Hold Your Horses

What do you say to a runaway horse in a foreign country? I tried it all. “Whoa.” “Despacio.” “Alto.” I pulled back on the reins.
When all those failed, I held on for dear life.
A horseback ride was one of the excursions we’d considered for our trip here in Costa Rica. As much as Camille loves horses, it seemed a great way to see a bit of the countryside. But all of Camille’s riding experience has been in the confined and controlled environment of the riding ring. Even THAT makes this mama nervous sometimes, so I wasn’t sure about taking her on a trail ride here.
But I talked with our property manager and she assured us that Fernando, one of the locals, has great horses and leads a beautiful trail ride through the local rivers and mountains. To sweeten the deal, our property manager had a helmet that would fit Camille’s head (helmets aren’t typical on rides around here).
So this morning we found ourselves meeting Fernando to mount up and head for the hills. Fernando speaks no English, but we made our introductions just fine with my bit of Spanish. I explained that I wanted a slow horse for Camille. 
“And you have some riding experience?” he asked me.
“Some,” I said. And then he assigned us to our mounts.
My horse wanted to be the leader, and she headed off at a quick walk. When I don’t know where I’m going I’d rather follow the guide, but he was close behind and my horse seemed pretty sure of the path, so I told myself to relax.
Pretty quickly we found ourselves at the edge of a river. 
“Across?” I asked. He nodded. And into the muddy waters we went, with me feeling giddy about the new experience and the adventure. Camille chatted as we rode and I could hear the giddiness in her voice too – she was having a blast.

River Crossing on HorsebackThe Gang Crosses the River

We headed up the mountain following a washed out gravel road, crossing several more rivers, listening to the howler monkeys in the trees and occasionally spotting a few. The air was humid but cooler up there, with a nice breeze making for a very pleasant morning ride.
As we got higher up in the mountains, my horse began to quicken her pace. More alarming to me was the fact that the guide’s horse was also going faster, and soon we were all at a trot. Camille, who didn’t even have the security of stirrups because her legs couldn’t reach, only occasionally trots in her lessons. I hadn’t really expected this, since most trail rides in the US don’t even allow trotting.

Camille Begins Cantering Up the Path

So then imagine my fear when Camille’s horse began to canter. Thankfully, the guide rode quickly to her and strapped a lead rope between her horse and his, and I relaxed a bit. But not for long.
Even though she was joined to the guide, we continued trotting, and I could tell my horse was eager for more. I kept pulling at the reins, asking her to go slower, but each time I did she’d angrily toss her head and grow more tense. I could feel her energy building underneath me and I worried that if I kept pulling at her, she’d get mad and either buck or run.
Turns out, she’d run.
At first it was a canter and I still tried to slow her down, but then she lowered her head, reached out her neck and started to gallop. Her hooves pounded on the gravel path as we flew up the mountain. My thoughts were a jumbled mess of: 
“Wow. I am galloping up a mountain in Costa Rica. I am actually riding this gallop quite well! Heels down, seat light … My old equestrian team coach would be proud!”
“My old equestrian team coach would not be proud because I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE GALLOPING. How can I get her to stop? Why am I in front anyway? Are we even going the right way? Am I going to be lost in the mountains on a runaway horse? Should I drop my stirrups and bail?”
“I AM NOT WEARING A HELMET. I think I should just hang on.”
“I’m glad I bought that travel health insurance.”
But most of all, my thoughts were on Camille. What on earth had we gotten ourselves into? Was her horse galloping too? Could she hang on? Was she never ever ever going to get on a horse again (would I)? I was worried about Lee too, but his horse had been pokey and slow so I didn’t think he was likely to be in much trouble. But my little girl, was she on a runaway horse too? 
My horse was working herself into quite a lather, breathing hard as she roared up the hill. Finally as we crested the top, she slowed and then stopped. And before she could catch her breath for the next sprint, I dismounted and could’ve kissed the ground. I turned and watched the road we’d just run up, looking for signs of my family.
Finally around a bend I could see Camille and the guide trotting up the mountain with Lee not far behind. I was flooded with relief. Camille was grinning hugely.
Apparently my horse had stopped because this was a point in the ride when we all dismount and take a break. The area offered an incredible vista, with mountains in one direction and an expansive view of the sea in the other.

Amazing Sea View from our RideCamille and a Horse at our Rest StopOur Horses Stop to Rest

We could even see some of the buildings around our rental house far in the distance. I looked at those buildings and I ached to be back there. As much as I had enjoyed the first part of our ride, I had not enjoyed the experience of being on a runaway horse. And worst of all, wondering if my child was safe. I didn’t want to get back on. I didn’t want to ride off this mountain. 
I tried to talk to the guide about my horse, explaining that she wanted to run and wouldn’t stop. He told me to pull back on the reins, and I said she seemed very nervous.
He laughed dismissively. “Caballo loco!”
Thanks, I thought. The crazy horse.
I told him for Camille’s sake I really wanted to go slower. On the way down the mountain we still trotted a few times, but my horse seemed less eager to run, havin
g apparently gotten that out of her system. Before long I could see the village ahead and knew we would be ok. Relief.
And what did Camille think of the ride? She said it was her favorite experience here so far. And she says the best part was when her horse “went out-of-control fast.” The only time she felt nervous was when her horse walked too close to a thorn bush.
A thorn bush?

Afraid of a Thorn Bush

Where does she get this from? My brave cowgirl. I’m just so glad we all lived to ride another day.

Leave a Reply