It was on a blazing hot Saturday afternoon that we arrived at our gated destination. After a quick and formal introduction to the various horses in the stable, we met with the instructors who guided us through the ins and outs and the for-the-love-of-God, don't-touch-them-there's of horse riding procedure. I was told that the animal that would be my partner for the 2-hour country stroll was named Daisy. Aww, Daisy. Probably the kind of animal that's used to carting around 50-pound children. How would she possibly manage to get through a 2-hour stint with this full-grown adult man on her back? When Daisy was guided around the corner of the stable by a legion of staff from the facility, however, I was shocked to see that Daisy was only marginally smaller than most apartment buildings.
As the instructor gave me a knowing head nod, in the "what are you waiting for? get on". kind of way, that only a sporting instructor can do, I looked around expectantly for a Sherpa or two to emerge from the stable doors to guide me on the steep incline toward the distant summit of this majestic animal. No such luck. I was the last of the group to get on my horse. And so I suffered through the muffled laughs and sssh's of the children and their parents who had joined us for the trip as I grabbed and pulled my way up. Once I had successfully grappled with Daisy long enough, she eventually allowed me to rest on her back. I was already out of breath, yet still defiant and proud of my negotiating the trip to the vast wasteland of Daisy's peak. After a faint tug of the reins we were in business.
There was an instructor leading the excursion, followed by the riders who followed single-file through to an instructor at the back of the group as we made our way around the dusty trails in the woodland. The views were picturesque and my girlfriend seemed to be enjoying the journey so I felt pretty pleased at this point with my idea. All was going well. At least, until Daisy noticed a creature in the field ahead, possibly a dog. I got an inkling that all wasn't quite right in Daisy's world when she started making grumbling noises. What happened next would vastly alter the intricate dynamics of my relationship with Daisy.
Before the trip, I was informed that riding a horse would be just like driving a car. But, in my experience at least, cars, when they notice other, smaller vehicles, generally don't charge through other cars, in the process making those other cars angry at your car and by extension, you, the poor soul "driving" it, on its' way to a destination only known to the car itself.
"Kick her!" I heard in the distance from the instructor at the tail-end of the group as Daisy galloped through the crowd. Kick her?! I would do no such thing. The horse had been in control this whole time and i refused to anger her anymore by flailing a stray size-10 human foot in the direction of her gigantic equine hind leg. I like animals. Not enough to stop eating some members of their community, obviously. But enough to know that physically kicking them would be wrong and, in this situation, blatantly stupid. "Pull on the reins!" was another piece of advice offered, this time by the instructor in front. What? You mean that tiny piece of errant plastic which couldn't restrain a deceased feline let alone a charging horse? A piece of plastic that had been discarded by the charging animal about 100 yards back as trees whizzed by us in a blur? No, that was no longer a viable option.
We eventually ended our terrifying 2-minute romantic jaunt by resting in a nearby field. She had decided it was better to stop and eat some dry grass than continue her chase and, as my heart-rate started to slow down to a mere 300-beats-a-minute, I was delighted with her decision.
Daisy and I were guided back on to the woodland path by the instructors who were appalled at my refusal to obey their ridiculous mid-gallop commands and now she, to her credit was quite calm and quiet. It was as if the last few moments of our time together were just a run-of-the-mill everyday event for Daisy, as she trotted her way around the rest of the paths.
After we had negotiated the rest of the trail and I had para-sailed my way down to the ground, I was greeted by my still laughing girlfriend. My near death experience had apparently made her day. I had unknowingly provided her with a perfect birthday gift. As we watched Daisy being led back to her stable, she turned her gigantic neck and looked back towards me, as if to say "you're welcome."
Now, 3 years on, I have not forgotten the eventful hours that Daisy and I spent together. And if I'm feeling especially brave, I might even consider going horseback-riding again, once the night terrors end.
PS. Don't let this put you off horseback riding. This sort of event is rare, I'm sure. And although most of the people on our trip were under-10 years of age, each of them had little difficulty managing their animals.