If you haven’t read part 1 yet, why not start there?
My eyes are fully adjusted but still, I struggle to see. The shadowy dark outlines of those in front of me only just visible. I can just barely see bushes and shrubs lining the path on either side. The sky is cloudless, pin-pricked and illuminated, by thousands of stars, and a massive, bright, full moon, which stands proudly just above the horizon, casting a long shadow of Apache and I on the ground. The slow, rhythmic plod of Apache’s every step only just audible above the roar of crickets singing their tune for all to hear, each trying to be fully heard above all the other crickets.
It is my first time riding Apache, a handsome, black, male horse. With every step, Apache’s backbone digs into my bottom, sending pain resonating through it, a reminder I am riding bareback, both saddle-less and stirrup-less. It was only the day before I had first ridden bare-back, and it took some getting used to riding without stirrups; lacking such support, instead my thighs burn as they’re forced to work overtime, gripping Apache between them, keeping me firmly on.
Me, and three of the girls who I work with at the ranch, who are all fairly experienced with horses, are going for a moonlit bareback ride. “Horses have much better eyesight than humans,” I am told by one. I bloody hope so I think, because otherwise Apache and I are going to blindly fall over every bump, run through every fence and get knocked out by every low-hanging branch.
A few minutes after leaving the ranch, we reach the upper pasture. It appears that horses can see well in the dark: the ride thus far has been relatively smooth. I use the word smooth to suggest it has been without any problems or hiccups. Smooth is slightly different to uncomfortable, a word I didn’t use because, frankly, my posterior may well be on fire! We elect to go for a canter, something I am super keen for; I love new experiences, and a painful bum couldn’t make me miss out on this. There was the slight issue that this could be risky, but I pushed that thought away and went for it.
I click my tongue three times, jab Apache with my heels in his sides and sit up, ready for action, the beat of my heart now drowning out the crickets’ cacophony. And… Apache lowers his head and takes a big mouthful of grass.
I pull him up with my reins, jab him harder, and the pace increases, just slightly. Then, Georgia, who is leading the group on Gypsy pick up the pace, and they’re off, accelerating away from us. Apache, not wanting to be left alone, goes from walk to canter in about 0.6 seconds, catching me just a little off-guard. Riding Western allows me a free hand with which to grab and big handful of mane, a bonus I take full advantage of. My grip is tight, my knuckles white. My eyes can discern even less now, as I sit up, and make out a blur of dark bushes on either side as we glide across the pasture. My trust lies fully in Apache, myself being powerless to guide him through the trail, and hoping he sees every bump in the terrain. My focus is placed wholly in staying on.
Although there are four of us riding, each of us are in our own zone; half of me even forgets there are others around me as I’m stuck solely in the moment, relishing the liberating experience of speeding along so effortlessly, and having such power beneath me. And now, I can actually say it, I feel comfortable. Genuinely. Cantering is a relatively comfortable gait. It flows, but more than that, the whole experience is so thrilling; I can’t think of anything other than riding the horse in that particular moment, and what a great feeling that is. Although it’s dark, I’d say there was a good chance Georgia, Jess and Joanne could see the beaming smile planted firmly on my face.
I could end the story there, and that would illustrate well the point of this post: I am having a fantastic time working on this ranch, and am so glad to have taken these few weeks after camp until my visa expires to try out workaway. I have done things I never envisaged, such as the story above, only a week after arriving, and into my riding. But, there are also countless other things I have had the opportunity to do as a result of being on this workaway placement.
I have ridden in the midst of a lightning storm. This was a big sunset staff ride. The sky looking like an artist’s pastel, with all the shades of red and orange and even green imaginable. We are in a massive open expanse, allowing us to see the horizon stretching miles off in the distance for 360 degrees all around. Suddenly, a bright light just momentarily catches my peripheral. I turn my head and see a second blast of lightning among the clouds. We continue trekking across the plain on the way back to the ranch. Shortly, we are in the eye of a lightning storm, with a panorama of lightning all around us, fleetingly revealing the land in the distance, before the darkness again claims it back. The frequency of lightning surprisingly regular, lighting up distant skies every few seconds. It was simply impossible to hide from the lightning, or avoid seeing its dramatic beauty.
I have ridden down a creek. The water swirls around my feet, even while sitting atop Taffy. I had no idea it would be so deep! Thankfully, it is one of those summer’s days where only small wispy clouds hang in the deep-blue sky, and the sun’s heat is felt the instant you step from the shade. The cool water is refreshing, both for me and Taffy. Something feels very different about riding in water, compared to riding on land, maybe it’s just because it seems novel and new. People are relaxing on the banks of the creek, others walking their dogs, others going for a dip themselves. All turn their heads and watch as the procession of horses march through. This makes all of us feel pretty cool. I know I won’t forget riding down the creek in a hurry!
Finally, I have been kicked by a horse! What a story that is eh! I had to collect Ginger from her field. Wielding only a lead rope with which to collect her, I approach the inconspicuous mare, standing innocently chewing over a big mouthful of hay. As I approach, she permits me to stroke her face, but as I go to attach the lead rope, she runs past me. I take a single step in her direction, and a mighty back leg gets sent in my direction. I turn to evade it, but it lands squarely on my cheek, my bum cheek that is. It didn’t really hurt, more took me by surprise. I am now kind of proud of the dusty hoof print on my pair of shorts, still there even a few days later!
As mentioned above, these examples hopefully demonstrate that why I’ve had such an awesome couple of weeks. I have experienced things I probably never would have done otherwise. Had I been a paying guest, the $35 per hour price would simply not have been feasible. A working holiday bypassed this superbly.
For part 4 (the final one 😥 ), click here!