That’s how the first few weeks of my real horse life went. I lost a total of four pant sizes in ten days. I eventually gave up on bandaging my blisters on my feet and slowly the blisters turned to calluses. Not only were my cheap boots too small, they also rubbed my calves until they were raw and bloody. They too hardened up but I still have the scars thirteen years later.
Over time I was greeted with less amazement and surprise and more acceptance. My muscle and wind increased and before long I was keeping up with everyone else during morning saddling. I could even routinely saddle Mac, the big roan horse.
I spent every bit of my spare time horse back. I asked questions and took the answers to heart. The day I got on Carmella and rode her around the yard in the direction I wanted at the speed I wanted was a huge victory. I was brimming with confidence again. I was well on my way to being a knowledgeable horse person. Any day they would have me start guiding rides.
Finally, one day I was called upon.
“Grab a fast horse and I’ll show you the two hour trail.”
I chose Annie, a little gray quarter horse mare who had a reputation for speed.
We headed out of the yard and hit a trot as we entered the pines. As I bounced and jounced along on that poor horse’s back I noted we took a turn that led us to a different trail than we usually traveled. I tried desperately to create mental landmarks while staying upright.
Suddenly the pines cleared and a big, open, green meadow appeared in front of us. And just like that, we were off.
You know how Alec was always effortlessly galloping The Black along the beach bareback? Yeah, it’s really not that easy. The part about being breathless and your heart pounding in your ears is pretty accurate though.
That day I added a new experience to my horse reality. Running full tilt.
We made it through the meadow and kept on going through an old abandoned boy scout camp. We wove up a mountain, dodging rocks and tree limbs still at full speed.
At the top of the hill we finally stopped. The horses’ sides heaved. Their nostrils flared pink, sucking big breaths of air.
By that point I had stopped breathing all together. I had no idea how I had survived let alone how I had stayed on. I don’t think I was the only one.
After the horses caught their breath and I came to the conclusion I was still alive we moved on. We walked the rest of the ride. I soaked in as much information as I could about the plants, rocks, and history of this trail. There was no way I was going to nail the entirety of my wrangler speech and memorize the trail we had just covered, but I wasn’t going to tell myself that.
We made it back to the barn in a lot less than two hours. The horses were still hot and sweaty when we arrived.
I took extra care unsaddling Annie that night. I hosed her off and brushed out her mane and tail. I owed her A LOT. If she had made one wrong move during that ride I would have hit the ground at 40 mph. That was a little more of a reality check than even I needed. She had stayed level and true underneath me and we had made it home together. I thanked her profusely in the only way I knew how: carrots!
At the end of our grooming session she was clean, dry, and full of treats. I was dirty, soaked, and still half nauseated from adrenalin. But there was a tiny, very quiet song of victory being played in my head. Not only had I survived that ride, I had LOVED it.
One of my new personal goals was to get good at running across that meadow horse back. I told Annie that soon we would fly across that meadow. She chuffed and nosed me for another carrot. By that time I had no illusions about my mad horse riding skills, or lack thereof. I had stayed on that horse because she couldn’t outrun my guardian angel. But I had stayed on. And, if I had stayed on once, I could stay on again.
After I put Annie away, (a bit early, but hey, she earned it) I joined the crew in the afternoon chores. Unsaddling had come to have a rhythm all of it’s own. The dust raised by the horses’ hooves as we led them to the corrals surrounded us. Particles glimmered in the afternoon sun.
We spread out the hay and then leaned against the fence watching the horses stop, drop, roll and stretch themselves before nosing deep into the alfalfa.
Right before it came time to leave I was summoned into the office.
“Forty dollars a day plus tips, you can start taking out rides tomorrow.”
People who know me well, understand that even though I can be extremely astute about some things, I can be incredibly dense about others.
This was one of those dense times. I nodded in agreement and headed out the door. My mind was racing. People actually get PAID to do this?!
And suddenly my dream came true. I had made it! I was a real life dude wrangler!