Saturday, November 23, 2013

View From a Horse

My first encounter with a horse occurred when I was 8 or 9 years old. I had won a "Day at a Dude Ranch" for selling newspaper subscriptions. As an adult I am short, 5'5", as a child I was tiny. The massive animal, each of it's teeth seeming as large as my head, terrified me. Climbing on top of one was a feat which required unbelievable bravery from my diminutive self. As I recall they were not even able to adjust the stirrups high enough for me to slip my feet in them leaving my little legs dangling on either side of the beast as they slowly walked us around the corral.

Another day trip I won was to Catalina, a small island off the southern California coast. At Long Beach airport I boarded a plane, for the first time in my life, for the short flight to the island., It was a small seaplane which landed offshore in the Pacific. It is ironic that my first flight was on a plane the likes of which I probably will never experience again. I remember the water washing over the windows as we touched down. There too a portion of the day was given up to horseback riding. At least at this point my legs had grown to a length where I could secure myself on top of the animal, although the stirrups still had to be set to the highest point possible.

A friend of mine in junior high and high school owned a horse. At the time tract homes had not completely taken over the once bucolic valley we lived in. One afternoon, she in front, I in back, rode through the walnut groves and fields which remained. Now that ground has been paved over and filled with the concrete slab foundations of homes which personify suburban sprawl.

My partner and I have ridden through the back acres of farms during weekends enjoying the fall colors in Michigan and the southern portion of Indiana. That portion of the state where the board flat cornfields transition into rolling hills before the terrain slopes down to the Ohio river. Unfortunately rising insurance costs have made the rides unaffordable for many of the small family farms.

We rode through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were led by a park ranger along wide paths, although my horse seemed obsessed with walking the very edge of the commodious path next to a precipitous drop. It was as if it was exhibiting some sort of equine daredevil death wish, which I did not share.

On the first of my two rides in the jungle covered hills above Puerta Vallarta our gay guide dismounted and said, in Mexican accented English, "We rest here a few minutes." As we sat in a dry riverbed he then declared, "This is the part where we drink Tequila", pulling a flask and shot glass from his bag. After several rounds we returned to the horses and the remainder of our, now somewhat unsteady, ride. On my second ride our less festive straight guide seemed most concerned with attempting to lasso the trees and shrubs we passed along our way. In his defense he did point out a orchid sprouting wild from one of the trees he was attempting to lasso.

Following a rain soaked day we took a muddy ride the next afternoon at the foot of the Grand Tetons. As we climbed to over 7000 feet we looked down at the Snake river winding below.

The perspective is different when on top of a horse. In the saddle, high off the ground, sights you are accustomed to looking up at are at eye level. Your view is more expansive. On a hill atop the animal you can see further than on your own two feet.

There's a relationship, friendly or antagonistic, sometimes cooperative, sometimes not, with the large animal carrying you. I've had horses that are playful and horses that are headstrong, ignoring the instructions you are trying to convey with the reins. Some horses have an attitude which seems to say "I've been on this trail scores of times! I know what I'm doing here better than you!" Others seem less arrogant, although I sometimes think they are merely placating me, just letting me think I am in charge. Some seem resigned to a life of servitude, carrying a person around over ground they have trod countless times before. Some prefer to go slow and steady, some love to gallop. Some horses are friends with others on the trail, some are loners. Like many other animals each one has it's own personality.

The large draft horse I rode in the Tetons, gray hairs in his mane, breathed heavily after carrying me up one steep hillside; even though he avoided the mudslick trail and walked along the grass beside it where he could get better traction during the climb. Yet, at the end of the ride when he was allowed to gallop through  a flat meadow he took off with an exuberance which belied his obvious age. In Mexico I was given a horse named Clown, due to the white markings on his face. However, during the course of the ride he seemed determined to live up to his name with his silly, erratic behavior.

Each ride is different. Each is a unique moment in time. The view from a horse is always an adventure.



  1. Horses and I don't get along. They always seem to be planning some outrage.

  2. Last time I was on a horse was about 10-12 years ago up in the Traverse City area. I went with some coworkers. I have never spent enough time on one to get comfortable with anything but a brisk walk. Once my bum starts to bounce up and down I look for something to hold on to.