In the past I haven’t been much of an adventurous person. But on a recent trip to Barbados, I was asked if there was anything particular I wanted to do, and before I could stop them, the words “#horseback #riding” came out of my mouth. I had been looking at pictures in a brochure, of happy people riding horses, and thought, “Well, why not?” According to my mother, learning is the joy of life.
As I pulled into the stable yard with its pungent odour, I began to worry. Suppose the horse throws me and tramples me? In the movies, you see riders going off to battle, getting shot, toppling from the saddle and getting pinned agonisingly beneath the fallen horse.
However, when I met my horse, I felt a bit better. She was a pretty white pony called #Spotlight, who didn’t look like a movie fan. She eyed me as I approached; she looked cute rather than big or menacing.
Then Spotlight turned, looked at me and stood on my foot. Hard.
At first, the groomsmen thought I was still exclaiming about Spotlight’s cuteness. They removed Spotlight — a little dense and truly unable to distinguish feet from concrete — from my toes, and asked me to move them. They were cherry-red, swollen with hot blood and protesting strongly; but they moved. No broken bones. The stablehands told me Spotlight stepped on my foot because she liked me so much.
Eventually I mounted Spotlight and tried to nudge her forward. She refused to move. She was much too interested in a delicious clump of grass. She kept jerking her head down to eat, ignoring all my orders. But by the time the rest of the riding party was ready to leave, she got the message (or perhaps she was full) and condescended to move off.
The head groomsman called back some mystical advice to me, “Yuh an yuh harse have tuh becum one.”
“What?” I said, inside my head.
But in spite of my misgivings Spotlight and I bonded. Who would have thought it, after that rocky start? I agreed to move with the horse’s movements rather than against them, and Spotlight agreed not to try and jerk me out of the saddle, and I learned what “becum one wid yuh harse” meant. It seemed a fair compromise.
We followed a trail across country, through gullies and sugarcane. Spotlight stopped every few minutes to chew some sugarcane leaves; maybe she was short of energy. The trail led to the second highest point on the island, overlooking Cattlewash, a rugged part of the east coast that’s a favourite of local surfers and “howlies” from the international surfing clique. There’s a breathtaking view up there.
On the way back we passed near a garbage heap and the horses became skittish. I had to talk Spotlight out of pelting off down the road. Our guide, Peter, explained that the shiny plastic bothers the horses. “They should hire you to he a guide,” he told me: “You handled your horse really well back there.” For a moment, I forgot my aching butt.
Not for long, though. Spotlight began to jog; I’d been riding for two, hours and my passion to dismount was growing. Then, about a mile from home, we came across a large cow blocking our path through a deep gulley. We squeezed past her, but she decided to teach us a lesson for disturbing her peace, and charged after us, mooing loudly. The startled horses took off up the side of the gulley, and I nearly bit the tip of my tongue off trying to stay in the saddle as Spotlight bounced me up and down.
But by the time we got home we were firm friends again. She ate most of the way, even accepting stalks of sugarcane from me. My mashed foot was forgotten.
When I was finally allowed to dismount, my knees were wobbling. I wobbled over to talk to the owners of the stable, and heard about plans to market the experience in other islands, a sort of equine tourism, and how the horses are trained in equitation (manners school for horses), jumping and dressage (advanced manners school). I don’t think my level of horsemanship will reach those exalted heights.
I patted Spotlight’s neck and flank in farewell, thanking her for not pitching me off her back (well, not quite) and for tolerating my novice status. She rubbed her head against me in an equine caress. After all, she and I had “becum one”.
“She likes you” Peter assured me. But I kept my foot well out of her way.