What Are YOU Looking At?
By Jec A. Ballou
At some point, every rider has endured a hair-raising, nail-biting moment of time when one’s life flashes before one’s eyes due to a wildlife critter that would under normal circumstances seem adorable and charming. In these moments, though, wildlife seems like one of life’s great cruelties.
I had one such ride this morning, which got me thinking about this. Afterwards, I felt like I needed to go to the local ASPCA chapter or wildlife protection agency and apologize for the 15 minutes I spent cursing profanely at a majestic male deer that nearly ended my life. Normally, a six-point buck perched atop a foggy cliff would incite a flutter in my heart and even inspire a verse or two of haiku poetry. But he’s the last thing I want to see when I am on my horse, who instantly turns into a fear-crazed, runaway lunatic.
Let me give a disclaimer here before going any further that I personally love wildlife. I am a dues-paying member of Sierra Club, I mountain bike and hike regularly, and I take time every day to stop and ponder the sheer wonder of Mother Nature. However, when I am on a horse, I often curse the fuzzy and furry members of the forest. It is fair to say I even shout and sometimes think about throwing things at them. Were it the case that my horse did not gallop away and jeopardize my mortal existence, I would definitely view them otherwise. Yes, the leaping jackrabbits, startling deer, and darting birds would be met with a friendly “Awww, aren’t you cute?” rather than a “Shoo! Get the heck outta here, go, go, go!”
Anyway, back to this morning’s ride. I was precariously convincing a feisty three-year-old mare that even though everyone else was eating their breakfasts and she was grumpy, we still needed to get some work done. I had a hard time selling her on this. After a few good revolutions around the arena, she was looking to convince me that her grumpiness was going nowhere and I should take her back to the barn. She pinned her ears, swished her tail, spooked at a few things here and there. Basically, she made my job of riding her a whole lot of work.
About 20 minutes later, though, she began to come around. She started to go through her paces rather nicely in fact, so I asked her to pick up a brisk ground-covering canter (a risky move with a young horse on a chilly morning!), which she did promptly. I began to smile like a proud teacher. And then I glanced up the hill outside our arena. There in the mist stood a very large buck looking straight down at us. I gritted my teeth.
The mare hadn’t seen him yet; she was still performing beautifully, although I knew the second she saw him, it would be over for me. She would take the opportunity to bolt wildly and throw some wretched antics at me, re-starting her campaign to be done with riding for the day. Shoot! We were already in a rather speedy canter. Once she laid eyes on that muscular fellow with the antlers, she would hit the speed of light. And I would either be in the dirt or saying prayers.
So I started to do the only thing I could do. “GET OUTTA HERE!” I snarled. No movement. In fact, the big guy seemed more interested in us now. My mare kept cantering along, miraculously not yet noticing him. In fact, she kept things far cooler than I did in that moment as I launched into a verbal tirade.
“Go ON! Git! Go away! Get outta here you blasted fool… do you want me killed? Don’t you have some deer harem you need to get back to? Why are you looking at me? WHAT? Get outta here. Why are you just STANDING there?” My screams echoed off rocks and down canyons. It lifted up into treetops and skimmed across mud puddles. I admitted to myself that I probably appeared like someone recently escaped from an asylum and not meant to be on horseback. But I didn’t mind if anyone standing nearby wanted to label me a crazy person. I just plain didn’t care because I was determined to finish this ride still on the back of my horse, not in the dirt.
Finally, the giant antlers turned the other direction and trotted off to pester something else. I felt myself start breathing again. My mare kept cantering and I smiled at her. What a delightful ride we were having. And that was what mattered, right? Who cared if I momentarily became a crazy person who shouted at furry adorable forest animals?