By Tony Hooker
The Ballad of the Uneasy Rider
One of the things my family has always liked to do is go trail walking, and with so little else to do during the pandemic days, this summer was no exception.
Earlier in the summer, we trekked across the border to Indiana, where, miraculously, people frolic and gambol about without too much fear of the coronavirus. Our destination was Turkey Run State Park, and as we walked about the park, we noticed that their stables remained open, and we marked it down for a future adventure.
We finally found a day when all of our busy lives came together, and seven of us, ma, pa the four offspring and our soon to be Daughter in law, loaded up to Head East, like that seventies band.
Upon arriving, we discovered that we would be going out with a group of 15, and that we would be assigned horses, though some leeway was given so we could pick our own. I watched as the group before us returned with smiling faces and thought about how easy it must be. I mean, my former teacher, principal and friend, Mr. Powell and his lovely wife Gaye ride almost every day. Nothing to it, right?
So, when lining up for the horses we preferred, I was given a choice between Diablo, a tall, sable maned brute with eyes of fire and sparks flying from his hooves, and Joker, a smallish, seemingly docile beast that stood, patiently waiting. Of course, I “sacrificed” my oldest son and took Joker, leaving him to his fate on the back of the devil horse.
We were given the rudiments of how to use the reins to guide our trusty steeds, and without further ado, I was plopped on Joker’s back and led out of the paddock.
As we moved along, Joker seemed to sense that I was a little nervous, and true to his name, he walked right on the edge of a 10 or 15 foot drop off while the other horses stayed in the center of the path. I should have taken this odd behavior as a warning for what was to come.
The next hour was a torturous blur as Joker slammed my leg into various trees, shrubs and a fence, leaving a bruise shaped like the state of Florida on my calf, blinding me with low hanging branches and just generally being a horse’s behind for the entire trip. Once he realized that he was stuck with me, he devised another fiendish plot. This one involved lagging behind the group and then galloping to catch up. Having not ridden horses, I wasn’t sure what to do until one of the guides said I should stand up in the stirrups, which would have been a great idea if my legs were a touch longer or the stirrups a touch shorter. As it turned out, by standing up, it simply brought the saddle up into my nether regions repeatedly at a rapid rate. My family, of course, showed their concern for my well-being by laughing out loud at my moans and groans of pain. Meanwhile, behind me, I could hear my son whispering softly to Diablo as he guided him effortlessly to the left and right with the slightest tug of his reins and tried not to run into the psycho horse and I as we engaged in an MMA style deathmatch on the trail in front of them.
Finally, after what seemed like 40 days in the saddle, we emerged from the woods, back into the paddock. And it was there that Joker laid out his final indignity, shredding the last vestiges of my self-esteem in the process. Apparently, the ride hadn’t been all fun and games for him either, because after he was tied to the post, he turned his muzzle toward the stirrup and pushed my foot out in one last effort to dislodge me. The trail boss began to chide me for not waiting for his instructions, but I think the look on my face stopped him.
As I limped to the car, battered and humiliated, I could hear the family chattering away about what a great time it was and how they couldn’t wait until next time. I too can’t wait until next time, because I’ll be found at the 36 Saloon in Rockville, anxiously awaiting their return from the dusty trail.