Adventures in Camping with Kids
Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Time to Trust an Animal: Horseback Riding in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Once we got to the ranch and the children saw the horses up close, their eyes were truly opened.
“How do I get up there,” a twin asked me.
“Where are the seatbelts on the saddle?” I asked.
But the wranglers [cowboys to us] had a system. They walked the horse over to a platform with stairs. We simply climbed the stairs and stepped into the saddle. But then the wrangler said something to the children, his right hand resting on the saddle horn. I didn’t know what it was, but as the horse left the platform, my children’s eyes widened to the point of bewilderment. Then I heard the wrangler when my turn came.
“Rawt, left, -n- stop,” a mere twitch of the wrist for the wrangler. My horse plodded away from the platform. Then it came to me. I shouted to the children as my horse entered the cluster of riders.
“The cowboy is telling us how to steer the horse! Reins to the right, turn right, reins to the left, and then pull back on the reins to stop,” I said exultantly. The riders applauded. I guess others had been contemplating explanation as well.
Guiding a horse was difficult for a family of tenderfoots like us. We held the reins up high—with a death grip—as we bounced along the trail. The path was narrow, maybe five feet in width, littered with the shale so common in the Appalachian Mountain Chain. The horses negotiated the path easier than our young family could have. The shade was welcoming as we wore long pants, knee socks, and sneakers to ride the horses.
We finally adjusted to the sway of our bodies in the saddle, ascending and descending the mountainous terrain, lurching turns, and gripping the saddle horn. But then the children’s horses became thirsty from all the work and drank from the streams and creeks we crossed. This caused gaps in the horse train so that the wrangler who followed behind us instructed the children to “yank the reins.”
So my little lightweights attempted to yank the thousand-pound horses’ heads out of the stream. The horses balked and yanked back on the reins as if to say, “I’m drinking here!” I was afraid the horses would unsaddle the children and told the wrangler so. He finally dismounted and pulled the children’s horses from the stream.
Then he instructed the children to click their heels against the horses’ flanks, shake the reins, and bounce in their saddles. First of all, the twins’ feet barely made it over the horses’ backs, let alone reach any “flank” material. Then, the children would perform the steps one at a time. When the wrangler said to do it all at once, the children simply reverse the process still doing one step at a time.
Then my son’s horse began ripping bites out of the saplings along the trail. Don’t they feed these horses, I thought. Eyes wide, my-ten-year-old makes a feeble attempt at yanking the horse away from the tender, delicious sapling he was sampling. The horse merely went to the next sapling. The wrangler had to lead the horse past the tempting saplings and back to the riding party.
After our exciting experience in the control and guidance of a thousand pound animal, we dismounted at the platform once again…and found that our hips would never be the same. We bow-legged over to the front of the horse and stroked its nose and patted its neck, a thank you for an adventure never forgotten.