Over the weekend, I went horseback riding for the first time ever. As a child, I once sat on a pony while it was forced to walk in a circle at a random carnival but I don’t really consider that riding. This all started as plans for my friend Rita’s birthday. She organized a day trip to Griffith Park Horse Rentals here in the Los Angeles area. I had my usual instant repulsion as I do with all new things outside my comfort zone and I didn’t RSVP. Finally, I decided “Fuck it, I’m in”. When am I going to have this chance again? Because I would never do this on my own.
We arrived at the stables and met our friends at the check-in table. The only thing I knew coming in was to wear pants, closed toe shoes and it would cost $25 plus a tip for our guide/instructor. Cowboys hats recommended, not required. First step was completing a lengthy waiver where you initial and sign our life away (in the event of an accident). This was all done on iPads but the place only accepts cash. Strange.
Once we completed the legal, we each had to pay. I had my $25 ready when the lady running the show told me to step on a nearby scale. No one else had do this so far. I hated the number the scale read and apparently that means more than just shame. It would cost me $35 for the hour ride. The proprietor didn’t have to explain. It was your classic fat tax. I paid but my feelings were hurt.
The lady pointed out a rack of helmets in the stable, I wanted to be cool enough to turn down the optional protection and let my dope bandana do the talking but the chances of me falling off the horse seemed more than reasonable. Plus I had just signed that long contract and didn’t even try to scan any of it. I choose a large white bike helmet and strapped it on.
Our crew was quite large, maybe 15 riders plus two guides. They circled us up in the gate area and we were given a brief tutorial. I expected a longer speech but nope, here comes the business. A guide would match riders with a horse. You climbed a small set of stairs and hopped on. I was nearly last and feeling nervous. Then they brought my horse. Roland. He was gigantic. Like a blond Budweiser Clydesdale. And suddenly that extra $10 made total sense. I needed a large horse. Everyone else on the team was rocking mediums while I was driving Roland. Or Ro Ro as I often called him.
I joined the others at the start of the path. Roland pushed his way through my mounted buddies and found the fence. I gave a test tug on the reigns and he flared his head back like he hated it and me. Roland chomped on some grass while we waited for the last riders. Overall, there were a few large horses but mine was still the biggest and coolest. The real question was, would he listen to me?
Our main guide took the lead and started us down the path. The great part about being on the horse in this scenario is that they mostly follow each other and they run this path multiple times a day. So they know where they are going and they won’t do anything that would endanger themselves and by proxy, you. That being said, there was still lots of freedom on the trail. This isn’t some slow, daisy-chained nonsense. It’s you on the horse and unless you are screaming for help or under visible duress, you are on your own. You also cross the driveway, right off the main road you enter from and I still assumed my horse would run into traffic.
We get moving and Roland sprints through the pack and gets upfront. Second behind the guide. This is a position we would maintain for most of the ride. Not because of me, but because Roland demanded it. And it wasn’t coincidence. If another horse got ahead of us, Roland would speed up and cut them off to retake the spot. The trail was really pretty and had lots of fun details like bridges, tunnels, inclines and even one muddy descent. Roland did great and he even starting taking a few of my suggestions. I felt like we were bonding but maybe I’m just projecting. Like when a guy thinks a stripper actually likes him.
All the recent rain made for a muddy run. But every time I thought the the road looked slippery or treacherous, Roland would expertly navigate each straight. He did have a penchant for walking painfully close to the edges of drop offs and into groups of branches but I chalked that up to him teasing the new guy. It was truly an awesome experience. I felt like an warrior on my steed, racing into battle. Even if help was standing by.
My basic takeaway is that these horses see us as substitute teachers. They can instantly tell when you saddle up whether or not you know what you’re doing. And if they determine you are a newb then they become the boss. Examples of this in our group included some biting, some bucking and some general horseplay. But that’s what made the experience real. This wasn’t the carnival pony ride, this was legit horseback riding. It was thrilling, tons of fun and weirdly humbling. Hats off to the staff of Griffith Park Horse Rentals, they run a great operation and they helped me cross something off my bucket list. Everyone should get on a horse at least once.