Gorgeous horses! Their size was intimidating up close. At a distance, tails swished to shoo flies. Standing next to them, the hair whipped, and I gasped. Most of the horses tied to the split-rail fences waited in the bright sunshine patiently. Some stood still as statues. A few gently shifted their weight. A spirited horse at the end of the line pawed at the ground, hooves thumping.
A wrangler matched the riders with horses, and the mount-up began. “If you know what you’re doing, go ahead and mount on the left, people,” he called out, “The rest of you, wait!”
The half-day trail ride was a splurge. It was the first one I can remember in fourteen years of family vacations. Every trip contained a few unexpected gems, activities so special they only happened on a vacation. Maybe once a year. Maybe once in a lifetime.
The ride was deeply etched in everyone’s mind for different reasons. The oldest girl rode her own horse, a mellow, dappled trail mare. She was thrilled to be given her own horse and couldn’t stop talking about it! Next in line, a stocky bay mare slowly plodded along under Mom and the five-year-old. A big, black gelding, named Snake, easily carried Dad and me with eagerness and some bounce in his step.
The heaving motion of the beast was fascinating. It was a lot to take in—the creaky western saddle, the trail framed by trees, and the river we followed for a while. Dad was funny. He kept saying “Whoa!” and “Whoa, Nelly!” Sometimes he gently tugged the reigns, and sometimes not. When the horse wanted to scratch his flanks on a tree, there was a hard yank in the opposite direction. It was a fun ride. I didn’t know what a trail ride should be, but this was amazing!
The cool shade of the river trail, the noisy river, the meadow where the best riders could trot or gallop, and the barns that finally appeared around the bend—it was all a fabulous adventure.
At the end of the ride, most of the horses walked right back to where the started. Riders wanted pictures with their horses. Quick snapshots were taken, the riders dismounted, and the wranglers began tying up the horses one by one. The oldest girl and her horse were captured on film, even while she was still going on about being trusted with her very own horse. Click! The next picture on the roll would be Mom and the middle daughter on the chubby bay. Click! The final picture was almost an afterthought. I was put up on the big, black gelding. Click!
And it all went wrong.
Snake was spooked by the sound or the camera flash. He turned and bolted with three-year-old me still in the saddle.
To say that was a natural instinct is an understatement. Some really smart guy built saddles with a big, old “handle” in the front, and that’s what my chubby little fingers hung on to for dear life. But with each stride, the jostle felt bigger and harder.
The dusty ground flew by. The stirrups bounced.
“Let go!” popped out of the faraway hollers.
That made no sense! Why would anyone let go?
The whole thing was tiring. My tiny, sweaty fingers couldn’t grip the handle much longer, and my exhausted arms ached. My short legs couldn’t land hard in the saddle one more time.
Looking down, I caught a glimpse of darker dirt and tufts of dry grass in slow motion.
Snake slowed and wandered into the riverbed, riderless. He casually drank the cool, rushing water until the wrangler came to get him.
When I sat down to capture the early memories, I was surprised. Apparently, I was quite the little stunt baby at two and three years old. I had never put that together until I saw the scenes next to each other like some kind of wrinkle in the timeline.
I obviously turned out just fine after this little episode. (I don’t find it traumatic anymore.) You may find it frightening, and it was in the moment, but please know it all worked out…
“Didn’t I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!” ~Yukon Cornelius¹
I hope you enjoyed this little scene. If you’re writing some of your early memories, what have you found most challenging, precious, healing, or enlightening about the process? Comment below.
¹ Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) (TV)