My horseback riding skills are shallow. I get nervous when they eat grass out of my hand and I hang on more than I ride. Horses intimidate me. I know I am not the only one with stories of getting tossed and being the lead act in the "involuntary rodeo". So, I can deduce that being a little nervous around horses is normal. So, when my father in law asked if I wanted to go horseback riding the first thing that came into my mind was me being dragged, foot locked into the stirrups. But before the hesitation was obvious I jumped at the opportunity because I want to be a cowboy more than I fear my head bouncing along the horizon.
This mixture of fear and aspiration comes mainly from a movie I saw as a kid. "Man from Snowy River" is my mind's cowboy reference. Growing up watching that movie did two things. First, it made me want to be a cowboy which of course means that I need learn how to use a bull whip, buy one of those leather raincoats, learn how to catch and break wild horses, get a pair of Wranglers, learn how to make a fire in the rain, learn how to fist fight, and absolutely learn to ride a horse down that impossibly steep hill. Second, it made me have nightmares. These wild horses, which really are the subject of the movie, are terrifying. There is a scene where Jim is almost trampled by the stallion and there's this psycho flashing image closing in on the stallion's eye and, of course, it's accompanied by those abrupt, piercing, foul violin blasts. So, as you can see, my feelings are completely reasonable and understandable. You empathize.
My father in law (we'll call him Harold) and I headed south. We drove to one of the nicest stretches of prairie I have seen. At first, it doesn't look like much, a fence, some grass, some dying trees and a whole lot of sky. But when you go through the gate and drive up to the stable you realize there is so much more to explore. On the other side of the fence the land drops away into a gentle coulee with a meandering stream babbling at the bottom. Flitting back and forth across the stream are bluebirds chirping in the prairie wind. The wind is warm and steady, sweet and clean and carries red tailed hawks on the hunt. Deer bounce up the side of the coulee, white tails waving and the horses could care less drinking their fill from the stream. I could stand at that fence for a long time.
Harold hollars, "Atlas, Beau...DIV!!" The horses lift their heads. We have to work harder to get them to come lumbering up to the stable but eventually they do and Harold shows me how to brush the horse, put on the saddle and the bridle. Putting my hand in a horses mouth, under its belly, ducking under it's head, that's all new and I don't do it all very well at this point but we get the job done, well, Harold does and I nod. Soon, we are riding down into the coulee and off collecting miles. We rode about 12 miles that first day, a little more a couple days later. I had all the hair on the inside of my legs ball up into little leg afros, I managed to stay on top of a spinning horse with a sliding saddle, I got sore, I got real tired, I wanted more.
The following Saturday, I got a whole lot more. We met up with Fred, Bev, Ben and Becca and drove East into the foot hills. Spending time with these incredible people was half the adventure. They are some of the most hillarious, genuine, honest to God cowboys I have ever met. Instantly, I wanted to be part of the family. They all saddled up, I tried to help and we trotted off into over 30 miles of wild. My horse and I were a good match. We were out of shape, eager and a little nervous. Watt, a beautiful Palomino was my noble steed and soon he realized just how inexperienced I was and exactly how out of shape I was. Watt was sweating head to hoof in no time.
We spent the whole day riding through those hills and mountains and I loved every second of it. We went through forest, up and down hills, mountains, through marsh, stream, mud, and bog. We made a fire, cooked weenees, napped in the sun. We had close calls, good laughs and got real sweaty and dirty. Getting to ride on that horse in those mountains with those people was priceless. We got to the top of Chimney Rock and I was speechless. It is my great pleasure to spend all my days discovering the greatness of God. He is absolutely and truly magnificent.
And maybe someday I'll be a real cowboy.