My Last Horseback Ride

This is a friend’s horse, not one from the story.

Let me say, first of all, I have nothing against horses. I think they are beautiful majestic creatures and anyone lucky enough to own one has a treasure. That being said, my experiences with horses (and ponies) have been very limited and mostly restricted to admiring them from ground level like I did the day I took these images of some horses in Grand Bay that belong to a friend and colleague. I had a few opportunities to go on guided horse rides when I was growing up, but I would be the first to admit that my riding skills consist of being able to stay in the saddle and guide a horse in a slow walk when the horse already knows where it is expected to go. With that in mind, I don’t know what possessed me to think a horseback ride on Oak Mountain with my youngest son and two nephews was a good idea.

It had already been a long day. The boys and I had left home early for the nearly 5-hour drive to Birmingham to visit a hospitalized relative. The visit was a bit depressing and I just wanted a bit of a break before facing the long trip home. That’s why I decided to stop at Oak Mountain State Park just south of Birmingham. I had no particular activity in mind, but thought it would be good to take a little while to enjoy nature. Oak Mountain is a beautiful park and I had taken my boys there a couple of times in the past. We had especially enjoyed a boat ride out on the lake. Today, however, I noticed several signs advertising guided horseback rides and thought that might be fun for the boys who had never been horseback riding. It would be a guided ride led by people who knew a lot about horses. What could go wrong?

Aside from the four of us, there were four other people waiting for the next ride. We paid the fee and had just enough time to listen to a few guidelines before the prior group arrived and dismounted. My boys were all pre-adolescents, so you can imagine the bit of excitement and confusion that was going on as we were put on our mounts. In the confusion, I could not get the attention of any of the guides to adjust my stirrups which were nowhere near my dangling feet. My horse stood as still as a statue which I thought was a good sign. My two nephews were also on what appeared to be very steady horses who looked bored with the whole process. Joe, my son, however, was on a horse that seemed to be thrilled to have an energetic young’un onboard. The horse was kind of dancing back and forth.

Before I was ready, the guides started us off. My feet were still dangling and I was growing more agitated by the minute. None of this bothered my horse who seemed to know exactly where his place was smack in the middle of the line. Ahead of me was a guide at the lead, another paying customer, my son Joe, and my nephew Mitchell. Behind me were another two clients, my nephew Zachary, the last client and the 2nd guide.  We crossed the paved park road and started up a mountain trail. I don’t know why I didn’t think about the path being up and down a mountain before that moment. We aren’t used to navigating mountains on foot, let alone on horseback.

All was going as well as could be expected at this point considering that I did not feel secure in my saddle and my horse seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace. The group ahead of me soon outpaced us. I could hear Joe laughing and having a grand time, but he was out of sight already. I was being crowded by the horse and rider behind me and in the distance to the back I could hear Zachary calling out to me that his horse wouldn’t go anywhere. I yelled back that he needed to get the guide to help. We continued climbing up the trail for what seemed an eternity and then the trail leveled out to my relief.

It was at about this time that I heard the first rumble of thunder and the more distant cry of my nephew whose horse had now gone off in a completely different direction than the rest of us. I turned in my saddle to see if the guide was helping him. It was at this point the trail started a decline.

My horse suddenly decided now was a good time to pick up speed, an idea that was encouraged by the horse behind me shoving him in the butt. The sudden acceleration of my ride had me quickly facing forward again clinging to the saddle pommel for dear life as we sped down the trail in a teeth chattering, bra strap busting trot that had me in fear of flying over my horse’s head at any second. I don’t know if it was the second clap of thunder or the fact that my flapping legs and the loose stirrups were egging my horse on, but his pace increased just as the ground leveled a bit and he could get into a gallop.

I could hear Joe ahead crying YIPPEE!!! I couldn’t see or hear Mitchell, and Zachary had grown quiet by this point, as well. I sent up a desperate prayer for God to get us all safely back to my car and promised I would try very hard never to be this stupid again.

Just as the rain arrived I saw the corral appear in the distance. All of the horses were ready to end the ride and we all seemed to be racing toward home at a rapid pace. I no longer had to wonder where Zachary was because he and his horse came zipping past me just as we crossed back over the paved road and back to the stables. I guess his horse didn’t like thunder and decided to head for home after all.

I haven’t been on a horse since that day by circumstance, not choice. I’m not sure if any of the boys have ever taken another ride, either. I have to say that if I was looking to give my boys a memorable experience, this one sure fit the bill. I’m so glad we can laugh about it now. The boys are all grown with kids of their own. I wonder if they will ever take their kids horseback riding.