I was probably 11 or 12 the first time I ever rode a horse. I was still in elementary school, and my best friend was named Dayle. We walked to school together, played together at recess and participated in the most cherished of childhood rights, the sleepover. One weekend, Dayle invited me to have a sleepover at her dad’s place. This was wildly exciting for a 12 year old girl because Dayle’s dad was a chuck wagon driver in the Calgary Stampede. That was one step away from a rock star in my youthful estimation. Also, Dayle’s dad lived on an honest to goodness ranch. To a city slicker, book worm like me, this all seemed thrilling.
Our first full day at the ranch started painfully early. I wasn’t awoken by a rooster crowing but by a bright red parrot named Mario. At the first hint of dawn in the eastern sky, Mario playfully sung his own name, over and over and over, “Maaaaari-ari-ari-ari-ooooo!”
I still shudder when I think of that bird.
After breakfast, I got the full tour of the grounds. Dayle’s dad was also a large animal vet and I was shown his exam room in the newer of two barns. The new barn was sleek and advanced, built for efficiency out of metal siding, with ample windows and modern equipment. Attached to the new barn by a pathway of metal corral fencing, was the old barn. Like something out of a novel, the old barn was warm and sturdy, made of weathered wood and smelled of hay and the animals it housed.
The old barn was where the horses were kept. Beautiful and spirited, these were the horses that pulled “Doc” Doyle Mullaney’s wagon around the half mile of hell. I’d never seen horses like this up close before. I’d seen ponies at the petting zoo and horses in parades, but never this majestic and never as a private audience. I was in love.
I hadn’t ridden a horse before, and I was excited at the opportunity to try. Dayle’s brother Dallas assured me he would lead the horse by the bridle since I was such a novice and I felt reasonably assured. Also, Dallas, a devilishly handsome boy who was mostly cruel (in a big brother sitting on your head kind of way) and occasionally kind, made declining the offer sound less than appealing. With the ring of embarrassment in my ears, and a bucket as a step stool, I climbed on to the saddle of one of these beautiful beasts. About 10 minutes later, a couple of boosts and my face flaming crimson, I actually made it into the saddle.
Dallas started walking the horse and I down the long circular driveway. I was amazed at the movement of the horse and the way it took my whole body, moving in synchronization to stay balanced. I could feel the power of the horse in all of my muscles and it felt amazing. I was thinking I was becoming quite the cowgirl when my horse decided he would like to trot. If you have ever been on a trotting horse, especially an unexpectedly trotting horse, you will sympathize. I was completely out of sync with my mount. The result was a bone jarring crash directly into the saddle at the exact moment the horse met the peak of his stride. My teeth were rattling and my bottom was aching with the impact of this sudden acceleration. Dallas was struggling to keep up with the steed’s increased gait. He urged me to pull back on the reins to slow the horse down. I think the horse may have sensed my inexperience, because he shook off my reign tugging and trotted on his merry way. I was starting to shift sideways in my saddle, and from the height of the horse, the ground looked perilously far away. I couldn’t hold on much longer, so I did what any self-respecting city girl would do. I dug in the heels of my bright red rain boots and attempted to right myself.
The last thing you ever want to do whilst riding a trained race horse is dig in your heels. My horse took off like someone had fired a starter’s pistol. Dallas lost his grip on the bridle, and I’m pretty sure he fell. I can’t be a hundred percent sure because I was doing the other thing us city girls are known for, screaming our heads off. My horse was now running full tilt towards the corner of the metal fence and the new barn. I could hear Dayle and Dallas yelling at me to pull the reins, which I tried with even less success than before. I also saw Doyle amble out the front door of the house and tell me to “stop screaming my fool head off for chrissakes.” I tried the reins again and the horse shook them off. I could see the metal clad corner looming in front of me at an alarming rate of speed. I gave up on the reins and gripped the horn of the saddle in a lock so tight I could have held on through a hurricane. As we hurtled towards the metal structures, I closed my eyes, gripped my knees, and clenched my teeth.
It was over as fast as it started. I felt gravity pull me forward, so that it almost felt as if I’d fly right over the head of this fiery horse. I held on for dear life, knowing, if I fell or was injured, Dallas would never let me live this down. I felt myself fall back on to the saddle with a surprised little sound. I opened my eyes to see that the horse was standing stock still, just in front of the industrial corner, like it was contemplating what to have for lunch. I don’t accurately remember how I got down off of that nightmare horse. I was shaken and shaking, overwhelmed and worst of all, crying. I looked up and saw Dallas and his father laughing like a couple of hyenas. Even my very best friend in the whole world was stifling a grin at my wild ride. I was utterly humiliated. New tears stung at my eyes and I vowed to never ride another filthy, stinking horse again.
More than 10 years after this traumatic incident, I have, in fact, ridden other horses. I also married my husband, who wound up being Dallas’ best childhood friend. Dallas was the M.C. at our wedding and Dayle and their parents celebrated with us at our reception. Lucky for me, Dallas’ memory of that day is almost as clear as my own. He very thoughtfully told the story of my harrowing ride to a delighted crowd of family and friends at our reception. Some experiences you learn from because they are too painful or frightening to forget. Some experiences you learn from because your friends will never let you forget.
This is an essay I wrote recently for my English assignment. The story is 100% true. I wanted to share it because it still makes me giggle. Also I got 88% on it, which makes me proud as hell