Note – I’m not slumped in the saddle; Texas needed a drink! Look at my right hand, and you can (barely) see that I was using an extremely short rein.
It doesn’t seem possible to me that we are are old enough to be celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary, but we are!
My husband, Tom, gave me a fabulous anniversary present this weekend! Not just a leisurely drive through the beautiful Texas Hill Country (still lush and green despite the ongoing drought) and some shopping/browsing. Not just dinner-for-two and a relaxed over-night stay at an inn in historic Kerrville, TX. He gave me the fulfillment of a long-held wish; to go horse-back riding again after many, many years!
By booking a two-hour trail ride for us at the Silver Spur Ranch (www.silverspur–ranch.com) in Bandera, Texas (through the quiet meadows and often rough, rocky and challenging terrain of the Hill Country State Natural Area, he also showed his faith in me. He showed me that he believed in my ability to still control a powerful (and somewhat opinionated) 1,200 lb.horse and “see the course through”. He gave me much more than he planned; he gave me back my confidence in that ability and allowed me to prove that this was something 30+ years of severe Rheumatoid Arthritis had not taken away from me! Sure, I walked rather oddly for a few minutes after dismounting, but so did he >grin<!
We arrived at the ranch promptly at 9am (slowing several times on the ranch road to allow an abundance of cottontails and jackrabbits to zip across) to fill out the required health disclosures and liability waivers. “What is your riding skill level?” I started to check ‘Experienced’ and thought,”Um, Chris, that was 45-46 years ago! ” Settled for ‘Advanced Beginner’. “Any medical conditions which could affect your ability to complete the ride?” Well Yes, actually several, but none I was going to let stop me from trying! Check mark on the “No”! After we took a short detour through the small but well-stocked gift shop (and I found a t-shirt I wanted to purchase after the trail ride ), we made our way down to the corral for a short riding ettiquette briefing (while we watched geese, burros and a ranch dog amble through the corral and out the open gate), and then our wrangler (also a Tom) began matching up horses to riders. (The ranch has a herd of 30 well-trained horses, and the wranglers take the matching-process seriously.)
Approximately 45 seconds before I climbed up to the mounting dock (much appreciated, as I estimate my horse was somewhere near 15.2 hands tall), my legs suddenly went sliff and very uncooperative! I suspect that rather small portion of my brain which is reasonable and sensible surfaced long enough to scream “What on earth do you think you’re doing?” Note: When stiff-legged, it is a bit of a challenge to act nonchalant while slipping an orthopedic shoe into the left stirrup and attempting to sling your right leg over the horse and saddle. . . never mind capturing the right stirrup before you suffer the indignity of having the wrangler stroll over and shove your right shoe into it! (No, he didn’t – I accomplished the “feat” on my own 😉
Others were still being matched to their mounts, so I manuvered “Texas” out of the way. He seemed interested in what I assumed was a feed box mounted on a nearby rail, so I indulged him. However, he wasn’t after food, he was after mischief; when he grabbed a piece of tack (a bridle) out of the box and cheerfully flung it several feet away, we had our first discussion about appropriate behavior! He wasn’t pleased to have his playtime interrupted, but I won the debate.
Tom was matched with “Winchester”, another sleek and handsome mount. We soon learned that he should have been named either “Pistol” or “Glutton” – more about that later! The wrangler lined us up. . . . youngest rider directly behind him, a couple of ranch guests, Tom on Winchester and myself bringing up the rear; it seems Texas doesn’t like anyone coming up too close behind him. The Appaloosa directly in front of Tom’s mount had the same dislike (LOL!)
During the short portion of our ride which took us off of the Silver Spur Ranch and onto the Hill Country State Natural Area, I had my horse figured as a “plug” and assumed I would spend the entire two hours trying to urge him to keep up with the pack ~ I was wrong. As soon as we entered the Park, he decided we were too far from the group and should shorten the distance . . .quickly! Well, alright then – this might be more than a slow walk through a very scenic portion of the Hill Country after all! That is also when I realized I could indulge in a small “experiment” (exactly the sort of behavior Tom meant to curtail by booking a trail ride -LOL!) I held Texas to a slow walk, waited for a suitable gap to occur between myself and Tom’s horse, then kicked Texas into a canter and snuck in a short burst of speed before I had to rein him in to avoid a collision with Tom’s Winchester. It took a fair amount of “kicking” to get Texas moving, but I soon realized that a quick flick of the reins brought immediate results.
That tactic worked rather well throughout the ride, but Winchester made the ‘stolen thrill moments’ a bit dicey. Winchester began to display his belief that the entire ride was actually a “salad bar” set out just for his personal enjoyment! He would drop his head and stop suddenly to munch on any inviting tufts of grass. Horses have very strong necks (and Winchester had a strong will) — – -once his head was down, even Tom standing in his stirrups and hauling back on the reins would not stop “Win” until he had a suitable mouthful! (Tom’s left hand and his shoulders are sore now, and will be more so tomorrow!) Once in awhile, Winchester would stop for another snack just as I put Texas at a canter, requiring me to pull back on the reins rather firmly, too! Hehe.
Some of the ride was uphill or down over loose, slippery shale and sharp rocks. I am convinced that the wranglers use an alternate route if there is a rank beginner in the group, as those areas required a mix of 90% trusting the horse to pick the best route and 10% “No Way, Jose. We’re going to try over here!” Those areas also reminded me that it is difficult to use the reins for guidance while leaning back (or far forward) in the saddle to maintain one’s balance! Those who know me (and my “luck”) well will understand that those were also the ones I was most likely to tumble off into:)
Tom’s mount got skittish when we were stopped for a moment and there was a bit of noise under a nearby bush. He handled Winchester beautifully, but it he was busy getting his horse under control. Busy, while Texas decided to rear, twist to the right and try to run in another direction! Our wrangler (and half of the group) were out of sight, around a stand of trees, so my loud “Whoa!” as I tried to control Texas was their only cue there might be a problem. It is amazing how fast long-unused instincts kick in! Before Texas’ front hooves touched the ground, I was reining him sharply to the left and trying to stop his ‘flight’. . . . and it worked! Somehow, digging my feet hard into the stirrups and leaning kept me firmly in the saddle, while I had no time to think about either. (Yes, I am feeling a bit smug about that.) He only tried one other “You’re not the boss” move during the ride, and coping with that one on my own felt great, too!
Being a State Naatural Area, the trails aren’t cleared of small bushes, encroaching trees, big rocks, etc. – they’re left, well, natural. That is why wranglers wear chaps (leather leggings) and long-sleeved shirts, even in the summer heat. That’s why Tom and I wore long-sleeved shirts and our battered old Stetsons. We did a bit of ducking, leaning and putting our heads down so that our hats took the brunt of passing leaves and branches. We also forced a few course corrections when we could see the vegetation our mounts were planning to haul us through. . . .except there wasn’t always a handy alternative Winchester dragged Tom’s upper arm against a solid branch, so he had a bloody mark on his sleeve when we returned to the ranch; I was too busy fending off tree branches to my left to notice the one to my right. . . . it knicked a tiny hole in my elbow and then caught in the lace insert on the front of my blouse and ripped a good sized hole open. Until we got to a clearing, I didn’t know what sort of a “wardrobe malfunction” had occured! The tear was low on the front portion of the blouse, so I didn’t have to borrow Tom’s shirt for modesty’s sake. (I did buy that shirt I wanted, though, as my right sleeve was rather blood-soaked by the time we returned to the ranch!) As I texted our kids when we got back to our car, “Safe, sound & exhilerated, with just the right number of scrapes and bruises – LOL!”
All in all, a wonderful weekend! Thank you and Happy 45th Anniversary, Tom