Carol A. Hand
How I wish I had seen the movie, The Horse Whisperer, before I met Amos! Unlike Sara, I didn’t grow up on a farm surrounded by horses and hogs. I didn’t ride until I was in high school and it was an experience I haven’t been eager to repeat. I honestly can’t remember exactly why I agreed to go riding with classmates on a field trip to a national forest. But here I was, a tiny teenager assigned to Amos, the smallest horse of the group that we would ride along the forest trails. Amos and I were to be first in line behind our guide because Amos had a problem – he bit other horses.
Even though Amos was small compared to the others, he was big and intimidating from my frame of reference, and I’m certain he could sense my fear. But I climbed on his back and off we all went. Things were fine for the first few minutes until we came to a small pond. Amos decided he was going for a drink and left the line to wade into the pond and have a sip. And there he stayed. The guide told me to pull on his reins and gently kick his sides. I did and Amos sat. And sat. And sat. He wouldn’t budge. And the rest of the group gave up on us and rode away! And Amos sat. Finally, a boy scout who was hiking through the forest saw our predicament and took pity on us. He waded into the pond, reached up and took Amos’s reins in his hand, and led us out. I was so grateful. I have no idea how long Amos would have remained otherwise.
When we reached the shore, Amos immediately took off at a gallop to catch up to the rest of the horses, with me clinging tightly to the horn on the western saddle. I’m sure it was a funny sight! (It still makes me laugh when I think of it.) We did catch up and I learned why he was originally first in line. As he passed the other horses, he bit each one in turn as he assumed the lead position again. We made it to the end of our trail with no more stops, but I wasn’t eager to repeat this experience.
It took a special incentive. I didn’t ride again until I was faced with the Physical Education requirement for college. (I stopped playing competitive sports when I was in seventh grade – after being deliberated clubbed in the head by someone on the competing team during a field hockey game. I guess I stole the hockey ball one too many times and outran the other team toward the goal. For me, it wasn’t about beating others. It was about challenging myself.) The other options for PE, modern dance and bowling, were also rather funny. Too uncoordinated to dance, and with wrists that were too small to remain unsprained with the weight of even the lightest bowling ball, the only other choice was horseback riding. It’s when I met Buster.
Like Amos, Buster wanted to be the boss. He was also a biter, yet we did fine on the days when we rode in the indoor arena. But the days on the trail were a different story. Buster was a master at trying to dislodge me from his back, and this time, I was using and English saddle without a horn to cling too. I only had my legs to wrap ever-more tightly about his middle. He could “trip” with his front foot, lurching forward – causing me to lose my balance, and he would rub against tree trucks to try to force me off his back. Yet we both survived the ordeal. While my peers learned to jump, I was content to know that I could simply pass my semesters by staying in the saddle.
It would be decades before I would climb on another horse. And this time I have photos to illustrate my daughter’s amusement as she witnessed my lack of skill riding horses. We were in Maui in September of 1998. My daughter, Jnana, is far more courageous and adventurous than I. Bicycling down the steep winding road that encircled Haleakalā, the volcano in the center, was not my idea of fun. Instead, we compromised and decided to go horseback riding midway up the mountainous heights. I’m embarrassed to admit I only remember the name of my daughter’s horse, Brandy. My horse’s name began with a “C.” It could have been named Calypso (like Sara’s horse, whose story brought back these memories).
We arrived at the riding center mid-morning, after the mountain mists had lifted. Our horses were saddled and waiting. Mine, Ms. C, appeared to be dozing, eyes closed with her head resting peacefully on the split-rail fence. Our guide was of Portuguese ancestry. He told us a little bit about the history of ranching in Maui and the paniolo – the “ new breed of Hawaiian cowboy” that emerged on the ranches that dotted the slopes of Haleakalā.
I must admit I was nervous as Ms. C walked the narrow rocky ridges, or even down gentle rocky slopes. But it was a lovely way to explore and learn about another land and other histories and cultures. I’m grateful my daughter and I shared this adventure, although I haven’t ridden a horse since that time. I doubt that I will again, even though Ms. C was gentle and sure-footed, a welcome change from Amos and Buster.
Photo Credits: Haleakalā, Maui – 1998
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