After successfully avoiding the discomfort and awkwardness of riding a horse since I was in junior high at camp (a memory I had repressed along with that of my parachute pants), while on vacation, I found myself actually paying for the privilege of a two hour (yes, two hour) trail ride on the beaches of South Padre Island. The purpose of this voluntary humiliation was so that my competitive equestrian-riding daughter, Ally, wouldn’t have to do it alone and I could make the fatherly gesture of watching over and protecting her. It almost immediately became clear, though, that what I was really doing was providing comic relief for everyone there, and not because I was trying to be funny.
My first mistake, other than getting up that morning, was my outfit. Apparently, khaki shorts and flip-flops aren’t ideal equestrian attire–if you want to be able to walk afterwards. Because of my choice footwear, one of the guides (stifling his laughter) had to cram my feet into the stirrups for me as if I was Miss Piggy in the shoe department at Dillard’s. My shorts revealed my next problem. For some reason, I thought the saddle would be softer, or at least feel less like I was straddling a utility pole wrapped in razor wire. No matter which way I shifted, I found no relief from this contraption that seemed designed to turn me into a human croquet wicket. And every time I jostled the saddle in my attempts to find the spot without the broken glass, my horse looked back at me as if to ask, “Really?!”
Speaking of the horse, I was told that his name was Dr. Pepper. “How cool!” I thought. “I love Dr. Pepper!” At first I assumed he got his name from his dark caramel coloring, flecked with white–like the carbonation in my favorite soda. Or maybe his name came from his “peppy” spirit. I soon realized, however, that his name must have been based on his personality. He was like the cranky old lady who has to drink at least two full cans of Dr. Pepper a day while watching reruns of Family Feud, or her rheumatism acts up and she’s meaner than an old lady who ran out of Dr. Pepper and her game show was pre-empted by a Presidential State-of-the-Union Address announcing a plan to ban canned soft drinks and any television programs featuring Steve Harvey. On the day of my ride, there was no soda, and the survey said, “You’re dead!”
When we first started out along the shoreline, everything seemed fine. Dr. Pepper was actually moving, and I hadn’t fallen off and been trampled to death. He did seem to have a fixation with the hind quarters of the horse in front of us and had no respect for personal space. Ally was expertly guiding her horse left and right, in and out of the shallows with a mastery of the reins, occasionally throwing me a glance full of pity and embarrassment. I figured that if a thirteen-year-old girl could do it, I could, too. Or at least I could get Dr. Pepper to avoid exposing me to further ridicule because of where he chose to stick his nose. However, when I pulled my reins to the right or the left, Dr. Pepper just snorted what I’m sure was a horse insult at me and went right on nasally violating the leader horse. Oh, well, at least he was enjoying himself and not maiming me. I was even able to take a few (hundred) photos of Ally with my 35mm camera, which, while riding a horse, was a little like juggling a family of hedgehogs while balanced on a broom handle. Ally hates to have her picture taken, especially by me, so naturally, I risked life, limb, and lots of other body parts to take as many as possible.
To make the ride more interesting for us, and more amusing for the guides, they eventually led us off of the shoreline and up into some steep dunes that overlooked a beautiful valley. The serenity of this magnificent natural scene was soon shattered, however, by the sudden onslaught of a biblical plague of rabid pterodactyls. Ok, they were mosquitos, but when we swatted them, they actually made a thud on the ground. And remember; I was wearing shorts and flip flops, so when I first looked down at my legs, they looked like the buffet lines at Golden Corral on a Sunday after church. Dr. Pepper didn’t seem to mind that much. In fact, I think I heard him giggling.
Once we escaped the bloodbath in the dunes, we rode back down to the shore and through a shallow tidal marsh to see the sun setting over the water. It was a magnificent sight. Despite the hardships, it really was a special time to spend with my eldest child doing what she loves. I just hope she remembers this thirty years from now when I ask her to bring me my second Dr. Pepper and turn up “The Feud.”