This morning, I want to take you back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, 1961 to be exact. It was my sweetheart's sixteenth birthday, and I generously offered to pony up for whatever she wanted to do to celebrate the occasion.
It turned out that horseback riding was her choice of activities, so at the appointed time we turned up at a nearby establishment that offered that sort of thing.
I'll note here that she was already an accomplished rider, while yours truly was not of the equestrian persuasion. Growing up on a farm, I had been around horses, but they were the big, plodding fellas that pulled haywagons and sleighs. Good natured and dependable, they were unfamiliar with the more sporting gaits. So, I had never been on a horse in my life and, until this particular day, had seen no reason to do so.
Anyway, the trail guide at the "ranch" sized up the group of folks who had signed up for the day's ride, and decided to put me on Henry, the largest of the horses in the stable.
With the moment of truth fast approaching, the wheels were spinning in my head, and the plan I came up with was to just keep everything slow and easy. I figured that, as long as I could keep Henry walking, I'd be fine and maybe I wouldn't wind up looking like a real greenhorn in front of my gal.
So, to cut to the chase, so to speak, we mounted up and headed out on the trail, with Henry and me bringing up the rear.
My plan worked pretty well for a while, and I was kinda gettin' into the rhythm of it until the trail guide stepped up the pace. As the rest of the group trotted away from us, I could tell that Henry wanted to hang with the herd, but I kept him on a tight rein. The tension between us rose as we lagged farther and farther behind the other riders, but I still thought I might pull this off.
But then the group started to canter, and my troubles began. The canter, as I now know, is a three-beat gait. I never could waltz, and now I learned that I couldn't canter either, as Henry took off in an effort to catch his pals.
I sensed that I was in trouble when my feet came out of the stirrups, which apparently is a no-no among horsemen. The rest of the group had now disappeared around a bend that circled a grove of trees. Henry was galloping now, and he determined that the shortest route was a straight line, which took us directly through those trees.
Tree limbs were coming at me thick and fast, as I tried desperately to stay in the saddle. I grasped the saddle horn with one hand, while raising the other to to protect my face, and I dropped the reins. Meanwhile, the sound and fury of it all had reached the ears of my trailmates, and they had gathered in a clearing on the other side of the grove, curious about this ruckus in the forest.
Henry and I suddenly shot out at full gallop in front of them, whereupon he stopped absolutely dead in his tracks, and I hurtled off over his head, landing with a thump on the ground in the centre of a circle of riders who were choking back laughter.
The trail guide said that he thought it best for me to just lead Henry back to the barn. Both Henry and I were okay with that.
I swore off horses.
And I married that girl.