successfully avoiding the discomfort and awkwardness of riding a horse
since I was in junior high at camp (a memory I had repressed along
with that of my parachute pants), while on vacation, I found myself
actually paying for the privilege of a two hour (yes, two hour) trail
ride on the beaches of South
Padre Island. The purpose of this voluntary humiliation was so
that my competitive equestrian-riding daughter, Ally, wouldn't have
to do it alone and I could make the fatherly gesture of watching over
and protecting her. It almost immediately became clear, though, that
what I was really doing was providing comic relief for everyone there,
and not because I was trying to be funny.
My first mistake, other than getting up that morning, was my outfit.
Apparently, khaki shorts and flip-flops aren't ideal equestrian attire-if
you want to be able to walk afterwards. Because of my choice footwear,
one of the guides (stifling his laughter) had to cram my feet into
the stirrups for me as if I was Miss Piggy in the shoe department
at Dillard's. My shorts revealed my next problem. For some reason,
I thought the saddle would be softer, or at least feel less like I
was straddling a utility pole wrapped in razor wire. No matter which
way I shifted, I found no relief from this contraption that seemed
designed to turn me into a human croquet wicket. And every time I
jostled the saddle in my attempts to find the spot without the broken
glass, my horse looked back at me as if to ask, "Really?!"
Speaking of the horse, I was told that his name was Dr. Pepper. "How
cool!" I thought. "I love Dr. Pepper!" At first I assumed he got his
name from his dark caramel coloring, flecked with white-like the carbonation
in my favorite soda. Or maybe his name came from his "peppy" spirit.
I soon realized, however, that his name must have been based on his
personality. He was like the cranky old lady who has to drink at least
two full cans of Dr. Pepper a day while watching reruns of Family
Feud, or her rheumatism acts up and she's meaner than an old lady
who ran out of Dr. Pepper and her game show was pre-empted by a Presidential
State-of-the-Union Address announcing a plan to ban canned soft drinks
and any television programs featuring Steve Harvey. On the day of
my ride, there was no soda, and the survey said, "You're dead!"
When we first started out along the shoreline, everything seemed fine.
Dr. Pepper was actually moving, and I hadn't fallen off and been trampled
to death. He did seem to have a fixation with the hind quarters of
the horse in front of us and had no respect for personal space. Ally
was expertly guiding her horse left and right, in and out of the shallows
with a mastery of the reins, occasionally throwing me a glance full
of pity and embarrassment. I figured that if a thirteen-year-old girl
could do it, I could, too. Or at least I could get Dr. Pepper to avoid
exposing me to further ridicule because of where he chose to stick
his nose. However, when I pulled my reins to the right or the left,
Dr. Pepper just snorted what I'm sure was a horse insult at me and
went right on nasally violating the leader horse. Oh, well, at least
he was enjoying himself and not maiming me. I was even able to take
a few (hundred) photos of Ally with my 35mm camera, which, while riding
a horse, was a little like juggling a family of hedgehogs while balanced
on a broom handle. Ally hates to have her picture taken, especially
by me, so naturally, I risked life, limb, and lots of other body parts
to take as many as possible.
To make the
ride more interesting for us, and more amusing for the guides, they
eventually led us off of the shoreline and up into some steep dunes
that overlooked a beautiful valley. The serenity of this magnificent
natural scene was soon shattered, however, by the sudden onslaught
of a biblical plague of rabid pterodactyls. Ok, they were mosquitos,
but when we swatted them, they actually made a thud on the ground.
And remember; I was wearing shorts and flip flops, so when I first
looked down at my legs, they looked like the buffet lines at Golden
Corral on a Sunday after church. Dr. Pepper didn't seem to mind
that much. In fact, I think I heard him giggling.
Once we escaped the bloodbath in the dunes, we rode back down to
the shore and through a shallow tidal marsh to see the sun setting
over the water. It was a magnificent sight. Despite the hardships,
it really was a special time to spend with my eldest child doing
what she loves. I just hope she remembers this thirty years from
now when I ask her to bring me my second Dr. Pepper and turn up
© Jase Graves
"Quips and Salsa" June
15, 2017 column