Let’s start with a little background. My love of horses began with books—“Black Beauty” and “The Black Stallion” series to be exact. I often dreamed of being lost on a deserted island with only a black Arabian stallion to keep me company. Then came “Misty of Chincoteague”.
It wasn’t just books, either. There were movies and television shows—”National Velvet” and “My Friend Flicka” come to mind. Then there were trips to the library where I would check out book after book about different horse breeds, horse training, and even horse veterinary medicine.
To say I was the quintessential horse-loving teenage girl was an understatement. I remember once volunteering to muck out stalls at the County Fair just so I could be around them. I collected horse figurines. And horse pictures.
Once my Dad got really upset with me when I was bemoaning the deaths of the horses while watching a Western with him, without once mentioning the people who were also dying. (That has never really changed. I’ll still choose the horses over the people every time. 😊) And when I decided to get a tattoo at eighteen, guess what it was.
Looking back, I’m surprised that I didn’t eventually own horses. Maybe it was because I didn’t know how to start. Or maybe it was the fact that I’ve always been a little nomadic at heart.
I mean, I don’t even have pictures on my walls. There are no cute sayings or décor. If someone came to my home, they might assume my home is a front for someone with a past they are trying to hide. (Okay, probably no one would think that, but I’m a writer, so…)
Anyway, one thing I’ve always wanted to do was go on a trail ride. And something has always stopped me. That something being me. I even lived right up the road from a stable and never went.
Every time we traveled, I would scope out stables that do trail rides and say I was going to do it. I’ve even researched Dude ranch vacations and horseback riding through Ireland. (That last one is on my bucket list.)
Recently we took a family trip to Pigeon Forge and prior to the trip I researched stables in the area, just as I had done the previous year. I was determined to go this year.
Except I started talking myself out of it. I’ve gained some weight over the last few years, more than typical. (Thanks a lot hormones!) And I’m out of shape. I told myself I probably wouldn’t be able to get on the horse, so I shouldn’t try. I was afraid I’d have trouble riding the horse for a long period of time, so I shouldn’t try. By the time we left, I’d already talked myself out of it.
Then the first day we were there we took the Cades Cove loop, and as we rounded the bend there was a pull-off next to a fence with a herd of horses.
I believe my words were something like, “I’m sorry. But can we pull over?” What I wanted to say was “Stop the car! Horses!” And I hopped out.
The horses were friendly but nervous so we didn’t stay long, but that’s all it took. My mind was made up. I was going trail riding. Period.
My sister decided to go with me and the next morning we set off fairly early. I hadn’t been this excited about something in a very long time. I felt like a kid again. I didn’t care how long we had to wait, I was riding a horse. And that’s saying a lot because I hate waiting.
Fast-forward to standing on what looks like a loading dock as our horses are led into the area for us to mount, and I found I wasn’t nervous at all. I’d been on a horse before but hadn’t ridden solo.
I respected them but didn’t have an ounce of fear. Just excitement. We were given brief instructions from our guide. And then I was on my horse, and we were ambling toward the trail.
Now, I’m going to be honest here. I was expecting a leisurely ride on a horse for a beginner. So, when my horse started getting a little too close to trees with my leg for comfort, I was a tad concerned. The terrain was rougher than I thought it would be and it became a moment of Do I trust the horse to know where to step or do I keep my leg in one piece?
For the first part of the ride, all seemed fine. And then he stumbled the first time. I was like, “Okay?” By the second time, I was a little concerned. And by the third time, especially when he kept getting very close to the edge of the trail with a drop off, I thought to myself, “This is it. This is how I’m going to die.”
At one point, my saddle started to slip. I was able to adjust it myself but did have to stop for the guide to make sure all was good.
I truly believe by this time my horse figured out the person on his back didn’t know what in the hell she was doing. Looking back, I also wonder if the guide cinched his saddle too tight after it was slipping. Regardless, it all went downhill from there.
He kept crowding the horse in front of us and any effort to slow him didn’t last long. That horse’s rider was a young girl whose horse had stopped on her and she ended up in front of me. We had already been told her horse and my horse didn’t like each other. There was no way I was being responsible for that little girl, so I let the guide know, who moved the little girl closer to him at the front. I was the very last horse.
I thought things would be good then, but nope. My horse set his sights on the horse right in front of us again, who happened to be the one my sister was riding. (Her horse kept wanting to stop and eat.)
Again, my horse started crowding hers and finally, at one point, when hers stopped for yet another snack, mine went on past her. Then set his sights on the next one, who clearly did not appreciate my horse being all up in its business.
So, for the rest of the ride I spent the whole time just trying to keep my horse off of the horse in front of me and hoping I didn’t pull back too hard (because they had told us in the beginning the horses wouldn’t like that) and die.
And you know what?
I am ready to do it again! I loved every minute of it. Every second. My only regret is I didn’t know how to handle those situations better. Even in the moments I was visualizing my death, I was still having fun.
By that night, I’d already found a place back home within a somewhat reasonable distance (i.e. a distance I’m willing travel for this and only this) that offers lessons and some places that offer trail rides.
I did put my experience on Facebook to my horse people friends, just to see if said experience was something I should expect on future trail rides. Mostly because I wondered if I should take lessons first, despite all of these places advertising to beginners. I got some great feedback and even an offer from someone to go with me.
All because I had my family stop the car at that fence line.
All of my fears were unfounded. I was well under the weight limit, and I had no issues getting on the horse since they had a “loading dock”. And while, after the fact, walking, sitting, and even standing was a little rough for a few days, I had no problems riding the horse.
It was definitely the highlight of my year so far, and it reignited a childhood passion.
So, I don’t know what your “horseback riding” thing is. That thing you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t, yet. That thing you keep talking yourself out of.
Stop that. Stop it now.
Do yourself a favor.
Just go ride the horse.
(I didn’t get pictures of the horses or me horseback riding, because cameras weren’t allowed, so here are a few scenery photos and a book store photo I took on the trip.)