A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver’… The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again.
Yep, we had the Cisco Kid, Roy and Dale, and Hopalong Cassidy, but for me, there was only one...the masked man with a silver bullet, The Lone Ranger. Clayton Moore and his faithful sidekick Jay "Tonto" Silverheels would ride into my living room every Saturday morning in living black and white to tame the west and lock up the bad guys. I had a Lone Ranger metal lunch box, my very own mask, six shooter, and white cowboy hat. Heck, we all did in the 1950's.
Possibly due to that I've always had a part of me that longed to be a good horseback rider. That "speed of light" and "cloud of dust" stuff just got me.
Other than the occasional pony ride at a birthday party where a carnival fugitive would walk you around the circle, I didn't get much equine opportunity in my youth. I also found that birthday ponies have a bouquet that doesn't come through the television and tempers the romance just a bit. As I think back on it now, it might have been carnival-man that I smelled and not the horse.
None of my summer camp opportunities featured horses and my middle class upbringing was about as far from the horsey set as you could imagine. As I mentioned in Search for St. Francis there were stables within a short bike ride from my house, but no riding opportunities for us kids from Thackery Avenue.
Now, Baltimore was horseracing country and my mom was a fan. She famously once threw her fancy new straw hat onto the track upon winning the Daily Double at Pimlico. She and her girlfriends were Saturday regulars, taking the streetcar to the track after working mornings at the Automobile Club of Maryland. After marrying my Methodist dad, her opportunity to bet on anything was over and her handicapping skills were put on the shelf. Trips to the track were not a family activity in my Methodist household.
As an adult I don't remember being on a horse until the Gwaltney family reunions at Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, Virginia. The Graves offered trail rides on nice, gentle quarter horses and I joined the family on one or two occasions. It is the old-school equivalent of a self-drive car and the dumbest move you could make was to try to take over the steering mechanism. Just letting your mighty steed follow the butt of the mighty steed in front of you was the key to a successful round trip. We are not talking speed of light or a cloud of anything but methane here.
Now there's a thing about girls and horses, so while I did not have a chance to do much riding, as a parent I paid for miles and miles of equine adventure. My daughters started at a horse center in Columbia, Maryland for group lessons and both immediately took to the experience. Megan's career in the saddle was shortened by a runaway horse that careened her through the woods in a frightening lost-stirrups ride. I have named that horse "Lucky" for two reasons. First of all, Megan came through the experience physically unharmed. Second, it ensured that we only had one rider in the family when my daughters went to Garrison Forest School (GFS). Lucky retired Megan is one memorable ride.
In addition to being known for high quality academics in a nurturing environment, GFS is known for an exceptional horseback riding program. In the old adage, you get what you pay for, we paid for Brittany to enjoy and excel at horseback riding. And paid. And paid.
Helmet$$ Outfit$$ Boots$$$ Tack$$$ Saddle$$$$ Lessons$$$$$ Travel$$
But she loved it, so it was well worth it. Wasn't it?
Now, turn the clock forward to March, 2013 and the family is off to Costa Rica for a week-long adventure. Megan is now married to Drew and they are the proud parents of 9-month-old Harper Rose. We have a resort week of swimming, golf, and nature gawking planned. My one wish for the vacation was to ride horses on the beach with my two daughters.
Our lovely concierge at the resort arranged the horse-riding adventure, and late in our vacation week Megan, Brittany, and I met our young little gaucho at one of the nearby beaches. I don't recall if we picked out which of the three horses we would ride or whether our mounted guide did that for us. All three seemed deceptively chill at first greeting and I gingerly fit my too wide Hoka One One running shoe into the covered stirrup and hoisted myself onto the chestnut stallion.
As I was settling into the saddle I overheard a conversation between Brittany, our star rider with the guide as to what pace and route we were going to take. Trot? Sure. Canter? Fine. Gallop? Some. Beach? Oh yes. Hills? Absolutely. About an hour? Perfect. Me and Megan, the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of the posse just nodded like a couple bobble heads. We had just unwittingly been entered in the Kentucky Derby with very little input.
Photos first. The one that heads this blog is yours truly astride old "what's his name" about to embark on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride where at least Walt Disney provides a seat belt. We got a series of nice keepsakes, but as I look back on them, my daughter's horses looked way better than mine. Possibly owing to the length of my legs or my clumsy footwear, I am not looking at all like the resourceful masked rider of the plains or the stud in the shampoo commercials splashing through the waves. You can also glean from the ear position of my stallion that he is nervous and fully aware that he's got a student driver at the wheel.
So, with little warning, off went the Cisco Kid down the beach and our three well-schooled rentals took off after him and his pony. His trot soon became a canter and seamlessly turned into a splashing gallop. Not to be outdone, we were quickly in a death defying race to oblivion. Brittany was in a comfortable lead, then Megan, followed by Dad holding on for dear life. We were maybe two minutes into the adventure when my horse hit some soft sand with his left front leg and his hoof sunk to the pastern. He thought he was going down. I thought he was going down. As he stumbled I grabbed the reins and jerked my body in the opposite direction twisting and wrenching my back. He regained his footing, but my back felt like Tonto had put an arrow between L1 and L2. No one saw my little trick, so when I caught up with the team at the end of the beach, I had a choice to make. Either announce the injury and cancel the fun before it had even started or suck it up and prepare for 57 minutes on the torture rack. I picked door number 2, but decided I would be fourth in line for the remainder of the day giving me the opportunity to go slowly and try to gingerly stretch my back to relieve the periodic spasms. For those of you who have had a back injury or spasm know that plan is futile, but it gives you hope.
So, up into the hills we went...bumpity, bumpity, bump. The views were spectacular as was the pain the higher we climbed. When Megan looked back I would switch my face from grimace to smile. When our little caballero would break into another aggressive canter or a burst of gallop, I maintained my trot even though it meant constantly reining my horse in. Pulling back on the reins didn't feel good, but it was better than the jostle of a quicker pace.
Eventually my prayers were answered and we came out of the hills and into a long stretch of scrub brush that eventually turned into a dirt road through a ramshackled village of shotgun houses. Built from a combination of reused construction materials and "decorated" with shells and driftwood, they were flanked with free-range chickens and rusted car skeletons. Some houses had front porches with heavily used beach chairs and overstuffed sofas.
I could hear the highway traffic and had a sense that we were closing in on the end of the ride. So, I let my guard down.
Just then, at the last house on the street, the screened door flew open and out ran a barking, snarling terrier mix. Determined to defend his property, this devil dog sprung off the porch and came after the back legs of the last horse in line. My horse.
Well, all that stallion wanted to do was to get away from that damned dog and as quickly as possible. So, with no guidance from the injured driver, he stoked the coal into his cool engine and took off like a bat outta hell. With me laying down over his withers like Frankie Dettori aboard Enable and hanging onto his mane for dear life, we passed Megan, then Brittany, then a very shocked young guide. As we cleared the final horse I heard the guide yelling something in Spanish that I couldn't make out over my shoulder.
But, when I looked up through the ears of my galloping mount, I realized that the shout might have something to do with the busy highway that we were approaching at top speed. So with what little I knew about horsemanship, I yelled "whoa" and pulled the reins back toward my left hip. Miraculously, just like Silver pulling up in front of the Pioneer Saloon, my ride came to a screeching halt. A cloud of dust and everything.
Twenty seconds of absolute pants-wetting terror took my mind off my ailing back, but as soon as the horse stopped and I was once again aware of my surroundings, the unextracted arrow-like pain returned with a vengeance. I was able to slowly dismount and to shuffle across the highway to the van but felt every bump on the ride back. When we got to the condo, the girls couldn't wait to tell Hayden about my inadvertent victory in the Costa Rica Derby. I then announced my blown back and made my way to a recliner that became my refuge and sleeping place for the rest of our trip.
So, while my dream of an exciting splash through the waves and a speed of light gallop turned out differently than I had planned, my equine antics gave birth to yet another Constance family story that has stood the test of time and been passed down to my granddaughters.
And, after all, life is about the stories and riding to the sunshine.