The Old Grey Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be


I went horseback riding one time. I hadn’t been on a horse in a while, and I told them so. I wanted a “gentle horse”.

I was presented with the largest horse I’d ever seen. She was an old grey mare, literally. She looked at me, bored. I tried to get my foot in the stirrup. That wasn’t going to happen. It was at face level. Undeterred, I guided her to a nearby fence, crawled up it, and hopped on into the saddle. She snorted a bit and headed toward the path. The rest of the horses followed. All was well.

Three minutes into the two-hour trail ride later, she stops. She eats grass. We wait. We wait some more. She eats more grass. Horses pass me. Men, women, children pass me. I nudge the reins. She eats more grass. I make noises, kick my heels a bit. More grass. After several minutes, she looks up and heads down the path. Everyone else is gone. I get her doing a little trot. We catch up. All is well.

An hour goes by. She eats grass, mosies around, catches up when she wants to. It’s okay. We’re having fun. We come into a clearing. All the horses gather. Mine doesn’t. She turns to the left, and trots off. Straight for a line of trees and a hill. Um, no horse, no. Somewhere between the hill and the trees and the trot, she bolts. I am not ready for the bolt. I lurch in the saddle. I go left, I go right, I lose the reins. She smacks through the trees and comes out on a dirt road in the middle of the woods. And that’s when the speed came. She flew down that road like Seabiscuit.

My grace was a little different. I hung on to the horn for dear life. I lost the stirrups. My limbs flapped around like fish out of water. I managed to get a rhythm completely opposite of hers. I swayed and bounced and smacked in the saddle. I laughed and hiccoughed and snorted. As the ground sped past me, I remembered all the road rash I’d gotten from skateboards and bicycles. I pictured bandages. A. Lot. Of. Bandages.

As my life flashed before my eyes, so did my trail mates. The men, the women, then the children, all scooted past me on their horses. Graceful, smiling, and offering, “Hang on, you’re doing fine!” Meanwhile, my lower nuptials were slamming up and down off the saddle like a jackhammer. Finally, I caught a stirrup, then another. I leaned in. I got this. And then, the road ended. Old grey mare stopped. It was over. She didn’t move again until I grabbed the reins and got myself sorted out. I couldn’t tell whether she was impressed or bored, but she let me guide her home. And that is when I learned to walk like a cowboy.

by Gisele McClafferty

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