Had a brush yesterday, if not with death, with prolonged terror. Candace has taken up running lately, and one of her fellow runners, who lives on a little farm outside of Wartrace, Tennessee, mentioned that she and her husband like to go horseback riding on Sundays. Candace said she loves horseback riding, so we got invited to go riding around the lake with them this Sunday. That sounded nice, a horseback ride around the lake.
We got to their place about a quarter to twelve. Her husband, good-looking, mid-40s, fit, is a local boy, grew up in a house down the road. He knows everybody all around, and is related to many of them. They have cattle and horses and grow hay. She is also good-looking and also very fit, the star runner of Candace’s group. They have grown children and grandchildren living nearby.
The horses are already saddled up when we get there. It’s a hot day, mid-90s, high humidity, mostly sunny. He finishes packing the saddle bags with ice and Bud Light. “How many beers do you think you’ll wanta drink, John,” he asks. “You a beer drinker?”
“Not usually, not too many.”
“I like to drink 7 or 8.”
He gets all four horses into the horse trailer, hitched to his big Chevy pickup, and we all get in the truck and head out.
We get to a spot in the woods, where there is a long line of pickups and horse trailers on the side of the road. We park, and get the horses out. Man, it is hot. We lead the horses down the road a little ways and then mount up. They had me on the biggest horse, a big black horse. I have problems with my hips, and sitting on that horse was not making them happy. I knew I just wouldn’t be able to do it. “I can’t do this,” I said. So, Candace’s friend swapped with me and I got on her horse Bud, a pretty palamino, a smaller horse with a better saddle, and I was OK. My hips felt alright. So we took off into the woods.
The very first thing that happened was we went up this steep, rocky, narrow path into the woods. The horses charged up the hill, lunging forward. I was not expecting this. I was sure I was about to get thrown off. It was terrifying. I held onto the front of the saddle for dear life with both hands, bouncing violently up and down and lunging up this almost vertical path. When we got to the top and stopped, I was obviously freaked, gasping for breath. Everyone was concerned and asking me if I was OK and wanted to go on. It was really hot. I was drenched in sweat.
Of course I had to go on. There was no way, after all this trouble, these nice people, beautiful horses. I thought there was a high probability that I would be seriously injured, but I couldn’t back out now. Sin of Pride. I was wearing my cowboy hat and cowboy boots. So we went on, up and down the ridges. I never knew when the horse would just start galloping, going down or up. It was continuous terror for three hours, our little ride around the lake, the lake which we almost never saw.
When we would get to the top of a ridge, there would be a little clearing, with 30 or so people, and their horses, hanging out, talking, drinking Bud Light, having a smoke. Everybody knew each other, except for me and Candace of course. They were talking about how all the good riding land over around Short Mountain was getting bought up by rich hippies driving Mercedes and Cadillacs. “I come upon this barn one time over there and these two hippies come out of the barn wearin’ nothing but cowboy hats and boots. They told me this was private property, that I was trespassing.”
Short Mountain is where the radical faeries have their celebratory orgies. That’s who’s moving in around there. One guy said he’d heard there was members of the Manson family moving in over there. Candace jumped in and said that she knew some people over that way, and assured him that there weren’t any Manson people moving in. He wasn’t convinced though. He knew some people over there too and they said different. Who knows. I doubt it, but it’s possible.
After awhile, we would ride on. When we would get to the top of the next ridge, there would be 30 or so people and their horses, many of the same people as on the last ridge top. And they would do some more talking, and drinking, and smoking cigarettes. Our host says to one woman, “John and Candace have never ridden before.” She replies, “And you brought them here? Hill hoppin’!?” “Yeah,” he says, “John’s probably thinking ‘why am I doing this?’”. Yes, I certainly was, but it was great, in spite of the fear. These people are great. They are tough, and smart, and funny, and really nice. I will never be a real Tennessean, but I sure do like them.
I actually began to get the hang of it a little bit towards the end, and could even relax a little. Then we were going up a steep climb, and Candace started yelling, “I’m going! I’m going!”. Her saddle slid around sideways and she fell off on her back on the rocks. Fortunately, she was not killed or disabled. She got back on her horse, and we went on.
Here’s a picture taken with my iPhone at the end of the ride. You would think to look at us that we had been having the time of our lives, which we were in some ways. It’s one of those times that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure. We are both very sore, especially Candace, but grateful to have survived intact. This is what Candace’s friend and her husband do on Sundays for fun.