A few months ago, I had the opportunity to ride a horse. I initially turned the offer down, thinking of everything that could wrong, such as being bitten, kicked, trampled, thrown, and paralyzed, just to name a few. But then it occurred to me that this would be an opportunity to prove my manliness. If I could ride the horse just long enough to have a picture taken, I could fill my social media feeds with proof that I am fearless in the face of danger. So I dug out some old jeans and a flannel shirt, and raided the medicine cabinet in search of half a Xanax.
The horse was located in Cottageville, South Carolina, about a three-hour drive southeast of Greenville. When I arrived, the horse’s owner Lindsey, a young woman who grew up riding, roping, and being an all-around badass, introduced me to Rooster, a large quarter horse. After a brief overview of the saddle, Lindsey told me to “hop on.” For someone with tight hamstrings, hopping on a full-size horse is easier said than done. In the movies, cowboys throw a foot in the stirrup and then effortlessly swing a leg over the saddle. But for me it was like trying to board a 747 from the tarmac.
After several failed attempts, Lindsey finally gave me a boost and suddenly I seemed to be sitting ten feet off the ground. I couldn’t help but wonder what Rooster must be thinking. Was he aware that I was terrified? Did he smell my fear? Could he sense that I was doing a full on Kegel contraction with no sign of letting up? Lindsey instructed me to grab the reins, then told me to squeeze my legs together. “That’ll get him moving,” she said. It’s not that easy to squeeze your legs together when your knees are about three feet apart. Also, how vigorously does one squeeze to get a 2,000-pound animal moving? “Harder,” Lindsey said, after my gentle efforts seemed not to register. “C’mon, harder.” Finally Rooster lurched forward, and the thought immediately occurred to me that Lindsey had failed to tell me how to steer, and more importantly, how to stop.
“You’re doing good,” Lindsey yelled a few minutes later, even though Rooster and I had only made it about fifty yards from our starting point. Then, from across the pasture, a dog began to bark, and Rooster jerked his head toward the sound. Every muscle in my body contracted and my legs tightened around Rooster’s midsection. He began to walk faster, and I automatically squeezed harder. Then he was in a full trot. It was a viscous loop, the faster he went, the more I squeezed. We were headed toward the woods surrounding the pasture, and I imagined Rooster soon tearing through the trees at a breakneck pace, leaving my lifeless body to be found days later in a ditch somewhere just north of Savannah. “Lindsey!” I screamed, but she was already beside us. Apparently Rooster was going no faster than his owner could jog. Lindsey grabbed the reins, and Rooster immediately stopped. I quickly dug my phone out of my pocket. “Could you take my picture?” I said.
Today that picture resides on my bookshelf. In it, a large quarter horse stands in a dew-covered field, the morning sun peeking over the treetops. On top of the horse sits a man in a heroic pose. He is white as a ghost, covered in sweat, and droopy-eyed from half a Xanax. He is a man who faces his fears. Five minutes at a time.
Each month, the Man About TOWN will share his Upstate rendezvous, which may or may not involve cocktails.