Being flexible when traveling is a key component to enjoying your trip. Things aren’t going to go exactly as you planned them and the sooner you learn to roll with the punches (or in this case, the changing weather) the more fun and less stress you’ll have on your vacation.
During a recent trip to Iceland, on the day we were scheduled to take a whale watching trip, we woke up to rain and howling winds. From our bedroom window we could see the waves kicking up on the fjord. Over breakfast, I confessed to my traveling companions that there wasn’t enough Dramamine on the planet to make the whale watch enjoyable in these conditions and I hoped it would be rescheduled. Everyone sighed with relief. Apparently we had all been thinking the same thing, but no one wanted to disappoint anyone else. A quick call to the whale watching company confirmed that the boats would not be going out and we booked a trip for the next afternoon.
“We have an unexpected free day. What should we do?” Chamomile asked.
When we were in the early planning stages of the trip, I considered a tour where we would get to ride Icelandic horses. These horses are shorter and have patient, cheerful dispositions which make them an excellent option for inexperienced riders. Short and patient is my specialty, so I truly appreciate those qualities in an animal I’m going to rely on to squire me around.
Other adventures took priority so horseback riding didn’t make the final cut. Now that we had time, I suggested it. Everyone loved the idea. After some research on TripAdvisor, we called a nearby farm that offered tours of the surrounding countryside. Cheerio told them we had never ridden horses and they recommended their two hour tour.
When we arrived at the farm, there were five horses saddled up and waiting along with our guide.
As we approached the horses I leaned over to Oregano, “These horses aren’t as small as I thought they’d be.”
“They are smaller than regular horses. They just look big to you because you are so short.”
We were outfitted with gloves and a helmet then our guide gave us a quick tutorial on how to hold and use the reins. People have been riding horses for thousands of years. I thought I could manage this feat for the next two hours.
Our guide then brought each horse over one at a time and explained how to correctly mount them. Cheerio was the first up and looked comfortable in the saddle as his horse patiently waited for the rest of us. Oregano was up next and did equally well. Then it was my turn. The guide walked my horse, Clara, over and introduced her to me.
For a person with no horseback riding experience, getting onto a horse is no small endeavor. When the person with no experience is less than five feet tall, getting onto a horse is a small miracle. The guide held my horse steady and I put my foot in the stirrup. This meant that my left foot was now resting on a small piece of metal with my knee slightly higher than my hip. I was supposed to push down on the stirrup with my left leg while flinging my right leg over the saddle. I’m no expert in the laws of human physiology, but there was no way I was going to be able to hoist myself onto the horse from this position. Frankly, I was impressed that I could lift my foot as high up as I did to get it into the stirrup. This little expedition was my suggestion so I was going to give this my best effort.
I pushed down mightily on my leg in the stirrup and pushed off the ground with my other leg. With all of that exertion, I managed to get my right foot 6 inches off the muddy ground.
“Try again on the other side. Use your right leg this time. It’s stronger,” everyone encouraged me.
Try again?! I was surprised I wasn’t hanging upside down with my left leg caught in the stirrup. Don’t I get any credit for not falling off completely and landing in a pile of horseshit?
I switched sides and tried again, but got the same result. Clara was very patient while this uncoordinated human attempted to climb onto her back.
Sensing this exercise was not going to end with me in the saddle, the guide disappeared for a minute and came back with a milk crate.
“Step on that to help you,” she instructed.
The crate did the trick, but the guide still needed to shove my ass to help me up and over the back of the horse. A more unglamorous mounting of a horse would be hard to imagine.
Sitting astride the horse, reins lightly in my hands, I took a moment to congratulate myself for successfully getting into the saddle. Just then, the horse jerked her head forward pulling the reins and me along with them.
“Yikes!” I cried out. “Why did she just do that?” I asked the guide.
“Clara is excited to go for a walk. Once we are going, she won’t do that.”
As Chamomile got on her ride, I sat there desperately trying not to be yanked over my horse’s head. Just sitting still on horseback was proving to be a challenge for me. I was not liking my chances of staying on this creature for the duration of our tour.
When we started moving forward, I was downright terrified, but I tried to project an outward calm so as not to worry my companions. My anxiety is my own problem and I try not to visit it on anyone else.
“You look good up there,” Chamomile said. Oregano looked over at me and could see the nervous smile plastered across my face.
“That’s her scared smile,” Oregano noted to our friends who weren’t familiar with my particular hybrid of grimace and smile.
After a few more steps, my horse started shaking her neck and back. This was probably just her moving, but she may as well have been a bucking bronco. We hadn’t even gotten to the entrance of the farm yet. My nerves were completely jangled and I was ready to bail.
“You know what?” I calmly called out to the group, “I think I’ll wait in the car.”
“You’re not going to wait in the car,” Oregano said. “We’ll be gone for a long time and you’ll miss out on this experience.”
“This has already been an experience. I have my book. I can absolutely wait in the car. Go ahead without me. I’ll be fine here,” I said as the horse pulled her head forward again.
The guide realized I was not doing well and asked me to come up next to her so she could help me. I attempted to move, but couldn’t seem to get the horse to go where I wanted. The guide gave me a few suggestions which I employed to no avail. Despite the beautiful Icelandic landscape splayed out in front of us, I desperately wanted to get off this horse.
As I was fantasizing about the comfort and safety of the back seat of our rental car, the guide sidled up next to me and hitched my horse to hers.
“Clara seems a little fussy today, but having her next to my horse will keep her in line,” she said.
We started walking again. My horse seemed to calm down. I wondered if the guide could hook something up to me to calm me down, too. Why hadn’t I thought to take a tranquilizer before doing this?
Our parade of horses walked along the trail in the stunning Icelandic countryside. The rain and wind had started up again, but it just lent more beauty to the setting. We were surrounded by a heather covered meadow where sheep wandered around grazing as a stream meandered past. The only sounds we heard were the horses’ hooves on the ground, the babbling water and the bleating of the sheep. It was surreal scenery.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to see so much natural beauty and I was focusing on it to distract myself from the fact that I was sitting on the back of a very large animal. When we arrived at a one-horse wide bridge, our guide dismounted, unhooked my horse from hers and handed me the reins.
“You’re doing a great job. You can handle the horse across the bridge,” she said.
As soon as I had the reins in my hands again, the horse jerked her head forward.
“Here we go again,” I murmured as I contemplated the temperature of the water in the stream into which this horse would surely pitch me.
I watched as my friends smoothly navigated their horses across the wooden bridge. I’d been sitting on my horse for 45 minutes and I hadn’t fallen off. That was quite an accomplishment. I could do this! Alas, my horse did not seem to share my positive attitude. She refused to move.
Our guide once again grabbed a tether for my horse and led her across the bridge closely following behind her horse.
Once safely across the bridge, Clara remained attached to the guide’s horse and we continued through the meadow walking closely side by side. As we were walking, I realized that my right leg was often brushing up against the buttocks of the guide’s horse. The tail was gently brushing over my leg. It was at this moment that a new worry presented itself. What if this horse crapped on me? I considered looking down at my own foot, but didn’t dare shift my gaze for fear of falling off.
I could always just ask my husband and friends if I had horseshit on my leg. Surely they would have said something if this was the case. Then again, they all knew I was uncomfortable. Telling me I had been shat upon wouldn’t make me feel any better and there was nothing I could do about it anyway. Did I really want to know? My anxiety was already in overdrive. In this case, I decided that ignorance was bliss.
I kept my eyes on the horizon trying to pick out the barn in the distance. I thought we were heading back when the guide took us across the road and up a hill. As I held on to the saddle and tried not to roll backwards off the horse, I marveled at how well she handled walking uphill on loose rocks.
When we reached the top, the guide announced that we would be taking a short break. Really? Can’t we just get this over with? I kept these thoughts to myself, but when the guide suggested we dismount the horses, I spoke up.
“As much as I would love to get off the horse, I won’t be able to get back on.” I was already contemplating the idea of being back on my own two feet and hiking to the farm. Despite the long walk, the thought made me giddy with relief.
“There are lots of tall rocks,” she gestured to our immediate surroundings. “You can stand on one of those instead of the crate.”
I actually laughed at this suggestion. This young girl didn’t know my proclivity for clumsiness. Attempting to get onto a horse from atop a wet, moss covered rock, all but guaranteed that our next tour in Iceland would be of an emergency room.
Everyone else climbed out of their saddles and was walking around. Realizing that I most likely did not have the physical coordination or the emotional fortitude required to get back onto this animal, my friends convinced the guide that the best course of action was to leave me right where I was.
After 10 minutes, everyone else nimbly remounted their horses. They wanted a group picture and lined up around me before we headed off down the hillside. As we rounded a bend, the barn appeared. The end was literally in sight. I just had to hang on for a few more minutes.
When we arrived at the stables, Chamomile climbed down from her horse and announced, “That was a once in a lifetime experience!”
“It absolutely was! I am never getting on another horse in my lifetime,” I replied as I ungracefully slid off the horse and my feet landed in a puddle.