When I was a kid, I rode a horse. In my mind, I was riding sideways on my galloping war stallion while shooting arrows through the eyes of needles from 200 feet (as a soldier against the Great Needle Uprising of the 1980s, I guess). In reality, I sat rigid as a cement pole on a super mellow, super old horse while my friend led us by the reins down her driveway. It was five minutes of serious epicness.
After a lot more years than I care to admit, I finally rode another horse. It wasn’t the Kentucky Derby, but it was an amazing experience – up there with whale watching in Seattle, snorkeling in the Bahamas or napping after a family reunion. My companion for the trip, Leroy, was a retired roping horse who had also worked on a farm. He was a powerful 1,400 pounds of awesome that knew he was way more capable than me. Instead of scraping me off on the nearest tree, he kept us safe and steady. He even let me feel like I sort of kind of knew what I was doing.
And the trail? We rode a dirt path of wildflowers and sage, winding beside old train tracks, snow-capped mountains and a clear lake. If that sounds picturesque, check this out: My husband’s horse’s name was John Wayne. Cowboys around the world just doffed their giant hats in unison. My son’s horse, Flash (aka Turtle by the ranchers), was pretty sure we were taking him out to graze on sweet, sweet grass. Quick to eat, slow to walk – hence the double names.
So, after a two-mile ride, I learned a few things:
- I have muscles in my legs I never use. I was sore for days in spots I didn’t know existed. Even the presumably buff experts at Bodybuilding.com admit that riding a horse will “test your preconceived notions of fitness and strength.” You’ll be using all sorts of interesting skills (think balance and coordination), but insofar as muscles go, a lot of the work will come from your glutes (butt), quads (thighs), hamstrings (thighs) and core (stomach and back). If you think you already use these to their full potential, try riding a horse.
- Leroy loves a good neck scratch. Horses are super affectionate and can bond deeply with each other and people. Even wild ones (that you shouldn’t approach) mutually groom, scratch and lean into each other. According to expert horseman Franklin Levinson, they also put their noses together to “share the air.” He suggests letting the horse check you out before you return the favor with a friendly scratch (but not on the nose, where it can be irritating). That being said, these are big, powerful animals. Only approach a horse when you have its human’s permission and show it the respect all living creatures deserve (as in, don’t be a Malfoy).
- I discovered the joy of something other people have known about for thousands of years. I always thought it looked amazing, but turns out other people already knew that for so long, no one’s even sure when it started. Some evidence shows as early as 6000 BCE, or maybe 4500 BCE, or you know, whenever. People aren’t even sure where horseback riding originated. A lot of different cultures say “We totally knew about the awesome first! Yay, us!” The point is people have been training and riding horses all over the world for a very long time, and that’s turned out to be a great deal for us.
Thanks to our guide, Skinny (aka “Hey, you!” and “Help, help!”), for being patient, interesting and funny. You made my first real ride an incredible experience and I can’t wait to do it again.