I haven’t been on a horse since I was 11, and my childhood equestrian memories aren’t entirely happy ones. I grew up with four or five other girls the same age – our parents were all friends – and whenever one of us took an interest in an activity, the rest of us were signed up, too. Thus, uncoordinated, chubby child and tween me ended up in jazz and ballet lessons and sports camps, when all I really wanted to do was watch The Cosby Show in the basement. My friends were all in love with horses, so I, too, was saddled up. And while I liked horses and could spend considerable time staring at them while patting their soft, soft noses, I can also recall being more interested in the camp snack bar than learning how to trot.
And so, here I am. Horseback riding. In Spain. I’m staying at the beautiful Marbella Club Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa on the Mediterranean, and I’m visiting their stables. The backdrop is a mountainous, sun-kissed terrain perched on the edge of beautiful soft-sand beaches. Rossio, a Spanish and Arab horse, seems less than thrilled to be trekking up a mountain with me on his back. My guide, whose name I never quite get because of my awful ear for Spanish accents, helps me hop on board as I briefly reconsider this adventure. I am flooded with memories of childhood terror. I hated being on the back of such an unpredictable animal and was constantly filled with dread of being bucked off. A few months after I quit horseback riding for what I thought was forever, my fear was solidified when my friend, Brooke, was turfed from her horse, breaking her tailbone and getting burrs stuck throughout her lustrous black hair. That was the last straw for me.
But here, the scenery is both romantic and rugged, and I am looking forward to the view. We go slow and I realize that, while my skills are rusty, I can still remember the basics. We climb winding roads, and cut through low-lying shrubbery until we’re at the top of a mountain and I can see the ocean and beach below. My guide attempts, a few times, to encourage Rossio and me into a trot. But this brings back my anxiety and discomfort, those feelings of powerlessness, and I let him know that I’m happy to just take it slow.
I find that, despite myself, I’m actually enjoying this. I feel like I have more control than I did when I was a kid, and I’m in a better position to call the shots. The real answer, for me, was to figure out what speed made me comfortable. I am still not the kind of gal who can gallop, carefree, through a field of wildflowers. (And I certainly don’t have the wardrobe or cooperative hair to properly set that scene.) I would prefer to take this particular adventure more slowly and cautiously.
Things are often not as scary as you remember them. For 20 years, in the back of my mind, I associated horseback riding with fear and discomfort and feeling out of place. But now, grownup and less scared of asserting myself, I associate it with a sunny day on top of a mountain overlooking the glorious Mediterranean, just me and Rossio taking it slow.