It was my first trip to USA and actually my first time across the pond.
As usual, I was there on a business trip, but couldn’t resist the temptation to stay for an extra day and visit a real ranch. Bar-B-Ranch, accommodating about 50 horses, is one of the oldest and biggest in Florida.
Here at Bar-B-Ranch they have all kind of activities, including trail rides, summer camps… And as the Town of Davie’s Robbins Open Space Preserve public park is less than a ten-minute ride away, you can rent a horse for a photo-shoot or a special occasion and take stunning pictures there.
I chose the evening trail ride and was very happy to finally see palominos, appaloosas and quarter-horses, the types of horses I’ve been dreaming of since I was a child.
Bar-B-Ranch claims that they can accommodate riders of all riding abilities: from complete beginners to well-experienced riders. By the way, they don’t check your riding skills. Instead, you fill in and sign a special form, where you answer questions about your riding experience and confirm that you are aware of the risks. Our trail ride group consisted of approximately 20 people, and for half of them, that was their first time in a saddle.
So instead of a riding test, we had a twenty-minute long lecture on horse riding and horse behaviour.
Our instructor started with this interesting introduction: “We want this experience to be safe for everybody, and when we say everybody, we mean our horses as well.” Then he explained how to prevent horses from “horsing around” and it made me look at my favourite hobby with a different perspective.
He continued with aids and explanations and it was my favourite part of the theoretical lesson. We were told that there are 5 consecutive steps in “asking” horses to move forward, and only if the previous step hasn’t worked are we allowed to move on to the next one, and then the next one, and so on.
To tell you the truth, some steps surprised me.
First: smile and silently (in your mind) ask your horse to move;
Second: change position of your body to slightly forward and give the horse more rein;
Third: squeeze the horse with your lower legs.
Fourth: kick the horse slightly.
Fifth: produce that special “Yeeeeehaaaw” sound and throw your left hand up. Yes, exactly like cowboys in Marlboro ads and westerns do.
When the lecture was over, we were introduced to our horses. I got the 18-year-old ‘Candy’, which didn’t give me the slightest opportunity to practice all of the 5 steps. In fact, I barely even smiled and she was enthusiastically half-walking half-trotting forward. Despite the horse being fully-automated, riding her felt a bit unusual. First of all, western saddles are very different from the European ones I’m used to. Then the rein… In fact it wasn’t a rein at all; it was a piece of thick short cord which I was supposed to hold with my right hand only.
I think here I need to pause for a while and tell you about another horse in the herd, which played a comic role during our ride. Initially, I wanted to ride him because he was a really beautiful raven black gelding with a nice heart-shaped marking on his forehead. Not surprisingly, he was called Valentino. Unfortunately, he was given to another rider, a 20-something-year-old guy with characters from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” sleeve-tattooed on his arms.
The true meanings of the names of our horses become apparent when the whole group moved forward and stretched along the path. As Candy rushed forward, reacting to my half-smile, Valentino pursued her and stayed “glued” behind. The reason for it was noble but weird at the same time. In fact, Valentino loved Candy, but his love was strange to say the least. He liked to lick her croup. So every time Candy stopped, there was Valentino, diligently slobbering her hair. :-) I don’t know which of them got their name first – either Valentino for being so loving or Candy for being so sweet – but the names matched them perfectly.
Valentino’s rider was not very impressed with his behaviour, and every time we stopped I heard something like “Ok, here comes the butt again!” :-)
We rode for about 2 hours and I have to say Florida land is an amazingly colourful place even in the middle of November.
Of course, details of my trips and rides will probably fade with time, but one moment I will remember forever. And this piece of memory will become better and more vivid with years.
There was a dark alley and those of us who had ridden before and felt confident enough were allowed to canter there. As we started our mini-race along the alley hundreds of large colourful butterflies, as if by a magic wand, left the tree branches they were hiding on and flew around. I believe this was the most beautiful and fairy-tale-like place I’ve ever seen.
Bar-B-Ranch site: http://www.bar-b-ranch.com/