For the past few years, I have had these iconic visions of seeing myself riding horseback. There I am, atop a black or white stallion (I’m not even sure of the difference between a stallion and a plain old horse at this point), with the wind gently blowing through my hair, and a soft spray of freckles making an appearance across my slightly sun-kissed face. It’s a feminine and healthier version of those Marlboro ads that used to be littered throughout magazines.
The only thing I have to go on right now, in terms of reality, however, is the advice given to me minutes ago by a “Miss Jerry” from the “Rock-N-Dollar Ranch” who says, “Just wear some jeans and a boot with a small heel,” in a warm southern accent. I’m not going to lie. I was really hoping the name of the place would be something like “White Stallion Stables” or “Red Barn Pastures.” I’m such a romantic. “Rock-N-Dollar Ranch” sounds A) a bit aggressive and B) a tad too “give us your money.” But, hey, I called at ten and she said, “Come at noon.” So, it looks like within the next few hours, I will finally have a chance to fulfill my dream. When I return with sweat dripping from every pore, dirt in my hair, and a sore bum, I can give you the real life version of how it feels to learn to ride a horse.
I’m twenty-seven, and I’ve never actually ridden a horse before. The closest I have been was in the early nineties. I was five or six. A guy came to the house with a pony of some sort, a squat, black and white spotted thing, and convinced my mother that she should allow us to “experience” putting on a cowboy hat, a pair of chaps, and a vest. We then posed for a picture that looks far from authentic. There was also a generous sum involved, I’m sure.
It’s funny because when you travel, people assume that as a Texan, you have access to green pastures and horses and cows and whatever else they can drum up that goes with the whole “bigger and better” package. I don’t personally know a single person who owns a horse. I looked. I asked. The one girl I found that rides horses and said I could come along lives in Louisiana. I had to resort to the yellow pages. In fact, my image of the term “cowboy” comes from one Western movie that I watched with my dad and brother when I was a little girl called, “My Name is Nobody.” The guy was dirty, fished with his hands, and was one with nature. Right now, in my mind, horses are damn near close to unicorns. Even without the cool, spiraled horn, in my eyes, they are magical creatures. Because I, of course, am romanticizing the hell out of them, they represent freedom, a spiritual connection to the earth. Have you ever seen that photography collection by Keith Carter called “Ezekiel’s Horse”? Take a look at it. I think he does an excellent job at capturing the essence of that strange, mysterious aspect of their nature in those images. I especially love the photograph called “Freckled Nose.”
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Never walk behind a horse. Do not squat or sit by a horse. These are two bits of information that frighten me. Reality is a bit different, topped with more flies.
When I drove up to the Rock-N-Dollar Ranch, it was pretty picturesque. There were green pastures, little man-made ponds, complete with a winding, unpaved road. At the end of the road there was a giant, log beach-cabin-like-structure in the middle with a very organized looking stable with various signs around that say things like, “Do not leave gate open.” I can handle that.
Miss Jerry is a brunette in her thirties, and I trust that she knows what she is doing. She is tan, her boots are worn, (mine are from Brooklyn and don’t have the same worn-in look at all) and I like her immediately. As I sign the form that says I won’t sue if I get kicked in the head or some such thing, I take a look around.
There is an old man sitting at the table next to us that I assume is another horse handler, and later Miss Jerry tells me that he is one of the best. He looks it. If anyone is the Marlboro man around here, he is. There is a small orange and white hen that is walking around my feet. Yes, this is what I imagined. Next step: prove that I am a natural at all this.
Miss Jerry first takes me into what I think she called the “tack room,” where a hundred or so saddles lined the walls. It smelled of sweat and leather, but I immediately wanted to grab my camera and take a picture. I contained myself. I wanted to let Miss Jerry know that I meant business.
My horse, also known as “Bug” was 27-years-old, with giant brown and white spots covering his body. He was gentle, but a bit stubborn. Before I hopped on the saddle, here is step-by-step of the process (from what I remember).
1. Spray the horse for flies. The flies don’t seem to bother the horses, but I suppose they would have bothered me.
2. Brush the horse to make sure there is nothing poking him when you put the saddle on.
3. Place saddle blanket on horse; leave a little hole between blanket and horse so that it doesn’t stretch the horse’s skin when you are sitting in the saddle.
4. Place saddle on horse. Unpack saddle.
5. Tighten girth (but not too tight).
6. Make a strange, tie-like knot with straps and whatnot.
I hope I didn’t forget anything.
Well, after the ceremony of preparation, I grabbed the reigns and hopped atop my lumbering beast, very carefully.
For the next thirty minutes I learned to stop, go, and turn. My main problem was that I didn’t want to hurt the horse, so I was barely tapping him with my heel when “aiding” him to turn left and right. “You aren’t going to hurt him. He’s a giant,” Miss Jerry kept saying. At one point, “Bug” decided to ignore me and just started following Miss Jerry around, which probably wasn’t a great thing.
So, I guess I’m not a natural. And, in case you are wondering, a stallion is the same thing as a stud: a male horse that hasn’t been neutered. The rest are called geldings.
Well, I’m not running through green pastures yet, but it was a great start. Next thing you know, I’ll be wearing a cowboy hat and going to rodeos. We’ll start small. The August heat keeps the ranch closed for the month of August, so in September, I’ll let you know how round two goes.