Friday, March 22, 2013

The Foolishness of Middle Age: When What You Did in the Past Leads You to Think You Can Do It in the Present

Ah, youth.  It leaves us with such pleasant memories.  While most of the time I can't recall what I ate last night or who I sat next to in high school Spanish class, I do have some fond childhood memories that have hung around.  One of them is of horseback riding.  And so, when I was perusing the tourist brochure information for Santa Fe, considering that this was our fourth trip out to Santa Fe, I thought I would shake thing up a bit.  Do some things that we hadn't done.  Really go out of our way to try new places and be adventurous.  After all, we didn't want to be accused of being old, stick in the muds, did we?

So, when I saw the blurb about Broken Saddle Riding Company, I thought, "This is perfect! We can take a two-hour horseback ride through lovely canyon trails and see amazing scenery. I've ridden horses before.  Lots of times.  In fact, people have said I am a good rider." (Foreshadowing: this was when I was 12.)

Flash forward to Monday in Santa Fe and me on the phone with the very matter of fact Harrold Grantham, owner of Broken Saddle.  He wanted to know how much I weighed and and how tall I was and whether I had ever cantered before.  Now, I would have been a bit put off if I hadn't read the google reviews that warned me that if you weighed over 200 pounds that you had better forget about riding horses with Broken Saddle.  The weight restriction was somewhere between 210 and 235 according to reviews I had read.  They said you had better own up to your true weight.  OK! They also said you needed to be honest about your abilities. OK!


Fred was lying on the bed dozing, when Harrold started asking me questions:

"How much does your husband weigh and how tall is he?"  I asked Fred for the data.  He told me and I told Harrold.  Harrold asked me for my stats and I gave him what I thought was a true range given that I hadn't been friends with a scale in many months.

Then came the real question.  "Are you a beginner? Or can you canter?"

"I can canter, but I don't think Fred can canter."

Fred immediately sat up.  "I can canter!"

"You can canter?" I looked doubtful.  I put a hand on my hip and tilted my head as if to say, when have YOU cantered?

"I've cantered." He went back to lying down on the bed.

"Ok, we can both canter." I told Harrold.  I was banking firmly on my years of Girl Scout horseback riding and those times when I went riding in the mountains with friends.  In retrospect, how any times did I actually go riding?  Well, anyway, I have cantered.  I have, I have.  I can see myself cantering.

Harrold said, "Great.  I have you both down for Wednesday.  Advanced beginners."


It all started to go a bit wrong when we got there.

The Broken Saddle sign.
Looks like a nice place doesn't it?  It's in the town of Cerrillos, which has a population of about 300.  It's a very small place.  Broken Saddle is in the historic part of town.  A very old section of a very old mining town that sits next to a national park that has beautiful views of several different mountain ranges.

When we arrived, Stephanie, who was to be our guide, and Harrold, were getting our horses ready.  Harrold noticed right away that Fred was dressed like a New Mexican, not bundled up like someone from out of town: LIKE ME.  But it was said in a really nice way.  And I was toasty warm in my big yellow Lands End fleece-lined coat with my scarf and three layers of clothing.  I resembled a female version of the Micheline man.  If I didn't weigh 200 pounds when I was talking to him on the phone Monday night, I was probably edging close to it with all my clothes on now!

Fred and I took a quick potty break and when we got back, our third rider had joined us: David.  David lives in the area and is an actor, professor and all around amazing guy and was just there to get some pointers on his riding style BEFORE HE STARTED SHOOTING A FILM ON MONDAY WITH JUDE LAW AND NATALIE PORTMAN. Great.  No pressure.

Stephanie, our guide and David, soon to be in Jane Got a Gun.

So, Mr. I Ride Horses A Lot is coming on our ride to get tips on his riding form.  I am starting to feel a little inadequate.  Harrold and David start trading movie stories about how you can tell whether someone knows how to ride or not by how they approach a horse.  Harrold goes into this really funny story about a friend of his who got a part on the film The 3:10 to Yuma after being coached by Harrold and I'm thinking, "I know nothing about how to approach a horse!"

But after the story, I know that you give it two slaps on the nick and don't kiss it.  Crap.  What was I thinking.  I had come prepared to ace a basic Spanish test and everyone here is in AP Spanish 5!  I am so out of my league.  I don't even think I can fake my way out of this.


Harrold pulls a horse forward and looks at us. I am standing there motionless thinking to myself, "Don't call my name! Don't call my name!"  I don't want to go first.  I am suddenly realizing that all my Girls Scout training is for sh*t and that I don't know crap about riding horses.  Advanced beginner my ass.  I'm less than a beginner. I should be in the baby beginner class.  Do they have an infant class?  A fetus class.  Yeah, get me in that class!

"Fred, get up here.  This is Duke."

"Oh, thank God!  Fred is first."  I think to myself.  I was, honest to God, praying. Someone heard me.  The buzzing in my head has lessened somewhat.  I can hear Harrold again.

"Now, most people think that you hold on to the horn, but you don't." What! OMG! He's telling us not to hold on to the horn.  OMG!  Wait, what did he say?  He's on about something, "keep your heels down" blah blah blah "thighs" OMG what is this about not holding the horn?  Why else is it there if you aren't supposed to hold on to it?

Harrold is now explaining the true purpose of the horn as my mind rebels and I am feeling a little faint.  Evidently my legs are supposed to do all the work.  Oh great.  They are sure ready for that.  Then he calls my name.  Fortunately, David gets called at the same time, so no one is watching as Danvers and I meet and I get settled on her.  She is, I will come to learn, lazy and eager to be at the back of the pack.  


Now you have to understand that I am the oldest child.  As such, I take rules quite seriously.  So, being told that I needed to NOT hold the horn and I needed to keep my heels DOWN and I need to use my THIGHS to stay on the saddle, I tried my best to do all of these things.

I was trying so hard to do all of these things that I really couldn't be bothered to look around at the scenery.  I would hear the occasional remark from someone about it being lovely and put my head up, but for the most part, I was living in terror for when we were going to canter.  And then it happened.  Stephanie said, "Let's kick it."

And so I did.

It was so bad.  Really bad.  So bad, I thought Stephanie might fall off her horse she was so startled.  Evidently, I was leaning REALLY far off to the left.  Perilously out to the left.  and I had really loose reins, so Danvers could do whatever the hell she wanted and there I was, no hand on the horn, flying way out on the left side, free like a bird in the wind, yet, not screaming like I felt like doing.

Stephanie had us stop.  She said, "Hey, Cheryl! You were really leaning out to the left side!"

"Oh, really?"  OMG! Kill me now. Don't let's do that again.  Please let me hold the horn!

"Yeah!  You need to shorten up on those reins quite a bit and get centered."

"OK."  Or just kill me.  You could just kill me.  And the horrible other part of me was thinking, poor David, he has a film to go to.  What if he doesn't get enough cantering because of the awful old woman in his horse group?  What if he fails because of me?  I can't not canter!  I have to suck it up.  "OK. I'll do that."


After the second round of cantering where I still leaned, but not so scarily, I finally figured out a way to sneak my hand around the base of the horn and not appear to be actually holding the horn.  I'm sure Stephanie probably knew, but by this time, I didn't care.  I was just trying to hang on.

As we reached a long straightaway, Stephanie said, "This is where the horses really like to let loose."

"Joy."  I thought to myself.  

Everyone broke into a happy canter and Danvers broke into her sneaky rocking trot.  I, however was prepared for her.  After the last canter, Stephanie had warned me that Danvers was lazy and that the reason I was having trouble with the canter was Danvers was doing a rocking trot that was really uncomfortable because she didn't want to run in a canter.  I would have to kick her into a trot.  Leave it to me to have to get the horse that needed an alpha.  And I am such a dominant personality too!  Every time Danvers tried to creep back into a painful rocking trot, I would kick her back into a canter and it was smooth and lovely.  It was almost worth it.  I felt almost centered.  I felt almost good.  And then we stopped and I blew it by forgetting which hand had the reins and screwing up my stop just as Stephanie and David looked at me.  

Oh for Pete's sake.  Could I never catch one break?

Fred and I seated on Duke and Danvers, respectively. We are smiling.

I made it through the ride.  I would say that if I were to do it again, I would categorize myself as a beginner who could not canter.  Broken Saddle Riding Company is a serious horseback riding company and you need to know your stuff.  They are professionals. They have great horses. They have amazing scenery.  

If you haven't cantered in last 5 years, you are not an advanced beginner.  And if you don't heed my warning, then you will be like me, hobbling around like I have been for the past two days. In pain. Barely able to move.  Because you tried to make your thighs do all the work and not hold the horn.

Heed me now, or heed me later!