“Mas Despacio! MAS DESPACIO!” I bellow while barely straddling Inca, the devil horse. I had tried the English equivalent, “Slower! SLOWER” but when that accomplished nothing, I figured Spanish would work. I was wrong. Earlier in the day, six hours on a horse and a one-hour hike seemed a brilliant way to explore the backcountry of Ecuador. Eight hours later, lying on my stomach, ass too sore to sit, I wonder what I could possibly have been thinking.
Never having been a great lover of horses, I am still trying to work out this irrational urge to ride one here. Let me assure you, I vow to never make that mistake again. Awkward and with no control whatsoever, I fear for my life atop Heetano the horse. I envision being violently bucked off as if in a wild rodeo. More likely I will simply slip off and have my head bashed in. Either way, the end result is a mutilated me and I don’t like.
While imagining the countless variations of my impending death, I remember a lifelong friend of mine who was always riding horses. Instead of using this as motivation that I too can handle a horse, I come to the stark realization that my friend must obviously be clinically insane. I mean, only a psychotic person could enjoy having her ass rubbed raw riding a horse. Surely? As my entire focus is situated on my friend’s clear and chronic insanity, I continue to learn absolutely nothing of riding a horse. Heetano and I fumble along as if in a bad comedic routine.
In an effort to ease my nerves, I begin talking to Heetano. I tell her about my crazy friend who would love her unconditionally and ride her with ease. I tell her about horses in Canada and that English children learn that horses “Neigh”. I ask her if Ecuadorian children learn the same word and though she does not answer me with a “Neigh” of her own, I know that she is listening intently to me. She understands me. She finds me interesting. In retrospect, I may have been more entertaining than interesting, however.
Unfortunately for all those around us, especially our surly guide, this great bond developing between Heetano and myself results in me singing “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes!” followed by boisterous, “Yeehaws!” Things got very ugly.
An hour into the ride, I apologize to my friend in my head and vow to visit her and her daughter at their imagined ranch. Ignoring the amazing mountain ridges and vistas of our journey, I lapse into fantasies of riding with them in the great Canadian wilderness. Galloping effortlessly, I would jump fences and show off this innate talent previously unrecognized. In awe of my grace and skill, my friend begs to see another jump. I picture myself launching over a fence (in slow motion for effect of course) while the wind blows my long, flowing hair. We gallop towards the crashing waves of the ocean where we notice a stunning man sitting alone staring into the depths of the sea. Whoa! Before my fantasy has a chance to turn porn, I am thrust back into reality by a branch grabbing the bandana off my short, greasy hair. I try, hopelessly it would seem, to stop Heetano and turn her around. Before I have a chance to succeed, our miserable guide grabs the bandana and tosses it to me. Whereby I fail to catch it and have to get off the horse to fetch it. Grace and beauty are overrated anyhow.
As fond as I have become of Heetano, I am also relieved when we leave the horses temporarily while we go for a walk in the tangled cloud forest. Despite the disappointing waterfall at the finale, the walk itself is stunning. Countless shades of green surround me while unknown animals and birds call out with strange voices my virgin ears have never before heard. In the tranquility of the forest, I become rejuvenated and look forward to the return journey with Heetano.
Upon our return to the horses, however, I am disgusted to find that a different horse had been saddled up for me to ride back. I was being torn apart from Heetano, my great and trusted friend. After a painful farewell, I introduce myself to this new horse, Inca. Reassured by my great success at bonding with Heetano, I am convinced that Inca and I will become fast friends so I confidently get on. This presumption is shattered when the bastard immediately takes off into the bushes. In a pathetic attempt to turn him around and move on with the others, Inca only defies me by heading deeper into the shrubs. It takes several useless yanks of the rein, countless curses, and finally a hard smack in the ass from the guide (to the horse people!) before Inca follows the others.
But he never truly follows. No, this is an independent horse. A stubborn beast. It occurs to me that my mom often says the same of me. Independent. Stubborn. I wonder if she has ever used ‘Beast’. Come to think of it, with so much in common, perhaps there is hope for us yet.
Inca does not agree. At every possible opportunity, he chooses a different path from the others. We travel through unmarked trails lined with prickly bushes, scratching my sensitive arms and legs. We venture off to a ‘female friend’ whereby the horses owner gets jealous and whacks Inca with a stick until he runs madly away. Yes, I am still on top. Screaming like a hyena I’m sure.
The nightmare continues with me being rammed into a bamboo tree. The horse was simply sadistic. I soon begin calling Inca ‘El Diablo’ (the Devil). The guide was not impressed. Nor would his 12-year-old daughter be whom El Diablo actually belongs to. A 12-year-old girl rides Inca the Evil? I suddenly envision future visits to my friend and her daughter sipping tea while playing ‘Old Maid’.
Inca and I never did come to like or even appreciate one another. We end our three-hour journey together with Inca racing down the street and me barely holding on, wailing “Slower, Slower” in between profanities. Inca, I suspect, wanted to reach the end as fast as possible to be rid of me. Finally on ground, there are no dramatic goodbyes or revelations. I simply turn away and take my scratched, bruised, and aching body right to bed.
Going over the day, I decide that an insane asylum for my horse-lover friend may be a bit drastic. Heetano, I had to remember, had become a great friend and confidant in a very short time. Still, with my aching body and memories of the devil horse all too vivid, we can all rest assured that my horse jumping feats of the future will remain only in my delusional fantasies.