The first time I went horseback riding I was eight years old and a Girl Scout-in-training (a Brownie, to be specific) who would never quite make it to the Girl Scouts. It was a surprise, too, because as a child I liked uniforms and codes of conduct and members-only salutes. But the wilderness skills, the large group socializing games, the requirement that we become door-to-door saleswomen who didn’t get to keep even a little of the money we raked in—it wasn’t for me. I earned three or four badges over two months, and then I quit. One of these—ironed onto my tiny brown vest by my mother—was the Horse Rider Badge.
Get Me Out of Here
⇢ Moose Hunting
⇢ Hiking Bass Lake
⇢ Bunker Park Stable for a trail ride on a Saturday in mid-March. I’m excited and I don’t know why. I half expect to fall in love with a stable boy.
AFTER PAYING OUR FEES, we spend the 10-minute wait watching a group of little boys—one of whom adorably waves at us each time he passes, as though he were in a parade—receive a riding lesson in an enclosed arena. “I’m glad I don’t have a tail,” says Rylee, suddenly. “Just one more thing to worry about.” Things don’t often occur to us in the same way, but I can’t say I disagree.
A few minutes later a woman named Jackie takes us to meet our horses. I’m given a white horse named “Jericho,” and Rylee is given another named “Sarge,” who is white with brown splotches. Another guide, Doug—who is wearing a cowboy hat, somewhat incongruously, over a head and neck warmer—shows us how to lead the horses, but in truth we’ll never have to direct them even once: the trail is a narrow, packed-down path about a foot across, with four to five inches of snow everywhere on either side. There isn’t much room for interpretation.
Jericho doesn’t seem to think about escaping the trail even once in our time together, but I do constantly. It’s an impulse to do something bad, like thinking about driving into oncoming traffic but much less severe. What would happen if I yelled “HYAH” and dug my heels into his sides, and we took off galloping into the snow? How quickly would Doug catch me and how would I be punished, if at all? I already paid. They couldn’t arrest me. Right?
I’ll never know, I suppose. It was on me to make that ride into something closer to an adventure, but I never could break a rule. If I am honest with myself, I never would have wanted to get my petticoats dirty. Instead, ours is simply a pleasant (if freezing) ride in a very pretty area—forested in parts, clearing onto lakeside fields in others. And though I try to bond with this animal by rubbing its neck and calling it “Jeri” for short, there’s only so much you can accomplish in an hour. We’ll never ride into the sunset together. But at the end, when I step out of the stirrups, Jericho stands perfectly still until I am safe on the ground, and I would like to think that’s because he knew.
Katie Heaney is a writer based in Minneapolis. She has a memoir coming out in early 2014.