This girl I was dating in high school decided we should go horseback riding. We’d talked on the phone a lot. We’d gone to see to a few movies. We’d made out at a couple of garage parties. Our relationship was moving along.
“Riding,” I said.
She had friends who were very horse positive. A bunch of them had gone riding a few times before. It was so fun.
My experience with horses was limited. I knew them from television. I knew that, in temperament, there was a continuum, from My Friend Flicka to Fury.
“So you’ve ridden, haven’t you?” she asked.
I had not yet learned the virtue of lying. Many times, I might have said. I was thrown recently by a stallion, I might have said, and was in recovery, and might never ride again.
I told her I hadn’t.
“It’s easy,” she said. “You’ll love it.”
I didn’t know what her fantasies were. Along with kissing in Frank Johnson’s garage, she may have dreamed of riding a horse bareback on a moonlit beach. Perhaps I figured in that tableau. All well and good. The problem was the horse.
On the appointed day I drove us in my VW to a horse barn an hour or so away. There we met a few more couples who, unlike me, were very pro-horse. They were relaxed, enthusiastic, even jubilant. I don’t remember signing a release or taking out insurance. I do remember muttering “none” when asked about my level of experience and feeling terrified when we left the office and headed for the corral.
I was hoping for a nag, a horse so spent, so totally consumed, it would have a comfortable bow in its back, sort of like an inverted camel. While my girlfriend and her pals scrambled up into the saddle, I was led to my mount, whose name was Tango. Tango was big and brown; I’m pretty sure it was female. The horse rental man handed me the reins, gave me a few tips on stopping and steering, heaved me into the saddle, and away we went.
Or rather, away my friends went. Tango walked a hundred yards out of the parking lot, then pulled over to the edge of the trail and stopped.
It was sort of okay. I preferred not moving, and would have been happy to dismount and give us both a rest, however undeserved it was. At Tango’s walking speed, the saddle creaked and swayed. The situation felt unstable. And it was very high up there in the saddle, higher than it looked from the ground.
We sat there, checking each other out.
“Let’s go,” I finally said to Tango. I pulled the reins gently in the direction of the road. That was steering, right? We didn’t go. The horse must have sensed I was afraid. It must have felt that I was totally beneath her sitting up there, not even worth the effort.
An excerpt from “There Will Be Horses” in American English, Italian Chocolate.