"Nothing's as good for the inside of a man, as the outside of a horse." -Ronald Reagan It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. For December, it was unbelievable. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and high 40's made for a perfect horse-riding day. That is, if you're a horse-rider. As I've said before, I was born to loaf. But, I'm up for most any adventure, and the crisp spring-like air was enticing. There were about 15 horses and riders making the trip, coming from three local barns. The plan: Meet at our friends' place to saddle up a batch of beasts, with another couple of horses and riders being trailered in. Then, take a leisurely 3-mile walk to another ranch and meet the rest of the group. From there, trails and scenic beauty were said to be found in abundance. I knew it was going to be trouble when Mrs. Spiffy and her sister asked me, "Do you mind riding a gaited horse?" while stifling evil laughter. Since I have no idea what that means (but a vague idea it would get me laughed at) I said I'd try it. I met my mount, we exchanged pleasantries, and I installed a saddle. I guess that's supposed to be called "tacking up," but this ain't the frickin' Old West. While other riders fiddled and adjusted and readied their rides, I took my chestnut colored model out in the front yard for a test drive. This particular horse really likes trees. With great, spreading, low branches. Just the right height to scrape an annoying parasite off a horse's back. Well, he didn't completely succeed, but my hat wound up on the ground just before I could whoa the raging animal from the volleyball net. He would have tried to jump it, I'm certain. I climbed down, retrieved my hat, and tried to re-mount. At this point, I discovered two things: My enormous feet didn't quite fit into the stirrups, and apparently horses have this trick of sucking in wind when you install the saddle. When they exhale, the saddle gets loose. More comfortable for one of us, I'm sure. When I applied some weight, it spun clean around the horse, and I was trying to sit sideways for about 3 nanoseconds. After some belt-tightening and dirty looks (for both of us), we were on our way. All the way up the long driveway, the horses were as excited as puppies - they wanted to run and frolic, and all these riders and reins were raining on their parade. Much head-throwing, whinnying, and stomping finally gave way to a relaxed walk on the tree-lined road. For most of us. My horse decided it simply did not like me. It walked diagonally, then backwards, then fastslowfastslow, with a little buck and snort thrown in for good measure. I dismounted and gave him a lecture, the other riders far ahead. He stood as solidly as he could, raised his head, looked down his long nose at me, and neighed his own disgust with the situation. When one of the pack leaders finally looked around, they saw me walking my horse like a kid with a flat bicycle tire. They decided some rearranging was in order, and had me trade with my niece's boyfriend. His horse, Blue, was supposedly more good-natured. Plus, the saddle would fit better, and I could fit my toes in the stirrups. We continued on, and it seemed to be a good decision. Except for the time my former horse wanted to take a tour of the ditch outside the cemetery. We towed them out, and all was well. Passing cars slowed and waved, everyone was smiling and enjoying the day. I was beginning to find muscles that were previously undetectable, but the fun factor outweighed the discomfort for now. When we rounded a bend, the horses again became very excited. They knew this place, and there were other horses and fun trails and experienced riders here. Even the expert riders had a hard time keeping things under control. Blue, I'd heard in the last few minutes, needs to know who's boss. At this moment, she decided she was, and bolted. We flew down the long, winding drive, with me flopping against the saddle wildly. Blue finally and reluctantly agreed not to kill me, and we slipped into a bouncing trot. For those not accustomed to having manparts, this is very hard on the ol' twiggenberries. A half mile of that was enough to make me put my foot down. I would release the beast into a vacant fenced yard and babysit while the rest of the group went on their ride. Blue was downright pissed off at this turn of events. She wanted to kill me in the worst way on that trail, and I foiled her horsey little plan. She pawed and stomped, paced and bucked, whinnying and growling as the group filed off on their adventure. I told her sagely that if she had behaved better, we'd both be on that ride. I got comfortable on a trailer, cranked up my MP3 player, and tried to nap. Every so often, Blue would sneak up behind me and release a thundering Neigh, trying to wake me. I pretended not to notice, making her even more upset. I smiled and pulled my hat down further. I awoke to find two of our party returning. "Did you kill off the others?" I was about to ask, but thought better of it when I saw my dear friend's tears. She had been dropped from her nasty, mean horse, and was feeling some pain. Her version of the story is Here. Don't believe the parts you may see about me. Lies, all of it. Her horse was much worse than mine, so she saddled Blue up and went out to try again. Eventually, the posse returned and shared stories. A busload of small children and their families arrived to take escorted horsie rides. Marisol limped over to a picnic table and we sat while they posed for pictures and walked up and down the drive. Our conversation was interrupted by a blood-curdling scream. A petite young girl was hurtling down the driveway, partly on the back of a sprinting horse. She slid to the right, body parallel to the ground for a heart-stopping four strides. She lost her grip just as the horse crossed from pavement to grass, and she tumbled to a stop as the horse barreled through the crowd right toward my perch. Someone got hold of its reins, and the little girl was checked out. She was dusty and shaken, but unhurt. She climbed up on a fresh, presumably tame horse and took another walk around the plantation, to the applause of all gathered. I don't think I'll be trying this adventure again soon. I prefer my rides not to have the option, "To whoa, or not to whoa."