The other day I rode a horse bareback for the first time in 30 years.
It was just like riding a bike, if the bike were 6 feet tall, 1300 pounds, and would spook like a deer at the terrifying sight of a cigarette butt on the ground.
I had to get a leg up. Actually, it was more of a push-and-shove up. It turns out that I’ve completely forgotten how to mount a horse without stirrups, stairs, or a jetpack. Further complicating the situation was my choice of mounts. Rather than one of my demure little Arabian mares, the animal I was attempting scale was that Matterhorn of equines, the giant gelding Stanley.
“Don’t forget to jump!” pleaded my reluctant assistant Christina, just before she heaved me up. She was worried that I would be like unto a sack of shit and throw her back out. She is a delicate flower.
So jump I did. Even so, the situation quickly emerged as a classic confrontation between gravity and romantic delusion. As I was hanging there off the side of the horse, wondering with no small interest whether the exercise would eventually go north or south, a separate compartment of my brain was busy accessing my Idyllic Childhood Nostalgia Module.
Memories of youthful vim superseded all awareness of my present clumsiness. I recalled the agile young Twisty executing innumerable effortless vaults onto innumerable tack-free horses. And what was this? A dim recollection of my old brown mare, at whose plump rump I’d take a running jump, like a movie stunt rider, springing into place from behind. Somehow I’d always end up on the right part of the mare, and like as not go tearing off down a wooded trail somewhere.
That little brown mare was snappy as heck.
Thus it was that, at a critical point in mid-dangle, some memory-based self-preservational impulse kicked in, and I managed to scramble my skinny ass up out of half-mounted limbo.
Or maybe Christina gave the skinny ass in question another good shove; I can’t remember, it all happened so fast.
And then I tore off. On Stanley. At a lumbering walk. Around the dusty old round pen. But in my mind it was 1975 and I was galloping that little brown mare down a wooded trail with a Grape Nehi in my hand.
For about 30 seconds. Then I looked down. Christina waving at me from the rail, and she looked like an ant from way up there. I briefly considered busting out into a full-on jog, but came to my senses in time to conclude that the horse would infallibly bounce me off in two strides or less, so robust is young Stanley’s trot, and so non-existent is old Twisty’s seat.
I hope it will not be too heartwarming to note the simple pleasure I experienced when the ride was over? I slid uneventfully from Stanley to the ground, without spraining anything, exactly as I’d done a thousand times before (gravity is kinder to the spinster aunt on the dismount). But the best part was the sweaty, horsehair-encrusted britches sticking to my legs. They were like an old bud I hadn’t seen in years, who just happened to be carrying a bottle of pretty good wine. And a corkscrew.