No matter how much research and preparation you do before traveling, things aren’t going to go exactly as you planned them. Flexibility is the key. The sooner you learn to roll with the punches the more fun and less stress you’ll have on your vacation.
During a recent trip to Iceland, we woke up to a windy, rainy day. From our bedroom window we could see the waves kicking up on the fjord. Over breakfast, I confessed to my traveling companions that there wasn’t enough Dramamine on the planet to make the whale watch we had planned for the day enjoyable in these conditions. I admitted that I hoped it would be rescheduled. Everyone sighed with relief. Apparently we had all been thinking the same thing, but no one wanted to disappoint anyone else. A quick call to the whale watching company confirmed that the boats would not be going out and we booked a trip for the next afternoon.
We now found ourselves with an unexpected free day.
“How do you all feel about riding Icelandic ponies?” I asked the group.
When we were in the early planning stages of the trip, I considered a tour where we would get to ride Icelandic horses. These horses are shorter and have patient, cheerful dispositions which make them an excellent option for inexperienced riders. Short and patient is my specialty, so I truly appreciate those qualities in an animal I’m going to rely on to squire me around.
Other adventures took priority so horseback riding didn’t make the final cut. Now that we had time, I suggested it. Everyone loved the idea. After some research on TripAdvisor, we called a nearby farm that offered tours of the surrounding countryside. We told them we had never ridden horses and they recommended their two hour tour.
When we arrived at the farm, there were five horses saddled up and waiting along with our guide.
As we approached the horses I said, “These horses aren’t as small as I thought they’d be.”
“They are smaller than regular horses. They just look big to you because you are so short” was the reply from my travel companions.
We were outfitted with gloves and a helmet then our guide gave us a quick tutorial on how to hold and use the reins. People have been riding horses for thousands of years. I thought I could manage this feat for the next two hours.
Our guide then brought each horse over one at a time and explained how to correctly mount them. The first up looked comfortable in the saddle as his horse patiently waited for the rest of us. The next did equally well. Then it was my turn. The guide walked my horse, Clara, over and introduced her to me.
For a person with no horseback riding experience, getting onto a horse is no small endeavor. When the person with no experience is less than five feet tall, getting onto a horse is a small miracle. The guide held my horse steady and I put my foot in the stirrup. This meant that my left foot was now resting on a small piece of metal with my knee slightly higher than my hip. I was supposed to push down on the stirrup with my left leg while flinging my right leg over the saddle. I’m no expert in the laws of human physiology, but there was no way I was going to be able to hoist myself onto the horse from this position. Frankly, I was impressed that I could lift my foot as high up as I did to get it into the stirrup. This little expedition was my suggestion so I was going to give this my best effort.
I pushed down mightily on my leg in the stirrup and pushed off the ground with my other leg. With all of that exertion, I managed to get my right foot 6 inches off the muddy ground.
“Try again on the other side. Use your right leg this time. It’s stronger,” everyone encouraged me.
Try again?! I was surprised I wasn’t hanging upside down with my left leg caught in the stirrup. Don’t I get any credit for not falling off completely and landing in a pile of horseshit?
I switched sides and tried again, but got the same result. Clara was very patient while this uncoordinated human attempted to climb onto her back.
Sensing this exercise was not going to end with me in the saddle, the guide disappeared for a minute and came back with a milk crate.
“Step on that to help you,” she instructed.
The crate did the trick, but the guide still needed to shove my ass to help me up and over the back of the horse. A less glamorous mounting of a horse would be hard to imagine.
Sitting astride the horse, reins lightly in my hands, I took a moment to congratulate myself for successfully getting into the saddle. Just then, the horse jerked her head forward pulling the reins and me along with them.
“Yikes!” I cried out. “Why did she just do that?” I asked the guide.
“Clara is excited to go for a walk. Once we are going, she won’t do that.”