As I was on the last horse I just watched the others ride off – and mine stared after them. I tried shouting ‘Forward!’ ‘Yeehaa!’ ‘Giddyup!’ and ‘Move you BLOODY HORSE’ but nothing happened. Not even a flinch. Then I detected a slight movement in the muscle underneath me. I was sure that my command over the animal kingdom has encouraged the horse to move forward, respecting me as it’s master for the rest of the ride. But instead it turned right.
It didn’t walk anywhere. It just turned right. And if you’ve been visualizing this so far, (and if you have, I’m better looking than that in real life), you’ll know that I am now sat astride a horse, parked across a road, on a bend, in a Forest. That’s when I heard the car coming. I again begged the horse to move. My equine vocabulary expanded even further (although nothing more than four letters). He still didn’t move. If anything, he moved less. I’m not even sure he was breathing at that moment, he was so keen to make his point. The car noise got louder and louder and I could hear it was coming around the corner I was parked across. The car arrived and slammed on the brakes and, parked less than 3 feet from my (still stationary) horse was my Dad. Clearly he’d noticed my enthusiasm when we got there and decided to keep an eye on me. Or he just didn’t want to have to pay them for a new horse.
So – that’s the first time. The second time sounds like a joke – but I swear it’s not.
I first met Liz in my Drama class at School when we were fourteen. She’d just recently moved from the USA to a second-rate secondary school in Totton. She used to sit on my lap and let me look down her top. And today she’s still surprised when I don’t pick up on subtle hints… So it was ultimately eight years later that we got together. One of the first times I went to pick Liz up for a date she was working as a Head Groom at a stables. When I turned up she was going out for a ride and asked me to hop up behind her. Obviously, I was terrified – but I was also a guy. So I didn’t show any fear and vaulted up, missed slightly and slid back to Earth, then used the step like everyone else did.
Liz took me on a ride through beautiful English countryside, we stared as birds flew past, we waved at people in cars. And at one point we headed deeper into the Forest, and she shouted ‘Duck!’. At this point – I kid you not – I looked for the duck.
The low-hanging branch hit me in the throatal area. I hit the Earth in the groundal area. I swear I heard a horsey laugh. Liz was sweet enough to pretend the tears of laughter were tears of concern, and she threw me over the back of the horse again and took us home.
So that brings us to now, and our ride out on the horses recently. I shared the stories above with our friends to give them a chuckle before we left. I finished the story to watch them glancing at each other in a ‘how much does it cost to call the vet out?’ kind of way.. Eventually (after they’d checked their insurance premiums) they let me on. I rode on ‘Rags’. Rags is, essentially, a cuddly ball of fur with four legs, two ears and teeth. He looks not unlike the horse in the ‘Thelwell’ cartoons. And I ride not unlike the.. Oh, you know where I’m going with this..
We headed out of the barn and down to the lake. Taylor was leading us – and eventually we had to cross the lake itself. Well… I say the lake itself, it was more a river. Okay, a stream. Well – maybe a ditch.
Okay. It was about ten inches across. But horses have a great sense of self-preservation – and they can quickly ascertain that they do not have gills. And therefore water constitutes an unreasonable level of risk – and they won’t do it. (Horses make great health & safety auditors for this very reason). Now here I thought I would be lucky as my horse would realise it couldn’t go any further and save either of us any more embarrassment. Unfortunately, this time I had been given the one that just followed the ones in front – so he headed through regardless.
I could tell when we reached the other side because the screaming stopped. I was, after all, worn out. There were a few, more particular, horses that didn’t want to cross though, so Taylor was instructed to find another way home that avoided crossing water again. And he did that very well. Unfortunately, to do so we had to go up and down about four sheer slopes – and then along a cliff edge that was about a foot wide. Again – Rags merrily plodded up and down and up and down with me riding slightly behind my lunch. As we walked along the cliff edge Liz shouted ‘Branch!’ (See – she remembers!) And I ducked, narrowly avoiding the low hanging branch.
We came out into an opening and I was exhilirated! I had ridden a horse – and not fallen off! The horse seemed to have enjoyed it – and was that feeling I could feel the hint of me enjoying it too? I leant forward and hugged Rags, and thanked the Lord for a wonderful day.
Around that time is when the dog jumped out at us.
Sadie (the dog) is awesome. She’s lovely and friendly and very excitable. And, apparently, to horses, she looks like a big ball of teeth with a gun… Because Rags decided to run. I know the word isn’t ‘run’, it’s ‘gallop’. And I know some people have related the graceful movement of the horse to the world of ballet. But let me tell you, if Rags was dancing ballet at that point it time, it was most certainly the Nutcracker. I don’t know how to put this delicately. Pick the most sensitive part of you. Now, if you’re most people you will have picked the second most sensitive part of you because you’re protecting the most sensitive. So think again. Got it? Good. Now imagine someone stood next to you picks up a horse like a baseball bat. And they swing it repeatedly into that particular part of you. And they don’t stop until the horse has had enough.
That’s somewhat what it was like. And we began to run all the way home. Halfway back someone shouted ‘Duck!’ and I, after learning through two previous equine outings, and to avoid any more pain, threw myself wholly off the horse.
…And onto the duck, which bit me.
This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why people invented the car. And the icepack.