Warm sunny weather has finally arrived, bringing with it prime trail riding weather. I‘ve noticed fliers posted around town inviting new members to a local horseback riding group. They meet once a month at different parks and campgrounds and go on all-day trail rides. At first it sounded tempting. I could see new territory, meet other horse crazy people and expand Wally and Danny’s social circle. But then I saw the notation, “170 members strong!” That spooked me. I’ve tried a few organized trail rides before. In my experience, once the group gets beyond a dozen riders the intimacy and relaxation components disappear and what I’m left with is a bored horse, a sore butt and not enough water to wash the dust down my throat. So before you tie a canteen to your saddle horn and sign up for a mass-produced trail ride, take a moment to heed these words: You could end up on the trail ride from hell. In case you’ve never had such an experience I’ve put together some warning signs.
- You park your trailer in your assigned spot, a sliver of bare earth recently hacked clear of chaparral by the machete-wielding trail boss.
- No one else seems concerned about the rugged terrain, however, you feel a little uneasy when see a sign posted at the trail head that reads:
WARNING: DESIGNATED WILDERNESS AREA
You are entering a natural habitat for ferocious beasts.
Riding alone is not recommended.
Stay on marked trails.
Watch for bear paw tracks.
Avoid riding into bear dens. Do not attempt to herd bears.
Did we mention that this is a bear zone?
- Since you’re new to the group you pick out a woman who seems pleasant enough and introduce yourself. And that’s the end of your side of the conversation. During the next three miles you hear all about her recent divorce (from her fifth husband who, by the way, ran off with the horse trailer and the Appaloosa stud horse) and her foray into the Internet dating scene. She then recounts every dating disaster in graphic detail. When you reach the first water crossing you consider wrapping your saddle bags around your neck and drowning yourself.
- Based on courtesy and commonsense safety, there’s a designated “pace horse” that determines just how fast everyone travels. That way, no one’s straggling too far behind. Unfortunately, the pace horse is a shuffling, sleepy-eyed gelding appropriately named Pokey Joe.
- You begin to regret that last cup of indulgence at Starbuck’s this morning. There’s no way you’ll make it to the lunch break at the picnic grounds, where the port-o-potty awaits. You discreetly mention this problem to the trail boss. He reins his horse to a stop, turns around in his saddle and announces to the other 78 riders, “She needs to use the ladies room.” Everyone stops. And waits. You look around. You see nothing but thistles and poison ivy.
- The trail narrows as it winds through a ravine, cramping all the horses into a single-file line. Unfortunately you get wedged into the worst spot possible. In front is a grumpy mare ridden by an animated woman who keeps blurting out, “Don’t get too close! She’ll kick!” Directly behind you is a ditzy, prancing stallion that has suddenly developed a crush on your gelding.
- Your seat bones have gone numb. You begin to wonder if the odd sensations in your legs indicate that you’re a candidate for a hip replacement. Despite your best attempts to conceal your fatigue and the encroaching symptoms of what must surely be gangrene, the trail boss notices your displeasure. He tries to cheer you up. “Oh don’t worry little lady. You’ll make it. See that tree?” he says, pointing to a crooked, barren pine. “It’s the half-way marker.”
Sure, these warning signs are meant to be humorous. And I know there are some fun-loving clubs that organize some awesome trail rides. But at least now you know what can happen if you don’t choose your trail riding partners—and your destinations—carefully.
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