Sometimes, the guests with the most horse experience turn out to be a wrangler’s worst nightmare. Perhaps the worst ride I’ve ever taken out consisted of just two fourteen year-old girls, best friends. One of the girls lived in Colorado and the other had moved away the year before and had just returned for vacation. The father of the Colorado girl thought it would be fun for the girls to go out on a four-hour ride, since Visiting Girl was a competitive hunter/jumper and they both loved horses.
The ride started out okay; there wasn’t a whole heap of whimpering from either girl as we ascended the steep switchback to reach the trail. Visiting Girl asked once or twice if we could trot. I told her that there just weren’t a lot of places in the mountains that are safe to trot, but that we might be able to once we reached the meadow. Colorado Girl and Visiting Girl were chatting, getting caught up on their lives since Visiting Girl had moved away the year before. Their mutual gossip kept them entertained for the first hour of the ride.
Going into the second hour, they were starting to wind down and Visiting Girl began to pay attention to her surroundings. She started asking questions about what would happen if she fell off and weren’t the horses scared being in the mountains? I assured her that the horses would take care of her and that, no, the horses weren’t scared being in the mountains.
At the end of hour two, going into hour three, we began to ascend the Olive Ridge route, which parallels some fairly steep drop-offs, but is a good, safe trail. I had taken literally hundreds of guests on that exact trail without a problem. In fact, the less horse experience my guests had, the more adventurous they seemed and the more they enjoyed the trail.
Colorado Girl was having a great time, enjoying the scenery and just being on top of a horse. Visiting Girl, however, the one with the most horse experience began to lose her mind. I don’t mean she was a little nervous, but that she went into a full-blown crying panic attack when she looked down off the side of the mountain. Now, the trail did run along the edge of a drop-off, but was nice and wide; there was no reason to worry that the horse would lose its footing and fall, but that’s exactly what Visiting Girl had envisioned.
There was no calming her down – she was absolutely, one hundred percent certain that her horse was going to fall off the side of the mountain and plunge her to her death.
As quickly as I could, I moved the ride off the trail and onto a nice, wide, graded fire access road, but there was still no calming her. Colorado Girl did her best, trying to talk Visiting Girl down, all to no avail. The return trip was spent assuring Visiting Girl that we were headed back to the livery and that there weren’t any places on the trail that she could fall off the mountain. We returned to the livery yard silent except for the sniffy, drippy tears of Visiting Girl and I swore I would never take out an arena rider again. Of course, I couldn’t get away with it, but that one ride distilled a deep distrust of “experienced” horse people who have never ridden outside an arena.