Christmas was good to me this year; I finally got my first saddle. (I must be doing a really good job mucking the stalls!) When I told Candy, one of our boarders, that I was going to start riding, her response was, "Oh, our baby's all grown up!"
"Come on!" I thought. I've ridden a horse before... once... I think. Or was that a llama? Well, whatever it was, I'm sure it had four legs.
I'd been looking at the saddle for a few weeks. The leather was gorgeous, and it smelled great, too. I was anxious for the chance to hop on Vander or Skip and go for a ride. This past Saturday, Kimberly's family came over to eat lunch with us. Most of the food was ready, the family was sitting around chatting, and we had about an hour until we were supposed to eat. As little free time as we get, I thought our sneaking away for a quick ride was a good idea. I'd been pestering Kimberly for a riding lesson since Christmas, and she finally gave in. Soon, however, we realized that things in the barn were not working in our favor.
Skip was lame, Vander had thrown a shoe, and we couldn't ride any of the boarders' horses. There was only one option. Our friend was out of town and had left with us her Hanoverian mare, Ellie. This 23-year-old strawberry roan was the mother of several of the horses our jumper friends rode. These horses were all athletic and huge, with fancy strides, giant bucks and wispy forelocks. Ellie had been with us for only a few days, and she had spent as much time running and bucking as she had standing and grazing. Additionally, and most importantly, she hadn't been ridden in 10 years. I was not especially eager to make her my first real ride. I could imagine myself getting bucked into a tree or onto the barn roof. I was about to suggest that we wait until after the farrier came and ride Vander instead, when I noticed Kimberly's entire family had come out to the barn to watch the inaugural ride. Several family members even brought cameras. It was clear that I was not getting out of riding.
"Yeehaw!" I shouted with a newfound, totally fake enthusiasm. "Let's do this! I just need to go the restroom first."
Kimberly retrieved Ellie from the pasture, and we placed her in the cross-ties. Wide-eyed, Ellie sniffed the Western saddle pad Kimberly dug out from somewhere in the horse trailer. She sniffed the saddle and sniffed the cinch, which only took me 15 minutes to secure. Everything seemed to pass Ellie and Kimberly's examinations, so I led Ellie out to the riding ring.
"I think we should lunge her a bit," Kimberly said. "Let's at least do this on the lead line first."
"No," I whispered to Kimberly. "I've got this under control." Kimberly shrugged her shoulders and stepped back with her family.
Ellie and I stood for a few snapshots. She actually seemed to enjoy the attention. Ellie stood still until I got a foot in the stirrup to climb on, at which point she began walking. I could hear lots of pictures snapping as I hopped beside her until I got my foot out of the boot, which remained stuck in the stirrup. I stopped Ellie, removed the boot from the stirrup, put it back on and tried again. This time I got a leg up and over, but I didn't have long to enjoy my success.
Ellie reared, and I grabbed the saddle horn with both hands. There was gasping, followed immediately by a blinding blitz of flashing cameras. Ellie's front feet didn't even land after she reared. She leapt like a Lipizzaner. I think she did a courbette to a capriole before exploding into a full gallop. My behind bounced out of the saddle several times, but I hung on with one hand on the saddle horn and the other clenching as much mane as I could. Good heavens! This horse could move!
The ride was scary, but I though hitting the ground seemed scarier. Catching the reins was not going to happen, nor was I going to find the stirrups anytime soon. Everything was flying past us, or perhaps it was the other way around. I caught a brief glimpse of Kimberly's horrified face amid a sea of flashing cameras. We galloped up the ring, and we galloped down the ring. We bucked and twirled and reared a few more times before Ellie came to a complete stop in a cloud of dust directly in front of the family. There were more pictures snapped as I fell off the now motionless horse.
"Jeremy!" Kimberly shouted as she ran over and grabbed Ellie's reins. "Are you okay?"
"Errgh," I managed. "Tell everyone to please stop spinning in circles. They're making me dizzy." I held firmly onto the riding ring so as not to fly off into space.
Kimberly led Ellie to the barn, and the family followed. The laughter grew fainter as they walked back to the house.
I just lay flat out in the ring, with my nausea and green face. I know it was green--during lunch I saw four pictures of my green face. The beauty of digital cameras is that the most humiliating shots can be immediately transferred to a computer and emailed to everyone. Just a decade ago it would have taken at least a week to strip me of my dignity. This year it only took about three hours.
My hands, my rear end, the shoulder I fell on and my ego were a little sore as I finally picked myself up and walked from the riding ring. It's possible I received a minor concussion when I fell. As I hobbled through the barn past Ellie's stall, I was sure I heard her say, "Next time, I'll buck you into a tree." I turned to her, hunched over and holding my left shoulder.
"Oh yeah!" I responded. "We'll see about that, missy! This cowboy will ride you again!"
"Who in the heck are you yellin' at?" asked our boarder, Jack, who stood in the tack room doorway. His head was tilted, and he was squinting at me.
"Did you say you'd buck me into a tree?" I asked him. I figured I'd ask just to be sure. Jack couldn't possibly think me any stranger anyway.
"What? Are you feelin' okay? I guess that fall was worse than it looked."
"Hmmm... you saw that, too?"
"Yeah," Jack responded. "Don't quit yer day job just yet."
"You want some pictures of me riding?" I asked.
"Nevermind," I said. "I'll be inside if you need anything."
Lunch was accompanied by plenty of merriment, giggling and general hilarity. Family members passed their digital cameras back and forth until everyone's stomachs and sides were sore from laughing. The longer I sat at the lunch table, the more stiff and sore I became. Fortunately, the distraction of my physical pain kept me from feeling much embarrassment. Sitting there, I resolved not to let Ellie off so easily. I would absolutely ride her again... after a few days off. You know, I didn't want to wear her out.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina with their two cats, two dogs and two horses.
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