Staying on the Wrong Horse?

Sometimes when you get on the wrong horse, you just need to stay for the ride…

If you’ve ever gone on a guided trail ride, maybe while on vacation, or maybe you happen to live near a ranch, one of the first things the guides do is size you up in an attempt to match you with a horse that is compatible to both your riding ability and your demeanor. In other words, if you are a nervous, tentative type, you’ll likely end up with the old gentle mare of the stable. If you appear confident and strong, you may end up with the dominant, type A horse.

On a recent vacation with my daughter, we signed up for a beachside trail ride. It sounded wonderful and looked idyllic on the brochure.. tanned, fit people riding horses through the surf on white sandy beaches. Sign us up!

The guide company picked us up from our hotel, along with two other couples. When we got to the stables near the beach and piled out of the van, we were asked if anyone had riding experience. Stupidly, I raised my hand as I’ve been on several of these types of guided rides on various vacations.

Taking that to mean that I was indeed an equestrian, the guides said a few words amongst themselves, pointed to me, and voila, I was assigned to “Colorado” with the caveat that he was a little “touchy” and to be cautious not to lead too strongly. Whoa.. Wait, I though and began to backpedal.. “Are you sure I should be on this horse,” I asked? “Well, you said you are experienced..,” the teenage guide replied.. Since  I didn’t want to make a fuss and my daughter was starting to look embarrassed, I didn’t push the issue, and stayed on Colorado. He had a cool name, at least…

Adding to the “should I ask for a different horse” equation, was the fact that there were exactly six horses and exactly six paying customers. At this point I realized that the “guides” would not be riding with us but would instead be jogging alongside.

After a quick lesson on the basics of steering our horses, and the offer for helmets, along with the suggestion that “we actually wouldn’t look as good in the pictures wearing helmets” we were off. The ride started innocently enough. My horse and my daughters horse (also a bit of a rebel) made their way to the front of the procession and proceeded to walk side by side close enough that our legs were smashed up against each other. I assumed they were trying to be cute and let it go.

Eventually, the two decided to speed up and broke into a gentle trot. Okay, but not being one for speed, I pulled back on the reins and Colorado reluctantly slowed down. This back and forth, walk/trot power struggle continued for several minutes until the teenage guide caught up with us and said something to the effect of, “he wants to run and you are more laid back.” Yes, I admitted, that was a fair assessment. “Why don’t we trade horses with someone else?” He offered. Fine by me.

The trade was for a smaller white horse who was currently being ridden by a pretty petite woman (who’s name was Rachel). Apparently, the guide felt she would appreciate Colorado’s spiritedness whereas my laid-back self, would do better on “little white”.

And so the switch was made. I literally stepped right onto little white, put my feet in the stirrups and immediately felt like I was riding a child’s bicycle. But I made no complaints as my daughter continued her “say nothing” stare. So, off I went on little white. Slow and steady.

A few seconds Later I heard the sounds of thundering  hooves behind me. It was Rachel flying by on Colorado yelling “whoa, slow down!” I watched as the pair ran the entire length of the beach, passing the rest of our group.

Eventually, the little white pony and I caught up with the rest of the group and I noticed that Rachel and Colorado were being led by one of the guides. Apparently, once Colorado finally stopped, Rachel jumped off and was promptly nipped by the horse. It left a hefty welt on her petite arm.

Of course, I felt bad. That wild ride and horse bite was meant for me! Not pretty petite Rachel.

So in the end, despite the fact that the tour company should have never put any customer on such a naughty horse, and that they should have been riding alongside us to intervene in such mishaps, I still felt a sense of responsibility.

It was my horse. Yes, it was the wrong horse, but I should have stuck it out. Maybe having a larger person on his back, Colorado wouldn’t have pulled that nonsense. Maybe he was angry that I left him or felt like he was being punished, like the disruptive kid in class? In any case, I wish I had stayed on Colorado and showed him I could handle a little trotting. Instead, I took the easy way out and hopped on my little pony, looking and feeling ridiculous.

How many times have we gotten on what we think is the wrong horse only to give up, when, maybe just maybe, there’s a lesson to be learned. A challenge to be had.

The next morning, I saw Rachel and her husband at breakfast. I told her I felt bad that the horse I started on had bit her. She shrugged it off and said she was fine. In a way, I was envious that she experienced Colorado’s wild ride and affectionate nip, because I’m sure she felt stronger because of it.

And I rode the little white pony back to the stables.

Next time, I’ll stay on the “wrong horse” and maybe I’ll learn to be a little more fearless!

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