"Have you ever ridden a horse before?"
That was the question asked of me by Dave Frank Monday evening at Triple Creek Ranch. I had just finished with a photo assignment, and we decided to sit down inside a rest cabin for a drink and chat with his family. After about 10 or 15 minutes, he asked me that question. And I had to really think about it.
Have I ridden a horse before? I don't recall. If he asked me if I had ever ridden a camel or an elephant in my life, I could say:
"Yeah. At the Iowa State Fair. You pay a couple bucks and you can ride on the back of one for about a minute or two. It's a slow and bumpy ride, but luckily they have you strapped in tight to a small harness. I was just a kid."
But a horse? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe I rode one at a fair before. My girlfriend has a couple horses on her parent's farm; maybe I've ridden one of them? Nah. I may have a bad memory, but I'm sure I would have remembered that.
I answered Dave truthfully: I wasn't sure. To that, he asked me two more questions.
"Would you want to? When's the next time you're going to get a chance?"
He had a point.
Ah, what the hell. At least if I do it I'll know that I've actually ridden a horse. And so we set off into the barn. Dave's youngest son, Colt, was giving me a bit of playful grief before stepping foot into the saddle.
"Just think of all the bad things that could happen?" he said in a perfectly deadpan tone. I couldn't help but laugh. Funny kid. And he knows he's funny.
Dave retrieved a dark brown horse and adjusted the saddle a bit before giving me my instructions.
I did as I was told. I put one hand on the saddle and placed my left foot in the stirrup. When I was ready, I hoisted myself up and swung my right leg over the horse. I remember when I got up on the saddle I almost lost my balance for a second, but Dave gave a small tug on my arm to even me out.
Dave's instructions were direct yet calm. Repeating himself if necessary. "Hold the reins in one hand. One hand," he said. Clearly, this wasn't his first time helping someone get on a horse.
He said the horse I was riding was very receptive to my movements. All it would take was a little nudge to the left or right and he'd walk in that direction. If I wanted him to move a little faster, then I'd need to touch him with the heels of my feet.
Dave had his son, Trey, get on his horse to walk beside mine. And there we were, a couple of cowboys riding circles in the barn in the middle of winter. Trey was dressed in what I might consider typical cowboy gear. Cowboy hat, plaid shirt or belt buckle. Me? Well, at least I was wearing jeans. That's a cowboy thing to wear, right? The gray sweatshirt and leather jacket certainly weren't.
But there I was: riding a horse for the first time. Or the first that I can recall. And it was great! I had a blast riding that horse. I wish I would have been able to go faster or stay on for longer. But I was happy just to be given the opportunity.
If you're reading this, Dave (and by extension, the rest of the family), I just want to say thank you. I now have an answer to your question.
And I also have an answer to another question in the future.
"Would you ever ride a horse again?"