Friday, June 15, 2007
The directions were simple: follow the horse crap. And that's what I did.
I went on a horseback riding tour of Prospect Park on Sundy and while I won't exactly say that I regret it, I'm pretty sure I won't do it again.
But that will probably change in a few months.
I keep convincing myself that I like horseback riding, but every time I get on top of these huge animals I realize that I'm not cut out to be a cowboy.
Maybe it was all those westerns I used to watch as a kid, where the hero jumps on his trusty horse and rides off to rescue the schoolmarm. They make it look so easy and the horses are always so agreeable.
So, I con myself into believing I'm going to have a great time, and I'll get the hang of riding in no time at all. Then I'm holding to the reins and preparing to meet my maker.
This happened a few years back when I took the mule ride down the Grand Canyon. A co-worker had told me a friend of hers had done this very thing and had a great time. So I tried it and I got Cyrus, the dumbest mule in creation. Even the other mules didn't like him.
Cyrus insisted upon dragging his ass, no pun intended, and walking on the very edge of the canyon. One slip up and we woykd have gone over the edge, and probably buried together because I don't think anyone would bother trying to separate our respective body parts.
While on the same vacation, I went for a day trip at a ranch in Sedona, Ariz., and took a ride on Custer, a monsterous horse that plodded around the brush in slow motion. Aside from being so high I felt like I was riding an elephant, Custer didn't worry me much. I don't the word "bolt" was in his dictionary.
On Sunday, I told myself I had to do something different and horseback riding in the park sounded just great. I honestly don't what I'm thinking at times like these, because I always look back and curse myself for getting my rear end in a sling once again.
My father always complained that horseback riding was boring, that you get bounced around a lot. He also used to talk about a sign in a bar which read "Why are there more horses' asses than there are horses?" The question came back to me on Sunday.
I got up early and headed over to the Kensington Stables near the park. I didn't know the neighborhood and after asking directions three separate times, a young father in a local playround pointed off to the distance and gave me the horse crap line.
I've been following horse crap all my life and it hasn't done me much good. But this time it worked and I found the stables quickly. The stench helped, too.
I learned I was the only male in a group of eight riders, which is not bad. Our leader was a very nice woman who confessed that she was scared of getting on a horse.
I was laboring under the misapprehension that as leader, she would be an experienced rider who could do Annie Oakley stunts in the saddle. This was not a good sign.
We all signed waviers about not holding the stable responsible if we were killed or maimed while riding one of their horses. I love those waivers. Hey, pal, have fun, but if you wind up in a body bag, we don't want to hear it.
Someone in our group--and it wasn't me--felt the need to mention Christopher Reeve, which gave me the urge to follow the horse crap back the hell home.
Our horses were led out of the stable one at a time and I prayed for a small one, a Shetland pony if they had it. I saw kids taking the pony ride and I wanted to take one for myself. I liked the idea of touching the ground with my feet.
They brought one sickly geezer of a horse who looked like he was fresh from a saloon brawl and I thought, that's my guy! But they gave him to one of the women in the group and then, moments later, they took back into the stable, where he probably died a short time later from whatever was ailing him.
Then they bring out Spin Doctor, a huge brown horse who seemed to get larger as the day wore on. I must say the stable had a great staff of volunteers working there and this young woman got me into the saddle and started giving me tips on what to do.
"Don't let him eat grass," she said. "If he does, I want you to pull back on the reins."
I didn't think that sounded like such a big deal, but I agreed. We all lined up and a woman whom I assumed was the owner went around telling us all to straighten up.
"Lady in the blue sweater," she shouted to one of my companions, "put your heels down!"
Lady in the blue sweater? That's how you talk to people? I guess she could have approached this woman and quietly asked her to adjust her position in the saddle, but then she wouldn't have been the center of attention.
We take off and it was going pretty well. The volunteers ride ahead and block traffic so we can get into the park and I'm feeling tall in the saddle. My horse has done this trail a thousand times, so I can pretty much relax.
And then he almost throws me.
Please Don't Eat the Daisies
It seems Spin Doctor likes to pretend he's behaving himself and will then dive into the nearest vegetation and stuff his face. When he saw a patch of grass, he threw his mug down and went through it like a John Deere lawn mower on rocket fuel.
I almost went flying over his head. I was shouting, "whoa!" over and over and pulling for all I was worth.
As we went along Spin Doctor figured out he could do whatever the hell he wanted to do and so he ate everything in sight.
Early on in the ride, I heard some commotion around me. One of the women was having a problem with her horse. I think she panicked and one of the volunteers had to grab her reins. I was hoping for the same deal.
How did cowboys put up with this? I'm just as concerned about global warming as the next person, but I have to say I'm glad we have cars so we don't have to rely on Spin Doctor and his ilk to get around.
At one point, Spin Doctor started to gallop and I freaked out, thinking I'm going to fly off this bastard. I didn't realize until later that he was just trying to fill the gap in the line of riders. I just wish he had said something before making like Sea Biscuit.
"You're a bad horsey," I said, unable to come up with anything else. "You don't eat before I eat."
Spin Doctor had other plans, however, and on the return trip he suddenly bolted, shoved his entire head into the bushes and emerge with what looked like somebody's victory garden in his mouth.
"He is eating a tree," I yelled. "He is destroying all the plant life in the park."
One of the volunteers came up and gave me horse a stern look.
"Spin Doctor," he said, "I'm coming for you."
Apparently the young man made a move with his riding crop, whereupon Spin Doctor took off again. It was a little scary, but by this time I realized he was closing the gap.
I was having so much trouble with the horse and I was so nervous that I wanted to get off right there in the park and take a cab home. But I didn't look like a weenie in front of all those women.
"I can't seem to control him," I said to one of the female volunteers, sounding a lot like a weenie. "He's not listening to me."
"You have to be firm with him," she said.
Firm? I'm riding on his back. What if he gets mad and decides to drop me on my head?
I saw a pack of bike riders go by, quickly, efficiently, none of the bikes eating any grass. I though to myself, yeah, that's how you get around.
I came out to have some fun and maybe meet someone and I wind up wrestling with a 1,000-pound two-year-old. And paying for the privilege.
We finally got back to the stable and I was exhausted. I climbed off Spin Doctor and my legs nearly gave out from underneath me. It took a little doing to get used to walking again, but I was glad to be back on the earth.
After we all dismounted we headed to a nearby restaurant for some lunch. One of the women who was an experienced rider had to mouth off about my time with Spin Doctor.
"My horse was so jealous of yours," she said. "She wanted to be with someone who would let her get away with anything."
Okay, so basically you're telling me I have no cajones because I can't control this glue factory reject? How nice. Let's get together again real soon.
So I didn't meet anybody, I dropped 40 bucks, got a sore ass and some first class agita. But I did break out of my comfort zone for a little while and got to hang with some fun people and one obnoxious equine.
Still, I'm done following the horse crap. I don't get along with horses and visa versa. I'm from Brooklyn, damn it, I'm not Buffalo Bill. If I want to get around, I'll stick to riding the R train.
But that will probably change in a few months.