The truth can now be told. My first ride in the forest on my recently acquired horse, The Son Also Rises, lasted 20 feet.
The reason I now feel comfortable telling you about this embarrassing incident is that I have finally mastered the ancient art of riding a horse in the woods. As opposed, that is, to riding in an arena with no obstacles like tree branches.
But let me back up. When I bought Son last October, I did so based on his cool Hemingway-esque name and on the recommendation of this veteran horsewoman, one of the Galloping Grannies my wife rides with. She rode him and said he was just a "great big pussycat."
Since I hadn't ridden a horse in 25 years (and I was no good at it back then), I started out in an arena. I should have charged admission, because every time I got on Son, all the Galloping Grannies would set up lawn chairs and settle in for some good laughs.
Like the time Son and I ended up heads first in a corner of the arena. I asked the Grannies why he had gone in there and they laughed and said because I told him to. Very funny.
Anyway, in the arena Son was incredibly lazy. It took a strong "nudge" in the ribs to make him move, and then he would just plod around as slow as he could possibly go and still be alive.
A few times around the arena and my wife decided I was ready for the big time e Tonto National Forest. We saddled up and walked our horses out our back gate.
Being a logical person by nature, I figured a horse that wouldn't move in the arena also wouldn't move in the woods. I climbed aboard thinking I'd have to give him one in the ribs to jump start him. Wrong!
I no sooner got aboard than he galloped right under the nearest tree. The first branch I managed to throw over my head, but the next one was about the size of a telephone pole.
In that brief instant before we got to the "pole," I knew my time was up. To this day, I don't know if I dove off the horse or if I waited for the branch to take care of it for me. All I know is that I was on the ground amazed that I was still conscious, let alone alive.
In all honesty, I must admit that my wife's version of this incident varies somewhat from mine. In her version she substitutes the word "lumbered" for "galloped."
Interesting choice of attitude considering that the whole thing was her fault. See, she taught me how to say "whoa," but she didn't mention that you have to pull on the reins to really emphasize the fact that you would like to stop right now.
Her excuse thought you knew that," just doesn't cut it when your wrist is on its way to swelling three times its normal size.
Anyway, it was back to the arena and the Grannies in the lawn chairs. It would be a cold day in May before I got on that horse in the woods again.
In the meantime, Son became somewhat of a local legend. They heard what happened down at the Rim Country Chamber of Commerce, for which I do some free-lance writing. As they told the story to total strangers and anybody else who walked in, Son gradually became a 19-hand horse.
Chamber CEO Tom Kaleta dubbed him "Son of Sam."
None of which gave me a lot of confidence. Now I owned this Godzilla-size horse named after a mass murderer.
Next the Payson Horseman's Association got wind of the story and invited me to speak at one of their meetings. They normally invite some kind of horse expert, but hey, everybody needs a good laugh now and then.
What I discovered in the process was that the Payson Horsemen, these avid, fearless riders, have a really cool slogan: "Ride hard or stay home." I could live with that. I'd just stay home.
Then one day it happened. The wind kicked up. The clouds came off the Rim and blocked the sun. It was a cold day in May.
To make a long story short, I got back on Son in the woods and off we went. This time it went fine, except when he refused to go over this cliff.
I didn't want to go over it very much either, so I got off and walked him around and got back on. (Note to my wife: A cliff can too be one foot high.)
Anyway, now I'm hooked and I go riding every chance I get. I've decided it's kind of cool to have a 19-hand horse nicknamed Son of Sam. And I've learned to say, "Ride hard or stay home" in kind of a sneering voice.
A while ago I went to the Arabian Horse Show in Scottsdale with my wife and a bunch of her horsy friends. I couldn't believe how boring it was.
Six or eight horses would come into the arena and compete against one another by following this monotoned announcer's directions alk ...canter ... resume walking ... now canter."
I've got an idea how to spice that show up. You get this big old tree branch about the size of a telephone pole and you hook it to a crane. Then as these horses walk by with their noses in the air, you raise it up and down at random.
I don't care what those blue bloods down in Scottsdale say, that is the ultimate test of horsemanship.