Three discounted cheers for Groupon.
I should start all blog posts like that. Maybe the Groupon Fairy (I’m a believer) would then come down and send me an endless stream of possibilities. Like a bluetooth shower speaker for post-mother’s day at 69.57% off. Or a sketchy looking massage at a seriously sketchy looking massage place for 11.99% off. Or a sky diving *experience* for only $10, which expires when you go thud.
Oh wait, that fairy exists, doesn’t it? In my email inbox. Yes. Yes, it does. Every day. Every hour. EVERY SECOND.
Anyhoozers, the reason I speaketh of the Grouponeth is that I made use of it’s services this past Christmas for my eldest in the form of an adventure trail ride on horseback. And I finally cashed that bad boy in yesterday, after my daughter called me out for “sometimes” not following through with things I said I would do, a reflection that came one evening immediately after she reported that she wasn’t actually listening to me read to her because she was busy imagining me with a mustache, “because you already have so many white hairs right there - like, long ones.”
She is acutely accurate on both fronts.
And, don’t worry, the Groupon was expired, but I guess that happens to a lot of whiny people because the expiration rules are really not that bad. Meaning, we made it to our trail ride adventure with only a few extra bucks spent.
It was clear right off that bat that we were in for my type of gritty experience. The woman checking us in was a beautiful 20-something year old named Olivia, who was holding a beat-up cell phone in her grimy left hand as she handed me with her right hand $9 in change from a wadded bunch of sweaty bills in her pocket. It wasn’t until she put the phone down to tell us to sign the waiver that I saw her left eye, which had obviously been stabbed by some sort of sharp trail riding debris or maybe *just* kicked by a crazed horse. My eldest stood back quickly with her mouth wide open, the scrolling thoughts in her head probably all starting with the word “zombie.” Olivia smirked and pointed to Where the Helmet Things Are; a helmet being the sort of accessory that would usually incite 20 questions from my "what-if" kiddo, but after the sight of Olivia’s face, it appeared better left under-investigated.
Olivia then instructed us to walk over to a group of logs in the middle of a field and wait for further direction. It was at that time that she handed me the reins of a very large horse and motioned forward with her hand as if flicking a bug from the air. As I moved to an unknown destination with the large horse now stamping and shoving its nose into my back, I watched as Olivia handed the reins of an even larger horse to my teeeeeeny tiny 7 year old, whose teeeeeeny tiny hands barely wrapped around the rope fully.
As Olivia guided two other riders to their horses, I stood aside my four legged beast remembering all the no-nos I had learned from my riding days when I was 12. “Do not stand behind a horse.” Check. “Horses like carrots.” Uncheck. “Horses smell fear.” Uncheck.
I was scared. Horses are scary, at least at first. If you are not scared by a 1,000 pounds animal with a huge mouth and the ability to outrun a (slow) Porsche, then you are either Olivia or weird. Anyway, I decided to beat the final no-no to the punch and said in a loudish whisper to my horse, “Hey. I’m kinda scared.”
If horses can roll their eyes, I promise, this beast did. And on top of that, she threw her muzzle into my chest and nearly knocked me over. I convinced myself it was a gesture of endearment, as if we had conquered some sort of bonding ritual, and thusly started rubbing her neck like I saw Robert Redford do in The Horse Whisperer. Meanwhile, I remembered that I was a mother (bonus) and glanced over at my eldest, who stood motionless and rather pale as her very large horse kicked and neighed behind her with taut reins.
It was then that Olivia’s real charm came through. She walked over to each of us one by one and instructed us to mount our horse so she could adjust the stirrups, which I only discovered was the goal after she began manhandling my legs to and fro over the saddle, barking out in a monotone voice with very clear and specific action items. “No, your left foot.” “No, the other one.” “Did I say put your foot back in the stirrup? No.” “Look, if your heels aren’t down and your toes aren’t up, then when - not if - something were to happen, you’d be stuck in the saddle and there’s a little kid in this trail ride, so I can’t say anymore. But.”
She was a little more helpful with my eldest, offering the suggestion: “Act like you’re heavy.”
It became very clear to me that A) Olivia deals with all sorts of people, ranging from those who don’t know their right toe from their left ear to those that think they were a cowboy yesterday, and B) Olivia has seen some crazy shizzle develop as a consequence of all of the above. It just so happened that in our trail ride was some guy who certainly did not know his right toe from his left ear, but also thought you could ride a horse like you would while cruising down Richmond Avenue circa 1998 in a decked out Honda Accord. She made sure he knew this was a bad idea:
“Hey, dude. First off, your helmet is on backwards. Second, you can’t low ride a horse. You actually have to sit up. Like, up. With your own muscles.”
And that’s when she launched into a pretty brilliant lecture about the demeanor of horses, explaining that they have the mentality of a 7 year old kid. "They’ll test you, they’ll walk all over you, and they will certainly be able to detect confidence." “But,” she continued, “they are also all uniquely their own horse just as we are all uniquely our own person," her face lighting up when she detailed each one’s idiosyncracies as if they were her best friends.
As I lost myself in the daze of Olivia the beautiful superhero pirate horse wrangler/lover, I caught a glimpse of my eldest being taken for a rough ride next to me. Apparently her horse, Simba, got bored easily and had a consequential oral fixation, meaning he ate whatever he could whenever the mood struck. This time, it was a happy green leafy plant lingering not very nearby.
Olivia switched into wrangler mode and started yelling at Ella, whose face was white and body totally stiff. “Both hands on the reins! NO, do not do that! DO NOT HOLD THE SADDLE. Hey, you have to listen to me. YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT ME AND LISTEN OR ELSE. Both. Hands. On. The. Reins. PULL. BACK.”
I could tell Ella wanted rescuing, or at least an exit sign somewhere under the saddle that led directly into a vortex of happy pink ponies who lick rainbows and do ballet. But, alas. Olivia rushed up next to her with her horse, doing a fancy swooshing thing in the dirt that I had only ever seen happen successfully in a Western flick.
“Ella. PULL BACK HARD. H A R D. What is wrong with you? LISTEN. HAAAAAAAAAAAAARD!!!”
And, Ella did. Finally. Both hands on the reins and she pulled back. Hard. Simba pulled his head up back to its manageable position and stood calmly, continuing chomping on his happy green plant like nothing happened, the storm and pulse of his muscles at a sudden ease.
“Good job. Excellent, Ella. Now I know you can do that A LOT for the next hour and a half.”
Olivia took us down and around and over and yonder on the trail after that, her directions staying equally assertive, but the tough love in her shining through. And in between teaching us how to meander over logs and around snakes (I know), she had the patience to respond to the numerous questions coming from Low Rider regarding the possibility of “wild cannabis” on the trails. “I mean, have you ever seen it?” “And, what would happen if my horse ate wild cannabis?”
Of course, I took away a huge life lesson here to share in blogville. Olivia broke through an age old rule I have followed my entire life of being nice. Of being a polite and pleasant girl. The world taught me that if I was pretty and nice and gentle and allowing and smilely and generous and even-toned and sacrificial and meek and people-pleasing that I would be rewarded with safety and success. The trouble is that adopting that paradigm of girlhood only leads to an inauthentic life as a young woman in which you sign up for things that are not authentically yours. Which, in the end, inevitably results in pain within yourself and pain within anyone or anything to which you are inauthentically attached.
We all know women like Olivia. And when they were our peers in middle or high school, we may have even called them bitches. Or we may have been scared of them. We may have let them sit smoldering by themselves while we placated our environment around us. But, when that sort of energy shows up like it does in Olivia, it’s nothing even remotely close to a smolder. It’s assertiveness and laughter in the face of fear. It’s a willingness to be yourself, no matter the perceived assault of what that sort of commitment requires.
Horses teach you this: 1) Be assertive, and 2) Taking time to be afraid can result in your doom (or at least a hard fall). What Olivia demonstrated to me - and, even more profoundly, to my daughter - is that assertiveness is a willingness to strip fear away and take necessary action instead. Isn't it so often in life that we feel like we are sitting atop of half ton beast of an unpredictable, unknown impetus? Our options are to let fear wash over us and stifle our natural instincts for resolution and action-hero level proactivity OR to sit up taller in our saddles and be a leader even in the unknown.
You can’t just be willing to go for the ride. You have to be willing to pull hard and act heavy.
As for the wild cannabis, Low Rider left disappointed.