They had driven a half-hour outside of the City of Charlotte. The sun shone; the sky was perfect. They pulled into the ranch with gravel driveways and whitewashed fences. Michelle, Becky and May arrived early. They paid for their trailrides and wandered around the grounds a bit. They moseyed their way toward Barn D, where they would be picking up the horses. Becky and Michelle had previous riding experience, and May didn’t have any. She was very excited as she pet different horses in their stables.
The trail guide had a few helpers bring out the horses and some stools. Michelle’s horse was Dumpling (Dumplin’), Becky’s horse was Daisy, and May’s horse was Benny, pronounced “binny,” almost leaning toward “beany.” May didn’t have any trouble mounting the horse, but the stirrups were too long, so she had nowhere to hold her feet.
Jeff the Trail Guide gave each of the riders a quick lesson on controlling the reins. Pull with the hand the direction you want to turn toward the same-side hip. Pull with both hands toward the hips if you want to slow down or stop.
May’s legs hung to the sides of the horse, but she felt comfortable enough. Benny was plenty girthy and May felt pretty centered on her horse. She was raring to go, but she didn’t want the horse to be all that raring.
Well, it turned out that Benny wasn’t raring at all. Jeff, Michelle and Becky took off, and Benny didn’t go anywhere. One of the helpers had to lead Benny toward the trail while the others waited. This helper told May to give the reins a little slack. Benny took a few steps onto the trail and found a nice patch of grass to graze. He lowered his head, and May tried pulling it back up, but Benny would have none of that. May tugged at the reins, and Jeff rode back to tell her to choke up on the reins a bit for more control of the horse.
Jeff dismounted and led both horses awhile, until May caught up to her friends. Jeff went back to the front of the line, and Benny followed for a few steps, and May thought things were going well until Benny pulled off for some more delicious grass. She tried pulling his head up again, one side at a time, then in frustration she pulled up with both hands and Benny backed up into some brush, where the grass was greener and more delectable. From that point with every single tug, Benny backed into the grass just a little bit more for a tasty mouthful of juicy grass.
May called for Jeff. Yelled, actually. She was sweating and flustered, and she couldn’t believe that this horse was having his way with her. Even with Jeff’s prodding and May’s kicking (which seemed only to tickle the horse because his torso twitched slightly) Benny wouldn’t budge. Jeff called for backup. A man with a cowboy hat rode up after the expanding eternity of five minutes waiting. May was a little embarrassed, but she wasn’t going to get off that horse.
After a few minutes, Cowboy Hat and his horse, Bull, were able to coax Benny from behind, and Benny was relatively cooperative through the end of the ride. Cowboy Hat rightly guessed this was May’s first time on a horse, but he complimented how relaxed she looked. May discovered that Benny liked more slack in the reins instead of her choking up on them. There were times when Benny would try to dip his head down for a quick munch, but May quickly tugged his head back up to continue on the trail. There were a few times when Benny would start on a quicker trot down a hill, and May would lean back a little and settle into the saddle and pull on the reins to slow down. Cowboy Hat was right behind her to reinforce these instructions and to tell her what a good job she was doing, and to say she’d turn into a cowgirl yet.
She was getting the hang of it.
Without the benefit of stirrups. Just her low center of gravity and adductors keeping her on good ol’ Benny.
Throughout the remainder of the trail, she told Benny he was doing a good job, and when he was too slow, she’d make those kissy sounds she heard Cowboy Hat make to encourage the horse to speed up. She’d say going up hills, Come on, Benny; you can do it, Benny; what a good boy, Benny. She caught a glimpse of Mountain Island Lake. She rode by other riders and even passed a carriage pulled off to the side of the trail. It was a beautiful ride.
The ride ended back at Barn D, where one of the ranch hands took the horse and placed the left stirrup on May’s foot so she could dismount. Everyone else got off their horses and other ranch hands led the horses to their stables. Jeff came back out and the girls thanked him for the ride. May, with a fun sarcasm, thanked Jeff for giving her a hard horse. He laughed. He talked about how the horses have personalities and will try to see what they can get away with. He said if they had brought out another horse instead of pushing Benny, Benny would have won and ten weeks of training would have gone to waste. May nodded in understanding. She said the horse was stubborn at first, but did just fine once he got going.
Michelle told May she did a good job handling Benny. Jeff seconded that thought, and May, realizing how hard she worked, told them to get her a carrot. Jeff repeated the request, and laughed at the joke. Everyone thanked each other again, and the girls washed their hands, got into the car and headed back to the city.
May’s second-day sore rule didn’t apply here. Her hips immediately hurt after she dismounted, then later in the day and for the next two days her adductors pretty much cursed her existence. It was awesome.
May always thought horses were beautiful. Strong, graceful. Now she gets why people really love them. She now has a taste for the ride, and she craves it. She has experienced (as much as one can in an hour) a fusion with nature and animal and human – how they all can communicate. She learned a lot. Who’s in control. Mutual respect. She’s ultimately grateful she got the stubborn horse. That’s how she’s lived her life so far. Sometimes her own spirit or attitude is so intractable someone has to nudge or prod or smack her into motion and into seeing beyond the instant graze. Sometimes her pace isn’t so steady and she wants to charge and bound into an open field. Once she gets going on a path, once she’s found her stride, she’s agreeable and easy-going. That’s right, get her a carrot.
That horse is a kindred spirit.