I was on the back of this giant beast recently, wondering how I had gotten there.
Oh, right. This was someone's idea of a birthday present.
It started a couple of weeks earlier, when my wife and stepdaughter Lorelei were discussing the girl's birthday plans. Horseback riding came up, which makes sense, since that's Lorelei's main interest in life, slightly ahead of breathing. She spends two weeks at horse camp each summer and rides frequently during the school year. Lorelei is a tiny thing, and it's stunning to watch her do riding tricks and otherwise master this towering animal. It reminds me of a rowboat bossing around an aircraft carrier.
So they were talking about going riding on her birthday, and my attention drifted off to whatever it is men's minds drift away to (sports, big rigs, killing prey with one's bare hands), when I suddenly noticed the room was quiet. My wife and Lorelei were looking at me.
"So what do you think?" my wife said.
"Uh ... about what?"
"About going horseback riding."
"I think you guys will have a great time."
Another few seconds of silence.
"No. What do you think of you going horseback riding with Lorelei?"
My mind got to work, searching for an escape route.
"Surely you'd rather go riding with your mom," I said to Lorelei.
She shook her head: "Uh-uh. I want to go with you."
Well, that was
But what the heck, I figured. If this little kid could do back vaults off a horse, I suppose I could at least climb up on one.
Eyeballed by a beast
Fast-forward a couple weeks to Bella Oaks Stables in the hills of Martinez. Lorelei was conferring with a nice young woman about which horse I should ride, while I was wondering how long would it take to get an ambulance there.
They decided to pair me with a monster named Reno. Since the beast was eyeballing me, I thought I'd better go over and say hello. When I reached up to pet him he snarled like a leopard and bit three of my fingers off.
Just kidding. But I wouldn't have been surprised.
Reno was actually fairly decent about the whole thing, considering that a 200-plus-pound man he'd never met was climbing on his back, where he planned to stay for an hour or so.
That's the hard part, I discovered: climbing on. I'm not exactly as limber as a gymnast, and I can get leg cramps just fetching the mail. It took a couple of swings, but I finally got my leg over and, after a quick lesson on how to steer and brake and whatnot, we were off.
It was actually quite nice -- just Lorelei and me following our guide. It was a beautiful day, and we had a good rhythm going down a tree-lined trail. I kept waiting for a mountain lion to jump us from the underbrush, but Reno seemed quite capable of kicking the snot out of any predator in the area. Score one for size.
By the time we got back, I almost wished it were not over. I accomplished my two goals: making a kid happy for her birthday and not getting kicked to death. Just to make sure, though, I'll steer clear of the conversation next year.