“No gallop!” I yelled as I stomped my foot.
I was standing in a field of tall grass with a breathtaking view of Cotopaxi, one of the world's largest live volcanoes, beside a speckled white horse. It wasn’t the giant volcano in the distance that was making me afraid; it was the small horse blinking at me with unassuming eyes. A guide stared down at me from his saddle with amusement.
I was one week into a three week trip exploring Ecuador and in that moment I was really pissed.
I hadn’t been on a horse since almost ten years earlier, when a spontaneous afternoon horse-back riding adventure ended with a fractured pelvis and weeks of recovery.
I had carefully explained to our guide in broken Spanish, exaggerated facial expressions, and hand gestures at the beginning of our four hour ride that I was nervous and timidly asked if he was sure my horse would never take off on a gallop. A slowly plodding line of hooves was what I had in mind. Imagine my surprise when he slapped my horse on the ass as I passed by and sent the whole group of motley travelers galloping into the abyss, his cackling laughter trailing after us.
By this time my horse and I had cultivated something of a friendship--he could sense my empathy when we passed a horse carcass on the trail earlier. He had been afraid, his ears pulled back and his eyes tracking the hulking remains as we passed. His fears had reverberated those ringing in my psyche since mounting, fears I kept swallowing as a big ugly lump but that kept pushing back up to my throat the whole ride. I continued to oscillate between 95 and 105 % terrified the entire journey despite some very concentrated yogic breathing.
Really though— what was I thinking to get “back on the horse” in a third world country for a four hour ride in the Andes countryside? The journey from Quito had been long, winding and arduous. We were hours, or even days, away from medical assistance. I must have wanted to give my self no option for turning back.
I didn’t let go this time when my horse took off on a gallop. I screamed instead, jerked on the reins until he stopped, dismounted, and threw one hell of a tantrum.
I’m calling it growth.
The guide offered his hand and gently guided me back into the saddle, finally aware of the cruelty of his joke as my travel companion explained to him more clearly my past experience and that this was my first attempt at riding since. The guide walked his horse beside mine the rest of the trip and offered up bits of simple Spanish small talk in apology, which I accepted gladly and even managed to learn a few new phrases, such as "como una tortuga" (like a tortoise).