[Note: both of the people in this story are named Sara(h). It’s only confusing if you read it aloud. Also, this is part 4 of a series. For part 1, click here and for part 2, click here. For part 3, click here.]
There’s a certain amount of confidence you get when the horse you’re about to hop on is used in the safety demonstration before the “get to know each other” ride around the lake. It’s hard not to feel like you could do just about anything (or nothing at all) and the horse would plod along in its docile, complacent way, and maybe trot a little–when you’re ready for it–and eat carrots and apples from your outstretched hand, and everything would be all My Friend Flicka, even though you haven’t been on a horse in almost 20 years.
Or, at least that’s how I felt after listening to what commands to give and the proper way to sit in the saddle and how not to irritate your horse, when the wrangler said, “Who’s the lucky one who gets to ride this guy?” and the other wrangler called my name. I mean, the horse’s name was Bueno for goodness sake.
I’ve heard that you shouldn’t name an animal a name that has “no” in it, because of the negative association. No Bono, Tino, Cyrano, or Shawn-O. Forget calling your dog Dino.
I have no idea if it was that, the fact that I wasn’t very assertive with him to begin with–I’ll just do what the wrangler tells me and everything will be fine!–or he was just having a bad day, in spite of his name, but whatever the reason, Bueno most definitely did not want to be plodding along a gentle lakeside trail with me on his back.
I did everything the wrangler told me (eventually more assertively) to no avail. Not only did Bueno ignore me, he would lag behind, come to a full stop to eat, and then trot to catch up, which I swear was intentional so I’d smack my seat against the saddle with each step. At one point something spooked him or he twitched and bucked a little, right before we were supposed to go down a muddy rocky incline.
Bueno’s no bueno behavior would have been fine if a lap around the lake was the extent of our riding, but that’s not how dude ranches work; we had a four-hour ride scheduled for that afternoon and either a five-hour trip up and down a steep canyon or a two-hour scenic ride the next day.
Thankfully–though they told me I was the first person ever to complain about Bueno, the owner’s favorite horse–the wranglers did pair me with a different horse, Lacey Jo, for the rest of my time. Sara, meanwhile, would like everyone to know that she loves her horse, Opie, a chestnut raven-maned stallion, and she wanted to take him home with us but I said no.
The afternoon ride went much better. I forced myself to trust Lacey Jo, and I was more assertive with my commands.
And I wore a helmet.
Like a child.
The terrain proved much steeper and narrower. It rained. Then it rained harder. My horse slipped a few times, and I was grateful for the helmet when we rode past some low branches, but other than that it was really enjoyable. Oh, and Lacey Jo kicked Opie a few times, but I didn’t notice that, and anyway I’d say it was Opie’s fault for getting too close.
After dinner we were separated into teams again, this time for a low ropes course of the sort commonly found at youth camps and team-building work retreats. Unfortunately, our team took a long time. So long, in fact, that it was dark when we were completing our third task: swinging on a rope across a small creek. The two teens on our team made it across in true youthful fashion, but I wobbled a bit and set my foot down in the creek. Luckily the owner didn’t notice so I wasn’t penalized. (Yes, there were penalties.) Sara, however, slipped, hit the bank, and fell ass over teakettle (that’s head/backfirst, for those of you who aren’t middle-aged Canadians) into the creek, covering her white windbreaker in mud.
She excused herself to change but the rest of us were forced to finish the course. In the dark. After that it was mandatory uncomfortable karaoke: There was a fog machine! And lasers! And a teepee village! And I’m not joking!
I tried to get the crowd going with “If I Could Turn Back Time” without success, so I left early and awkwardly attempted to buy wine from the Mormon wranglers–no dice–before I managed to procure a bottle from the owner. Which I brought back to Sara, because that’s how friendship works.
Next: did we choose two short rides or one long one? What
fresh hell forced group activity awaits us?