While you slept in this weekend, we got up early, drove for many miles, and joined over a dozen other greenhorns on a trail ride. Half of the team was eager to ride a horse again -- "You know, in case we ever write a Western" -- and the other half was too distracted by the televised NFL draft to realize that this was a bad idea.
Why was it a bad idea? Neither one of us had been on a horse since we were children. You know, back in the days when our bones tended to bend instead of break. But TravelZoo was offering a half-price coupon so how we could lose? We made our reservations, showed up on time...and discovered that the world had changed since either of us had climbed aboard a pony.
In the days of our youth, if someone had a horse, they'd throw a blanket on its back, toss an eager if unsuspecting child on the blanket, and see if the kid survived. For both of us, this had been a plan that worked. No longer. Apparently, there were no lawyers in the olden days because the 21st century ranch requires a few more rules and regs before they'll let you on their well-worn nags. Everyone is encouraged to wear a bicycle helmet (no one over the age of eight wore the bicycle helmet); no one is allowed to wear a hat that doesn't have a chin strap (several people wore hats without chin straps); and everyone is required to sign and initial three pages of legalese that indemnifies the ranch in case anything happens, up to and including the Apocalypse.
There were three categories of riders: Beginner, Intermediate and Expert. A "beginner" was anyone who'd ridden 50 times or less. With this stipulation, our particular collection of riders were all beginners. (One cowboy confessed they almost always have all beginners.) Then it was time to giddy-up.
If our experience is typical...and we both suspect it is...then our forthcoming Western will not be an exciting novel. It will go something like this: Twenty minutes into the trail ride, Tex Branigan began to pray something would happen to break the monotony. Even this early in the morning, he thought, it’s so damned hot. I should have worn my hat, chin strap or no. Oh, God, we’ve still got over an hour to go. Unless…could my watch be broken? Oh, please, let my watch be broken.
Just ahead of him, the beautiful Annie D’Orville straddled her steed with an easy confidence. She thought to herself, why does the horse in front of me keep pooping? I don’t care what anyone says, it really stinks. Oh, there it goes again. That’s like twenty pounds of product, green and chunky and awful. I should ask Tex how long we've been out here. The ride should be over soon. Right? Right?
On the plus side, it was a safe ride. There was a brief 30-second interval when the lead cowboy mistakenly had his horse move faster than a slow and terrible walk. The moment this happened, his supervising cowboy called out for him to slow down. "It's all fun and games," he cried, "until we have to fill out an incident report."
When we got back into town, we ran into an old cowhand. We mentioned that, as brief as our experience had been, we'd actually come up with a saddle sore or two. "Next time, wear pantyhose," he told us. "All the cowboys do. Cut 'em off above the knee, they really cut down on the friction."
Cowboys, incident reports and pantyhose. We're telling you, the fantasy is gone.