My sister loves horses. She participated in horse 4-H in high school and best remembers the year that our parents gave her a saddle for Christmas so that she could ride our kindly neighbor’s horses. When she wasn’t able to ride, she’d sit on the fence and watch longingly. Planning our trip to Ocean Shores, JoDee mentioned that they had horseback riding nearby.
I hoped she was wrong…
When we arrived at conspicuously flat (tsunami warning signs posted flat) Pacific Beach, along the Washington coast, JoDee went straight to the pamphlet rack and grabbed the yellow one marked “Horseback Riding.” After learning from the front desk that: (1) the place wasn’t far by car, (2) the staff had never tried it, we returned to our room so that she could call the place. Although we hadn’t yet committed to the activity, I was already a little concerned. She was bummed to learn that August was the busiest time of year and that instead of her ideal scenario, riding along quietly together with a guide, enjoying the serenity of the sand and the quiet clomp of the horses’ hooves, it’d be like–twenty horses trotting along with a bunch of folks of differing abilities, squished together, maybe like sardines.
Unfortunately for me, this did not faze her.
As we set out for the 20 minute drive to Ocean Shores. I began to silently meditating. At the sight of the correct sign, we noticed an slobbish-looking obese man in an oversize orange t-shirt, who chewed, spat, invaded our personal space and told us how this was just his summer job; In the winter he was a professional crab fisherman. He actually looked like a serial killer–if serial killers were fat, which they aren’t, thank goodness. We stepped back a couple of feet in order to gain some personal space and asked about the horses’ welfare, like how often they “work” and how far away they were boarded. In spite of his unimpressive answers, we figured that we were there and we may as well just go through with it. My sister paid the fee, twenty bucks each for an hour ride. We signed the waivers and killed half an hour on the beach while waiting for our designated start time. It was a gorgeous day though breezy. JoDee sweated the number of other persons who joined us in loitering near the horse place.
We noticed a group of about twenty riders heading towards us followed by a patch of fog. What they were doing (with another company) looked safe enough, so I tried not to sweat it. Back by the boss, the current group of riders were returning, dismounting, and taking off while four girls in their late teens called the shots while the boss shared his sob story about the rules concerned work restrictions on those under age 16. Blah, blah, blah, they can’t even be on the premises, can’t work very long hours, etc., etc. We just stood there. JoDee worried she’d get a horse that was too docile and I worried about the opposite.
The girls simply lined those waiting to ride up in front of the horses, which were tied to horizontal wooden bars. The way they matched horse to human…was by size! No questions about who was experienced and who was not (even though we indicated this on the waiver). The boss gave everyone one last chance at the dorky bicycle helmets without encouraging anyone to wear them. And only the two youngest kids wore them. In fact, I’d have taken one except that he’d mentioned earlier, “Nobody uses them.” Once they finished with the kids, they placed a couple of teenagers, then a super pretty young gal who spent (I kid you not) the entire ride taking selfies.
When they told JoDee that her chosen horse was “for kids,” she replied, “Maybe you should give this horse to my sister. She’s a beginner.” Thus, I ended up riding Tator, a small dark brown horse with a black mane and tail. JoDee ended up on a bigger, light colored horse that was supposedly also for kids. Fortunately, I’d suggested that my sister ignore me, enjoy her ride and not worry about what I was doing, which was pretty much freaking out the entire time. Her horse walked really fast and she was super confident, so she was up with the leader girl named McKenzie at the front, oblivious to the antics of all the naughty, supposedly “for kids” horses. Since Tator was slow, he’d get behind the pack, then suddenly start trotting to catch up with the other horses. Except for trying to avoid Socks (which was hard as he seemed to have it in for Tator), I spent the whole time waiting for my horse to get behind, start trotting, at which point I’d try to post so that my butt might survive, then feeling relief when he finally caught up and returned to walking. At the turnaround, many of the horses took turns peeing, which added some comic relief (literally). By the time we turned back, I was feeling a tiny bit calmer. Except for one point when McKenzie’s horse did this wild thing with his head near Tator and I thought I was going to get bucked off, it was uneventful, with most of the “kid” horses doing the walk-slowly-then-suddenly-start-trotting thing.
When we returned to the start point, the guides told us to halt the horses and wait for them to help us dismount, but Tator wouldn’t have it. He wanted me off asap, so instead of standing still, he continued towards the rail as I thought how wrong it would be to survived all that only to get bucked off at the end. I dismounted before he did anything dangerous. The fact that I petted his neck several times on the way back and said, “Good Tator, Good Boy,” had no effect on him whatsoever. When JoDee and I met up afterwards, she gushed at how fun it was. Her only disappointment was at not getting the chance to canter off into the sunset with her fast-walking horse, while I was just happy to have survived.