Can horses swim?
A few years back I took a trip to Jamaica with my college roomies Stecks, and M’O (with whom I’d traveled before). On planning the trip, we were met with our usual dilemna:
On vacations, Stecks likes to get out and “do stuff.”
I like to “do stuff” like get massages and read and stare off into the beauteous distance all emo-like, but this is not what she has in mind.
She wanted to get active, and on this trip, she’d decided that we were all going horseback riding.
In theory, this was a great idea. I’ve done the vacation horseback ride before. I’ve got plenty of fond memories of those times, and I’ve watched basically all of ‘Hey Dude,’ so I figured I was pretty much set. We piled into a small bus (a mini-bus? TLC’s Tiny Bus? a bus-let?) and took the long trip to the stables. As we zoomed and darted through traffic, our tour guide pointed out various landmarks.
Here was a now defunct sugar cane factory. Here is a golf course that was once a plantation. Here are some goats. That lady makes the best jerk chicken. My cousin once tripped over that rock.
It was a dreary morning and we were all half listening. I personally preferred my view of the ride scored by The 20/20 Experience. I’d first decided I hated the album, but something about listening to the refrain of Strawberry Bubblegum while taking in a drizzly countryside felt very right.
We bumped and bopped down the long road, sometimes shooting smiles at each other, sometimes just checking that everyone was content, and sometimes making eyes after a particularly ridiculous comment by our just-enough-zealous tour guide. We were relaxed and happy.
By the time we’d finally reached the ranch where we’d be riding, the drips and drops of our busride had fattened and picked up pace. The dirt was turning to mud and we were told that the horses had to be put away. We waited on a large covered porch, crowded with other tourists and many, many stray cats. We three gave the hissy cats a weary side-eye and the pursed lips of unamusement. The white people fed them. One girl got scratched and howled like her feelings were hurt.
Wild cats do wild shit. You better recognize.
As her wails turned to whimpers so too did we turn to the jerk chicken we were snacking on. We took our first bites, and gave each other excited googly-eyes. This was the best jerk chicken I had ever had in my life. It was unreal. I have literally (literally) dreamed about this chicken. It was HEAVENLY; spicy, not too sweet, melt in your mouth good…
…Listen, this is not a story about chicken, so why don’t you just take my word for it? I have to be moving on.
The rain finally started to let up, so that meant it was time to get on our horses and take to the trail. I eyed the massive steeds while I strapped on my helmet. If I’d ridden before, when I was younger and smaller, shouldn’t the horses seem smaller to me now? I’m a giant 5′ 11″ lady; how did these animals seem intimidatingly monstrous? We actually had to step up onto a giant wooden platform to get high enough to pull our way on. My horse sidled up to the platform, and my heart started beating so hard I could hear the thrum in my eardrums.
“You’re a big girl. You need a big horse.”
Thanks, kind ranch hand. That was definitely what I needed to hear at that moment. -__-
Moving only by way of the adrenaline that comes with impending shame and embarrassment, I flailed my way clumsily to onto my horse’s back.
I held onto the reins for dear life. Because now I was scared. What if this horse decided to hate me? He could flick me off like a fly. How can we so trust animals that we can’t talk to? I hated being so close to something dangerous and not being able to hear its thoughts.
Being around a suspicisous animal is like meeting a volatile person who doesn’t speak your language. It’s like if you got lost and encountered Andre The Giant at a deserted crossroads. You ask him for directions, and he gesticulates wildly, speaking in some forgotten French dialect that sounds alarming and harsh on the ear. Maybe he thought your question was some kind of challenge? He could be saying “We face each other as God intended. Sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone!” Or he could just as easily be saying “Hey did you know Samuel Beckett used to drive me to school? You know, Beckett? He wrote that play your annoying pretentious friend* pretends to love?”
He could be seething mad, or just feeling chatty. The point is YOU DON’T KNOW. And knowing is half the battle.
In conclusion, horses are like Giant Andre The Giant Giants in a Beckett play where no one knows what’s going on and no one knows what’s going to happen.
… So anyway I’m on this horse, right? We ride into a large ring to get used to handling them/allay residual fears about impending death/etc. I had a good long talk with my horse: I Introduced myself, and admitted my anxiousness about the situation. And how did he like this whole carrying people around thing anyway? Just a job for now or are you in it for the long haul? How close are you to hating me? Do you enjoy questions?
He shook his body and made me yelp.
Oh. Ok then. No more questions.
Finally, we were ready to head out on the trail. By this time we’d been on the horse for ten minutes, and everyone was a bit more relaxed (I wasn’t the only one having a desperate heart to heart). The trail was beautiful. Lush because of the recent rain. Smelled like what you think of when you dream about going out into nature. Glorious.
After we’d completed the trail, we came to the edge of a water inlet for the second part of our ride. Here, we were given further instruction:
Because of all the rain, the waters have swelled up. So normally your horse would be walking through the water with you on it, but now, the horse will swim!
Erm. Sorry did you want to repeat that?
Yes, the horses would be swimming. They’d also be going sans bridle and saddle because it would be dangerous to have those if something went wrong.
WHAT WAS GOING TO GO WRONG??
Nothing, we were assured. Nevertheless M’O and I were terrified. Because this was a crazy thing we were doing, and we don’t do crazy things. The Blackness is strong in us.
With the removal of the equipment and headgear, I had nothing to hold onto.
“I’m gonna fall off!” I whisper-screamed through gritted teeth.
“Nah. You just hold the mane and squeeze real tight with ya legs. It’s no problem.”
I tried to send a telepathic message to my horse: “I’m sorry, Mr. Horse. This might pinch a bit…,” and by the power vested in me by hurdlers’ thighs and corporeal fear, I fused myself with my animal companion.
We waded into the water (children wade…) and I thought briefly that everything would be “no problem,” as I’d been promised.
The ground sank swiftly away from us. The shore was behind us. And all at once, that horse was mother effing swimming. The feeling of buoyancy while attached to a half ton of solid, heavy muscle was completely disorienting. There was a line of ten or so of us, and we were swimming single file from one bank to another.
A shrill noise swelled up all around me. A shriek? Maybe an accident back on land?
But the sound grew in fervor and pitch, and just as it swelled beyond comprehension I caught on to what was happening:
My horse. Was Screaming.
Not just my horse either. Some eager beavers were egging their horses along, so instead of the neat single file semicircle we’d been in, I was now flanked on either side by others. The riders were laughing maniacally. The horses were sreeching like they were being murdered. The chorus of it left me in slack-jawed, heart-racing bewilderment.
This was not a neigh. This was nothing at all like a neigh. This was a god damned SCREAM. A “something terrible just happened to my baby” scream. A “monster just popped up from around the corner with a bloody hatchet” scream. A “Donald Trump is leading in GOP polls” scream. It was impassioned, guttural and vicious.
How had I found myself so suddenly in this vortex of evil?
I very much wanted to meet the horses’ laments with my own squawks of terror, but because I am more adeptly socialized than they, I just shut my eyes and moaned sadly to myself. Finally, we reached land, and I got down. As we walked back to the covered porch, legs wobbly, M’O and I frowned pointedly at Stecks. Here we were again: us sweaty and frightened, her positively gleeful.
“Want to book a massage when we get back? Hey! They have liquor here. Maybe we can get some wine? You like wine!”
She was trying to soothe us, and dammit if it wasn’t working. My heartbeat returned to normal and I took a deep breath, preparing to right my attitude for the rest of our trip (which was of course, positively lovely).
So yes, dear reader, horses can swim. But they will doing it while emitting a scream that comes straight from the depths of hell and will haunt you for the rest of your days.
I don’t recommend it.
* I’m the annoying friend. I love Beckett.