Chapter 23

When I get to the barn, Herminio is sitting on a big black and white horse and Jose climbs onto the saddle on a big brown horse using a stirrup and the saddle horn. Looks easy enough, just like on TV.

There is a riderless horse all saddled up and ready to go, standing next to them. It must be for the guy who is out getting gas for the truck . . . who am I kidding? This horse is for me. It regards me for a moment, then looks over at the other two horses, who suddenly find other things to be looking at right now. My horse is brown with a bit of white on his nose and on its left front hoof. Not finding anyone to commiserate with, it looks back over at me, then hangs its head and appears to look for something to eat on the barren dirt floor.

Jose and Herminio just sit there looking down at me. Is this going to be a lesson, or are they assuming that because my dad could ride a horse, I can too?

I grab the saddle horn like they do in the movies, but I can’t seem to get my left leg high enough to put my foot in the stirrup. I feel like I’m practicing jumping hurdles while standing in place, and without actually jumping. The horse starts to walk off without me, so I try even harder to get my foot in the stirrup, but now I have to take two steps with every try. I’m almost getting my foot into the stirrup; so grabbing onto the horn of the saddle with my left hand I hop on my right foot while trying to reach the stirrup with my left foot. I can hear Jose and Herminio cracking up while watching me perform this ridiculous cowboy can-can. Finally I get a foot in the stirrups. Yay! Oh shit!  The horse isn’t stopping. I have to grab onto the saddle with both hands to keep from falling, but now I’m doing the splits and dragging my right leg behind me. With every step the horse takes, the more my legs stretch. I don’t think my body was meant to stretch like this. “Hey, guys! Can I get a little help?”

Herminio finally jumps off his saddle and helps me get my foot out of this horse trap. Jose looks at the stirrups and then looks at me. He smiles, points to his pants, and says some things in Spanish. I hear the word for pants and women, and they both laugh. Yes these pants are a little tight, but everyone wears them this way in the United States.



Herminio tosses the reins to Jose and he helps me get my leg back into the swaying stirrup. He pushes on my butt and I finally get onto the saddle.  If the horse would have just stood still . . .

This isn’t so bad. Jose gives me a condescending look, but I could care less. I’m sitting on an actual horse. And it’s moving. I’m on top of a living animal. And it is much bigger than me. And it’s moving toward the open barn door. “Hey, is the horse supposed to be moving?” Herminio shoots me a, duh, of course it’s supposed to move look, but is it supposed to move with me on it? That didn’t sound any smarter. What did I expect? I would get on this thing and it would turn into a couch or something?

Eeew! It smells like a horse too. Even though I’ve never smelled one before, I don’t think I would’ve mistaken this smell for anything else. I wonder if Jose’s and Herminio’s horses are this sweaty. Or maybe they gave me the one with hyperactive sweat glands.

Herminio flies onto his saddle again, just like they do in the movies. He talks really slowly and loudly in Spanish so I’ll understand better. I think he may even be using an American accent too. Jose just sits on his horse, laughing.

Herminio seems to be acting out how to ride. He’s using lots of hand gestures, pointing to his legs, gripping the reigns a certain way, and modeling correct posture, and explaining like he’s talking to some deaf child. I wonder if this is what I look like when I try to talk to new employees in Spanish. I’m glad we’re in this barn and no one is watching. They might think I’m deaf, or slow or something. I’m not gonna dwell on this right now, but I’m sure I’m gonna come back to this moment tonight, when it’s quiet and the need to re-live humiliation is at it’s strongest.

We’re moving again. I try to sit the same way Herminio is showing me. We stopped. That was a fun ride. “Are we done?”

. . . I didn’t really get much of that, but the laughter came through okay. I think all we did was get the horses all pointing in the same direction.

The view from up here is pretty cool. Herminio leads us out of the barn and I feel my heart jump into my throat. I grab onto the saddle horn with both hands, squeeze the horses ribs with my legs and stare firmly at the back of my horse’s neck so I won’t fall off.

We stop again.

My horse must do this all the time because I didn’t have to do anything. Maybe that’s why they gave me this horse. I’ll bet this is the auto-pilot horse they give to guests and visitors that don’t know how to ride.

I slowly look up and see we’re just in front of the barn, next to the pen with the pigs and cows. The house is on the other side, about sixty yards from us. I can’t see into the windows, but I can feel several pairs of eyes watching me.

Jose is on my left and Herminio is on my right and they both tell me to kick the horses belly with my feet and hold on to the reins like so . . . I’m not sure I really want to do this, but I guess it’s not up to me; we’re moving again.

I just had a horrible thought; what if he doesn’t want to stop? What if he hates me? What if he just throws me off his back because he can smell my fear? I heard they can do that. I wonder what fear smells like. One thing is for sure, it would have to smell a lot stronger than he does, for him to get a whiff of it.

Okay, pull the reins over to the right and we go right . . . Okay, pull the reins left and we go left. “Alto” Herminio says and he pulls back on the reins. “Stop” adds Jose and he pulls on his too.

Okaaaay, that was fun. Go, stop, left, right. I got this.

Herminio starts riding in a circle in the driveway, and he gestures me to follow. Jose just sits on his horse looking bored.

Okay, kick gently, don’t piss off the huge, powerful animal you’re sitting on. Good . . .  Okay . . .  I’m doing it.

Now we turn left, got it. Now turn right . . . This isn’t so hard, once you get on the darn thing.

Okay, pull to stop. Kick the belly and go. Pull back the reins and stop. Herminio laughs and tells me to stop standing in my stirrups. I thought I was sitting and holding the horse with my legs. I look at my legs, they’re straight and flared out. Okay, relax Frank, people do this all the time.

I try to grip the horse as best I can with my legs. This does look more like what they’re doing. Jose leads us out, behind the house and into a large field. I’m freaking riding a horse. This is great! I really have the urge to yahoo right now, but I won’t. It might freak the horse out. They probably don’t get too many yahoos in these parts. They probably say Olay or something like that.


Herminio stands up a bit and uses his legs as shock absorbers as he leans forward and smacks the horse in the ass with the ends of the reins. So now I’m supposed to stand up in the stirrups like he just told me not to do? His legs don’t flare out like mine did, they still kinda hug the, “Aaaaaaahhhhhh.”  Right, I forgot; auto-pilot horse. This is really bouncy—not fun. The whole world is shaking. I feel like I’m sitting on a jackhammer. “Oh shiiiiiiit”, I think my feet jumped out of the stirrups. I’m falling . . . sideways . . .  off the . . . lots of sky . . . “Ooof!”

Damn! That frickin’ hurt.

The horse is running away, and he’s bobbing his head like he’s laughing. I guess he’s had enough. I agree.

Herminio rides off and catches my horse. I look like I just slid into home plate. I dust myself off. Yeah, keep on laughing Jose. In the movies when someone falls, or gets shot off a horse, it doesn’t look like it hurts—but it does! My right arm hurts when I move it.

As Herminio brings my horse back, I can hear him before he gets near me. He can’t stop laughing. Oh, he’s trying, but he just blows snot out of his nose. “Ha-ha-ha-ha.” That was just as humiliating as me falling off this horse. Now I don’t feel so bad.

Herminio points to Jose and tells me he has done the same thing when he was a “nino.” Great. Jose outs Herminio too. Nice. I feel much better now. Thanks for comparing me to a little kid. Either my Spanish is getting better, or humiliation is a universal language.

Herminio says the horse’s name is “Claudia” Not Claudia, “Clow-dey-uh.” A girl. Is that supposed to make me feel better?

After a bit of sharing our most embarrassing moments with each other, I get back on the horse again. It was a little easier this time. We do the circle thing again. Okay, I got this. Herminio looks back and nods, and there he goes. I grab onto the saddle horn and my horse follows, just like I knew she would.

I try standing up and hold onto this saddle horn. Yeah, that’s better. My arms and legs are acting like shock absorbers. I think I’m finally getting it. The horse is not really running, but it’s not really walking either. It’s Jogging. Is there something wrong with this horse? This is not very comfortable. It’s like sitting on a jackhammer.

Jose gets his horse to run even faster. How many gears do these things have? Without warning, Claudia takes off too, probably not wanting to be left behind. Oh shit, oh shit, oh . . . Hey, surprisingly this is easier than jogging. The horse’s back moves much slower, and there’s actually a rhythm to it. This is great. I briefly take my eyes off the back of my horse’s neck and take quick looks around. I’d hate to run into a tree or something at this speed, although with an auto-pilot horse, I don’t think the fault would be mine. But still . . . it hurts like hell when you hit the ground.

Herminio rides over to me and he tries to tell me something. It looks like he wants me to squeeze the horse’s body with my legs. Oh, yeah, like that’ll happen. I’m just trying not to fall off this thing, but he keeps insisting. I think I’m kicking Claudia in the belly the way I’m doing it now.

Hey, this is more comfortable. I’m moving around a lot less, but my legs are getting tired already. I can’t keep doing this much longer—it’s not natural. I’m going to pull a groin muscle or something. This is probably how that lady got the idea for that Thigh Master thing. Why didn’t she just come out and say it, “this will help you ride horses.” I bet that would have saved a lot of confusion in the exercise equipment market. It could have started a whole new exercise thing. First there was the exercise ball, I don’t remember what that was called, then there was spinning; stationery bike riding didn’t sound cool enough. Now there’s Zumba. This could have been . . . Galloping. You get a whole room full of people in spandex, standing in rows with one of those thigh-masters between their legs, put on some slow cowpoke music; and squeeze, and relax, and squeeze, and relax. And maybe you could hold your arms like you’re steering a horse—hey, with light weights in your hands for an added burn. And squeeze, and relax, and squeeze, and relax, and squeeze—I’m an old cow haaaaaand! and relax . . .

I feel my feet starting to knock the horse’s belly again. I’m doing the best I can, I just hope the horse understands. Can they sense regret?

Jose smiles at me as he passes me. Now my horse thinks she’s in a race. Great. I’ll just hold onto this horn thing. I can’t fall off if I’m holding onto this, can I?


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