It’s a long way down.
My steed, unable to resist temptation, has stopped abruptly to snatch a mouthful of wild fennel, and had I been less stable, he might have jerked me out of my seat and on the fast track to meet my maker as we are inches from the edge.
But he didn’t and I wasn’t, and my heartbeat gradually normalises again as I gaze at the beauty of the valley below whilst Major chomps away contentedly.
‘Sista! Come on! You’re lagging behind! Pull him away firmly, he needs to know who’s boss!’
Yeah, I think he’s already across that, thanks.
‘C’mon gorgeous.’ I carefully pull him back with the reins, reluctant to hurt his mouth as he no doubt, inwardly sniggers at my wimpy efforts, and decides of his own volition to take pity on me, keep up with the party and move on.
He’s a big old hombre is Major. I thought they’d give me a little pony/donkey/armchair hybrid, given my lack of experience as a rider, but I got the tallest one in the stable, and as much as I was keen to experience riding in the mountains, there was a good minute where I had considered asking someone for an extendable ladder, sliding guiltily off his massive back and taking a taxi back to the retreat.
And if I’d known the route we’d be taken, i.e. not a nice man made path but pretty rugged terrain, almost vertical in places, I wouldn’t have even taken a minute. I’d have been outta here faster than greased weasel shit.
I’m so glad I didn’t bail though.
Because after that initial shaky start, I realised that I was in good hands, and distracted by the spectacular views, revitalised by the smell of wild flowers and herbs, and soothed by the steady thunk of hooves on rock I realise I’m feeling the best I have so far since leaving Blighty.
It’s the first day I haven’t wanted to go home.
This steadfast old boy doesn’t judge me, apart from my riding skills, that is, and even then, he’s tolerant and forgiving.
He has no expectations of me and hopes only that I treat him with kindness and respect.
And the biggest plus of all, we don’t have to make tedious small talk (although I bet he’d have something interesting to say), and in a matter of minutes we are talking the same language anyway so to speak.
It seems that somehow, some way, two have become one, as I am now so relaxed that we are pretty synchronised and I am able to move in a way that is comfortable (ish) for me and helpful for him.
I actually feel like the top half of a Centaur which is a wondrous t’ing, innit. In all fairness I probably feel like a sack of spuds to poor old Major, but he can’t speak so I’m going to pretend he loves this too 🙂
We could call ourselves Sajor! Or Mista, depending on your preference. Either way I feel nothing but love for him and wish I could keep him and do this every day.
And happily, he is not in the least bit offended by the SBD’s I keep letting go whilst no one is listening, and anyway, I’m sure he’s more than a match me for me when he gets going. Yes, the veritable compost heap of vegetable matter I dine on every day back at base is still giving my belly gyp….
I can hear the rest of the party squawking at each other, filling the air with mindless chatter, attempting to hold conversations despite the distance between them, but apart from occasionally shouting ‘Sorry?’ or smiling/shrugging at my inability (i.e. unwillingness) to hear, I keep out of it, and relish a companionable silence with my new friend.
Major and I are now quite near the front, and as a few of the others are now lagging behind, our host asks us to stop for a moment and wait for them.
Suddenly Maj does his ‘drive by’ herb snatching thing, taking me under a tree with him, and I have to duck so I’m not knocked out of the saddle.
‘Sista! Pull him back! He’s taking the piss out of you!’
Oh fuck off.
Leave him alone. How would you like it if you were surrounded by chips, cheesecake or salted caramels and you weren’t allowed to eat some?
I grin sheepishly at my well meaning instructor, then lean forward to pat my boy’s neck and scratch his mane. Then as I peer through the branches and take in another truly glorious vista, I sigh inwardly with happiness.
‘Behold the glory of my kingdom,’ says a voice in my head, warm, resonant with a soupçon of mischief, ‘and yet you want to leave…’
I repeated the sentence in my head. Did I say that? Does it sound the same?
It did. I think?
Ha that’s it, I’m making this up.
I’m so fucking lonely I’m imagining things. If this continues, I’ll end up on Oprah talking about the big gang of imaginary friends in my head whilst sporting a nice, designer straightjacket and foaming at the mouth in between takes whilst she coos at me empathically, hoping I don’t ask her to join the ‘Mad Sista Massive’.
‘Behold the glory of my kingdom; and yet YOU want to leave!’
I’m getting a bit irate now.
‘Yes, well that’s easy for you to say,’ I respond silently as we set off on our trail again, ‘but it isn’t always like this, is it?’
There you go. I knew I was imagining it.
PHUUTT, PHUT, BLUT BLAT!!
Major lets a ninety second fart of such explosive, stinky magnitude that the entire troup bursts out laughing and several of his horsy mates neigh in appreciation.
I laugh too, but am aware that the timing is suspiciously telling.
Was that all down to you Maj, or is that The Man Upstairs sending me an impressive, multi media raspberry at my lack of appreciation and enthusiasm for my life on this earth?
The stench rises.
Jesus, that is toe curlingly harsh. I cough and waft it away with my free hand.
‘Easy Tiger,’ I warn sotto voce, ‘I’ve been going easy on you so far, and you’ve just thrown down the gauntlet!’
A few minutes later, our leader pauses at a fork in the road and turns to address the group, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun.
‘Listen you lot, you have a choice now. You have another forty minutes, but if you’re too tired and saddle sore you can go back with Mitch now. OR, if you’re really enjoying yourself, we can take this trail past the river, but we won’t necessarily get back in time, and depending on what’s down there, we may be at least an hour. What do you think?’
I know which group I’m going with.
As, whilst I’m normally at loathe to even leave my flat/room, when it comes to days like these, I’ll always take the long way home.
Thanks Big Guy, for this day at least.