We do not do well with our new horses.
Inspired with an urge to try out the prison ponies, Bernard saddled Willow that very afternoon. If I’d been asked, I would have suggested waiting a few days till she’d settled in. But I wasn’t around and Bernard arrived at his own conclusions, based loosely on the theory that here was a horse, horses are meant to be ridden, ergo Bernard would ride her. Simple as that.
The saddling part was easy, in hindsight deceptively so. “Those prison guys have really trained a good horse,” Bernard thought, or so he told me later. Willow was agreeable, didn’t try to bite or kick him, accepted the bit and bridle as if born to it. Turns out, though, that even horses can plan, be stealthy, bide their time. That she stood as still as a fence post while being tacked up was the mustang equivalent of one hell of a practical joke.
Perhaps Bernard had an inkling of this, since he did make one clever decision. He chose to ride her inside the corral. Once saddled, the next steps, which actually took all of 30 seconds, seemed to unfold in cinematic slow-mo. Here’s what the camera would have shown, if I’d been there filming.
– Bernard hitches up his trousers and lifts his left knee high, till his left foot meets the dangling stirrup.
– His boot-toe wiggles forward to get a good solid placement, to have a secure platform from which to push up into the saddle, all the while careful not to poke the horse in the ribs.
– Pushing off from his ground leg, he slowly rises.
– He swings that leg over the saddle, making sure it’s lifted enough not to kick the horse’s rump in the process.
– “Gotta find that other stirrup fast and not search around for it,” flits across his mind as he eases his body smoothly downward.
– His right leg now hangs along the mare’s flank, foot searching gently till it knocks into something. His mind relaxes with a near-audible “Aaahhh.” There it is, the sister stirrup on the other side.
Now comes the moment of truth, when he settles his weight into the saddle, the moment when Willow will have to accept–or not–the fact that there’s something of great weight on her back. This is especially hard for a wild horse to do, because in its experience the only thing heavy that’s likely to be on its back is a mountain lion who wants to kill it. So it takes a vast amount of trust and acceptance for a formerly wild horse to accept a rider. That’s why you know that you have to get yourself securely into the saddle and ready for whatever comes. You have only once chance to get it right.
What happens next????? Go on to Part 2