Sunday, August 2, 2009

Riding Lessons

We all had fantasies of riding horses and shooting bad guys when we were kids, especially if you were in my family. Watching Zorro or Clint ride through a mob of villains while exacting perfect aim with a three-foot rifle looked so appealing, so natural and effortless. After sitting through the whole Lonesome Dove series, I left with the feeling that riding a horse was as comfortable as the carrousels at the county fair and that any wild stallion could be tamed if you just combed his mane while looking gently into its eyes.

I later found out, the hard way of course that I was no horse whisperer. One of my first experiences on a horse was in Costa Rica and I’m not sure if you could call it a horse by American standards. Maybe it was a pony, or rather, a donkey. I’m not sure exactly, but I was extremely disappointed to find out that I was neither Zorro nor Mr. Eastwood when atop a saddle. I bounced uncontrollably and clenched the horn with a death grip just like a toddler riding a large dog. After my humbling ride, I took a long hiatus from the professional circuit until arriving in Ecuador in 2005. While traveling along the Ruta del Sol on the Pacific Coast my friends and I rented horses to ride through one of the tropical forests. Of course I stepped up as the experienced rider believing, really believing I had some residual talent left over from my days of television-osmosis-training. Not twenty minutes into the ride my horse busted into a cantor while I desperately pulled at the reins, bobbing and weaving through the trees. Terrified he was running a decapitation route specially designed for gringo tourists, I bailed. And it wasn’t like I jumped off the horse with some heroic calculation, oh no, once again I held onto the trusty Oh Shit Bar, ie: the horn, and dangled my legs off one side until I couldn’t hold on any longer. I tumbled with camera gear and tripod still clinging to my back.

So after another long break from the PBR, I was ready to get back to the basics by 2009. This time I had no trouble signing up under the “beginner” section of the roster at the A Bar A.

The following photos were taken in awe of the wranglers and their ability to do what I could never do: stay on the saddle.

Often before the sun rises, wranglers ride out for the cinematic morning "jingle," guiding more than one hundred horses in from their evening pasture. With bells ringing and lariats whipping through the air, a stampede of hooves and muscle explodes down the single track. Like runaway trains, the horses rip through the clouds of dust, nostrils flaring and huffing to combat the stinging particles stirred before them. Grains of sand dance like popcorn, gophers retreat underground, and the earth trembles as the half-ton herbivores barrel across the sagebrush. Wranglers lead the pack, perfectly poised on their horses at incredible speeds, shouting out to rebellious strays until safely reaching the corral.

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