While I know very little about horses, I am always up for a horse ride. Horses seem pretty smart to me; they know that I have no idea of what in the heck I am doing. Granted, most of my rides have been pretty tame. The horse follows the one in front of him on a trail so well known, he could walk it in his sleep.
Except my horses always seem to be the ones that stand around a lot, laughing at me while I mentally run through my options. Do I squeeze? Do I pull the reins? Do I swat? Yeah, usually, I am just rescued by the professional—or my son. My horse is also the one that experiences technical difficulties. I have spent more time leaning 45 degrees in the saddle because of equipment malfunctions that I am too embarrassed to mention. (As if The Leaning Rider of Horses is a thing, and no one notices.)
Steve does not ride, so it is up to me to accompany Caleb and our guests on the trail. Our first ride was a two hour trip into the desert and back. Hidden throughout areas of the desert are “ojos de aqua”, or deep holes that fill with rainwater, creating mini ecosystems within a larger one. The hole we were searching for was filled by a waterfall no less. I rode Mariachi, who was preoccupied with the smorgasbord on the side of the trail. The guide had discussed the horses’ snacking habits prior to the trip. I knew I was not supposed to let him munch on the trees and grasses. But, kind of like me at a Pizza Hut Buffet, no one was going to get between this guy and his lunch. This meant the guide was paying a lot of attention to me (and my lack of ability). Caleb actually moved a spot or two in line to distance himself from the troublemaker and obvious amateur.
While it was apparent that these horses knew the route, they were not nearly as programmed to follow one another. We did not move through the desert nose to tail. This allowed riders more time to focus on the beauty of the desert than the bathroom habits of the horse in front. I experienced moments of solitude which allowed for quiet time to reflect on nature and my place in it.
I had never been allowed to trot or gallop on a guided horse ride in the U.S.A. On these trips, however, our horses were encouraged to pick up the pace. I am still on the fence about whether or not that is a good thing. I am pretty sure I looked like a rag doll in the saddle, and I felt like a bowl of Jello. But I did not care! I opened my eyes wide, let out a “WHOOP”, and pretended to chase an old time stagecoach robber. I was at the end of the line, in my own world, and oblivious to the coaching (or reprimands) I was receiving at this point.
Our next horseback ride passed right through the set for the movie Catch 22. Part of the old airstrip is still visible. Some of the buildings that served as the base are still standing. Many of the stones used to build them have disappeared over time, probably serving a more functional purpose in someone’s actual home today. Since I had never read the book, Catch 22, I needed to watch the movie, especially knowing now that it was filmed in my own backyard. I watched long enough to say, “Yep, I have ridden my horse through that arch,” before falling asleep. Then I read the synopsis published on Wikipedia instead.
I loved watching my mom ride. The smile never left her face. Her joy was pure. Her laugh while her horse ran across the desert was beautiful music- -and she even looked like she knew what she was doing. At the end of the day that is what is most important about experiences like this. It is not how well you handle your horse or how competent you look doing it. It is about being able to let go, if even for just an hour or two, and living life in the moment. It is about leaving insecurities and worries at the ranch. It is about appreciating what you are seeing, even if you happen to be looking at it from a 45 degree angle.