Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Horseback Adventure for a Wannabe Cowboy

  This is Flynn.  You'll notice right away that he is a horse.  You can anticipate what's ahead, call me stupid right now and skip the rest of the story if you want.  My daughter Stephanie, 14, started taking riding lessons a couple of years ago.  What started out as an innocent enough hobby has now escalated into a major lifestyle change for the whole family.  That's because somehow along the way we ended up acquiring two horses of our own.  Now every free hour during the week and the vast majority of the hours during the weekends are spent at the riding stables.  Why didn't we get her something more economical, say like a guinea pig?  We have two of those too.  They smell just as bad, but we don't have to spend the equivalent of a second mortgage to board them like we do with the horses.  Anyway, I thought, if we're going to own horses, it only makes sense that maybe someone in the family other than Stephanie should know how to ride them.  I was the likely candidate.  It made sense.  I enjoy hiking.  With a horse, I could go trail riding.  Eventually, we might even be able to go camping on horseback.  I could sit in the saddle enjoying the scenery while the horse carried the heavy stuff and did all of the work, right?  Little did I know how much work was involved.  Forget about all of the grooming and feeding and watering and stable work.  Just learning to ride is like enrolling in college all over again and I didn't do so well the first time around.  It wasn't anything like all the Westerns I watched as a kid.
     "Keep your toes up, your heels down, your legs in," my instructor implored.  "Sit up, look straight ahead, relax, relax, relax."  Apparently there is subtle communication that is supposed to take place between a rider and his horse, accomplished by the slightest changes in posture or leg pressure or the tiniest twitches of the reins.  There was nothing subtle about my communications with Flynn.  In my first lesson, I looked as if I was trying to direct traffic at a busy intersection during rush hour.  Flynn went left when I pleaded right.  He stopped when I said "go" and he wouldn't stop at all when I said, "Whoa."
       At the end of the lesson my legs were a bit sore, but I had gotten through it uninjured.  That made it a success because I think is the biggest fear for a middle-aged man learning to ride is not that he will get hurt, but that he will get hurt in an ungraceful, humiliating manner and have to explain the injury over the next several weeks.
     "How did I break my arm you ask?"  You would like to say that you did it rescuing a hiker stranded on a cliff or fighting off a grizzly bear that challenged you for the trophy elk you just shot.  You never want to say, "The saddle slipped off the horse because I didn't put it on properly and I broke my arm as I fell face-first into a pile of manure in front of a bunch of snickering 10-year-olds who all ride better than I do."  Stay tuned, because with my luck, my time is coming soon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Snow news is good news?

I was snowshoeing recently and as I stopped to cross this stream, I thought about how enjoyable it was to experience this area during the winter -- no crowds, no bugs, no dry place to sit and rest.  I wondered why so many people complain about winter or travel south to avoid it altogether.  A week after this outing, the chilly reality set in.  A snowstorm accompanied by high winds deposited three feet of snow across my driveway.  I had to shovel to get into my driveway when I got home from work, then had to shovel to get out of my driveway the next day to go to work again.  Of course you could point out that the real problem was the going to work part.  Had I retired as originally planned, I could have stayed indoors and watched from the warmth and comfort of my house as the snow fell outside, with no nagging sense of having to be somewhere else.  It has always been good advice that when you enjoy something, you should enjoy it best in moderation.  This holds true for winter weather.  I enjoyed my time snowshoeing, but enough is enough.  Three feet of snow drifting in faster than I can shovel it out is not moderation.  Soon it will be spring and I will turn my attention to fishing and turkey hunting.  I'm only guessing, mind you, but I think I'll be able to tolerate much more fishing and turkey hunting before I reach a saturation point beyond moderation.