Monday, May 20, 2013

The truth shall set you free

Since I've been riding horses, I've enjoyed taking horseback rides practically every where I vacation. Dale and I go together on most of them. My trainer has always given me the same advice: don't tell them that you know how to ride.

The myth is that if a rental place knows you ride, they'll give you the rankest beast in the place. The reality is probably more understandable. If a tour guide has five people and one knows how to ride, they'll probably give the more experienced rider the horse that has to be handled a little more.

It's the way Niki figures out which girls ride which horses in our group lessons.

Usually, I tell the stables that I ride "a little." I try to say it with a shrug. Once I'm on a nice, quiet horse and we're walking down the path, I confess. That way, I get to look at the scenery instead of actively ride through it.

When Dale and I were going to Cambria, I looked for horseback riding and found Outback Trails. They do some trail rides around Cambria, but they also do a ride through a vineyard, followed by a complimentary wine tasting. Horses and wine? Count me in.

I exchanged emails with a chipper Aussie named Mick, then on Friday, Dale and I wound our way through the wine country of the Central Coast until we found Cass Winery on Linne Road. It looked like a lovely vineyard, and a beautiful day.

"So, Day-yul and Gay-yul," Mick said in his very Aussie accent. He was not very tall, very trim, and had the largest, whitest teeth I've ever seen. "Hae much roiding haeve ya done?" (Translation: Dale and Gayle, how much riding have you done?)

I did my usual, "a little" shrug, then looked at Dale and added, "he's done..." My morning brain did a quick calculation - if I've done a little, then Dale's done... "less."

Mick went off with his assistant Charlie (not Aussie, but Idahoian) to get the horses. Dale used this opportunity to shoot me The Look. "Less?" he asked. I shrugged. "Relatively. Niki wears her tennis shoes, tells them she doesn't ride, and tries to put the wrong foot in the stirrup. At least I'm wearing my boots."

I heard my name, so I walked over to a fairly average-sized buckskin. Charlie put the mounting block next to the horse and started to help me up, when Mick said, "Wait, tie off the lead rope first. It'll be easier in the long run." At this point, Charlie started looping the lead rope over the saddle horn and I was chatting and they were chatting and we were all chatting and I forgot what I was doing.

"There you go," Charlie said after the rope was secured. "Now you can get up."

I saw the knotted reins lying on the horse's neck, and in one natural swoop, I picked them up, grabbed the saddle, and swung up. Mick was on the other side, giving me another kind of Look.

"You say you've ridden a little?" he asked, smiling.

I folded like a defective card table. "Okay-I-own-two-Quarter-horses-and-show-competitively," I blurted.

"When you grabbed those reins, I knew you had to have some experience," Mick told me. "Non-riders don't know to do that."

I explained that I just wanted a relaxing walk and told him of my trainer's advice. He smiled even bigger. "All trainers tell us they don't ride, just because they want an easy day." Then he patted my horse. "Bear here is our gentlest horse. He's the one I put my three-year-old on."

Me and Bear

Bear, gave me a very easy ride. Dale and I followed Charlie on his horse, and Mick driving a wagon pulled by two Belgians (it was their first day here), while we wandered around the various paths of the vineyard for an hour. Charlie and I chatted the whole time about horses and working and weather and winemaking. (Turns out, when he's not a guide, Charlie is a farrier. He's new to the area and trying to build his business.) Dale's bay horse, Frankie, was in a mellow mood and didn't want to walk that fast, so they would get very far behind us and Dale would have to make him trot to catch up.

After our thoroughly enjoyable ride, we went over to the winery and got a free wine tasting plus half-price on a fruit and cheese plate. It was all relaxing and lovely and a great way to start our day of winetasting.

Will I continue to do my "I ride a little" shrug? If I do, I have to learn not to grab the reins on my way up.

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