Horseback Riding at Wawona

All of the horses seemed reluctant to begin the ride, which is understandable. I am equally if not more difficult to dislodge when I am grazing. I was riding a horse named Pony. We were slow throughout the ride, but adequately brought up the rear of our group.

Pony lost her footing several times, slipped on the rocks, and was hesitant to walk through the water. On the last grade before crossing the stream to return home, Pony stopped. It was a steep path. I prodded her and she began. She paused and then took some tentative steps backward. I knew we were in trouble.

She looked back at me, and shook the reigns. My left foot slipped out of the stirrup. We inched forward, then she seemed to collapse beneath me. As she sat, I made a graceless exit into the brush.

Her motions were too delicate to describe as “throwing” or “bucking”. It was more of a gentle suggestion that we both lighten our burdens.

Pony stood again, stumbled backwards and slid down the muddy trail, a riderless horse. I called for assistance and fought my instinct to try to help her. Having no experience with horses, I did not know if I had done something to cause her distress. Was I holding the reigns too tight or too loosely?

So I sat for a moment in the brush, and she sat several feet from me, at the bottom of the trail. I tried to assess if she was hurt or angry, and for a few seconds our eyes met. And suspended in the air in that meadow was a familiar kind of sadness.

I had reservations about riding a horse solely for pleasure to begin with. As much as we repeat it to ourselves as if it is true, humans do not have an appointed dominion over all other things. Exploitation is not supremacy.

We arrived back at the corral and I dismounted. The trainer and I talked about how Pony might have a strained muscle in her leg or a painful foot. I felt even worse for taking her out then as she wasn’t feeling well. Before we parted, she gently put her face right next to mine. How do you apologize to a horse?

The last thing the trainer said before we began the ride was, “If anything goes wrong, you must stop your own horse before we can help you. You must control your horse.” And that’s why I’ll probably never try to ride another horse. It is neither my forte or interest to control another living thing, as if it weren’t an illusion to do so.

I understand that these horses are domesticated, and trained, and are trapped in a world in which they must work and behave in order to be fed. Participation in that system is complicity, as it is with every other form of capitalist oppression. Perhaps I empathize too much with a captive that is somehow at a loss of what to do when it is not being directed.

But even during the smoothest parts of the ride, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that both of us would have been much happier if I had relieved her of my presence. To let a horse just be a horse. We should all be so lucky.