Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Lady was the first horse I remember riding.  To be more accurate, Lady was a brown pony with a prickly personality and fierce disdain for tailgaters.  She once kicked the Colonel when he stood too close to her hindquarters. Lady belonged to a family friend and, despite being slow and stubborn, I never complained. Horseback riding was a rare treat and bringing up the rear was a small price to pay. Lady never showed me the least bit of trouble, nor I her, so ours was a peaceful, if not affectionate relationship.

In the years since Lady I've ridden a handful of times, each time with greater ease. I've also had more experience around animals in general, what with our two dogs and ten hamsters. I've even been dubbed the dog whisper by a few dog owners, eliciting behavior from their pups that they'd never seen before. Let's just say my animal self-confidence has grown considerably since the days of Lady. That's what makes what I'm about to share that much more shocking.

We were tandem biking in Idaho, Kirk and I on one contraption, the girls on another. The scrub covered hills of Sun Valley and the quirky ski town were begging to be explored. En route, we biked past a pasture where horses grazed on scrub under an overcast sky. A couple on foot had just finished feeding chunks of apple to a pair of tall brown stallions who had wandered over to the split log fence. The man and woman were now were trying to pose with one of the horses for pictures, but it wasn't going so well. The stallion clearly wanted more apples and kept nudging away their attempts to pet him in search of snacks. I held out a closed hand for him to sniff, but he quickly deduced that I was apple-less and turned away. When the man tried to pet his muzzle again, the horse tossed his head back and whinnied in protest. Instinctively I placed a hand on his side to calm him, murmuring, "You're alright." That's when the beast whipped his head around and bit me. Not on the hand, but on the...well it might be mistaken for an apple...or a peach.

It was by far the most intense pain of my life. My clothes weren't torn, but the crushing pressure and my struggle to get away left marks that are still fading. I pedalled away from the pasture with tears streaming down my face. I was in shock. Had that really happened? Horse whisperer, I was not.

That afternoon we were scheduled to go on a trail ride. I considered begging off. After all, I had one hell of an excuse. I knew, however, that if I let myself sit out once, I might never get near a horse again. So I loaded up on pain killers (and two jog bras) and headed out the door. You can imagine my relief when I learned it would be a 45 minute drive to get to the stables. These horses would not be Jaws or any of his pasture-mates. Even so, I mounted Fiona with trepidation.

"She's stubborn, a bit slow, and doesn't like tailgaters," the handler told me.

I smiled and took the reins. "Perfect."

I murmured to Fiona throughout the ride, patting her neck and holding on tight as she kicked at the horse behind her for riding too close. She was Lady reincarnate, just what I needed.

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