“A horse loves freedom, and the weariest old work horse will roll on the ground or break into a lumbering gallop when he is turned loose into the open.” ~Gerald Raferty
It had been on Sally´s things to do list for quite some time but I had managed to postpone horse ridding for one reason or another with great success. It´s not that I dislike horses, horses are fine. I just have had no desire to get on top of one and make it carry me around. The same way I don´t want to send a telegram, watch a black and white TV, or own a rooster as an alarm clock. Once mankind has evolved past a particular action/object, I personally don´t feel inclined to revisit it. Unfortunately Bolivia was the perfect aligning of stars I couldn´t avoid. Several people had raved about the scenery Tupiza horse tours provided and of course being in Bolivia my price argument had no merit.
We decided on the three-hour tour. The shortest tour available. Long enough to fulfill Sally´s desire and hopefully short enough to avoid any major damage to my sugar lumps. We made our way to the stable with our group of five (a French couple, an Englishman, Sally and I) at one in the afternoon. We decided on having a little bit of an outing the night before and my head was still swimming, motor skills slow, and enthusiasm at an all time low. I managed a half-smile and minimal conversation with the rest of our group. We had long enough to chat before our guide showed up to discover all of our experience combined wouldn´t even out stack the pile of horse shit I stepped in just moments before.
I marveled at the pairing of the horses to riders. The English kid who was about 6´2″ was put on the smallest and clearly oldest horse, the French couple on two average sized horses, and Sally and I were left to see what they brought out of the stable. Our guide ran to the end of the field and emerged moments later at a full sprint with reins of a black stallion. The horse was noticeably bigger then all the others and the way he threw his head and tugged at the reins while running toward us was enough for both Sally and I to pray to God it wasn´t ours. Sally drew the short straw and was thrown on top of the massive animal. Thankfully I was given another average size horse who actually turned out to be the best listener.
After a couple of minutes of instruction on how to control the horse, in Spanish, we were off. I had the theory that if I just sat on my horse and let him follow the others, with the occasional pit stop to smell and eat the other horses shit, we would develop a mutual understanding and relationship.
The first 45 minutes was a casual stroll and actually a little bit enjoyable. The English kid mentioned to the guide, Oscar, that he would like to go a bit faster. Oscar explained (translated to Sally and I) that it is better to go slow. Taking it easy is a good experience for first time riders and with the horses all in a line and little space between them, they are easier to control. That explanation seemed to fall on deaf ears as the English kid asked several more times if we could please at least gallop. Oscar finally gave in and we did our first little trot. Sally and the French woman mentioned they would prefer not to go any quicker and Oscar held their horses back as he encouraged the rest of our horses to take off. The horses seemed to enjoy being able to stretch their legs a little bit and their competitiveness with each other was quickly exposed. They no longer stayed in a straight line but rather tried to pass each other. One horse actually tried to bite my horse a couple of times while I was passing. At this point I still have little to do with what is going on with the direction or speed my horse decides to go. But the smiles on our faces and the continued enthusiasm of the English kid encouraged several more trots and one mild run.
We finally made it to our destination and took a twenty-minute break to absorb the scenery. During our break the English guy was trying his best to talk Oscar into turning it up to eleven. I took a little stroll around and noticed a tree that one of the horses was tied off too. The inch long thorns lined the branches. Their diameter was enough that I couldn´t break one off in a mild attempt. It seemed like everything about this area was rugged.
We got back on our horses and started to head home. The French girl took the lead with Sally and I behind. Oscar had yet to get on his horse and the French guy was having some problems so the three of us took a couple of minute lead. We discussed stopping and waiting but the instructions we were given to stop the horses seemed to be falling on deaf ears. They seemed to know they were heading home and all the “SHHHhhh” and pulling on the reins did was cause them to swing their head back and give you a look of discontent.
Five minutes later we heard the loud sound of three other group members catching up. The English kid came ripping into sight at full speed. This caught the attention of our horses and they started a small gallop. Oscar caught up and managed to slow all the horses down. We walked around the corner into to open space in the riverbed and Oscar said we were going to let the horses run. Before the group could give this much debate the English kid was off. It was enough to cause the group of horses to spread out and race for the first place trophy. Oscar attempted to grab Sally´s reins prior to the sprint but missed them as the black stallion was intent on getting to the lead of the pack.
As my horse swung wide left I grabbed the handle on the saddle with both hands. I have been on a horse twice in my life and never at a full sprint. The saddle felt a little lose and even with my white knuckled hands I still felt on the verge of falling off. You could hear screams from the girls and loud “Ssshhhhhh” from the guys as it seems everyone was ready to slow the pack down. Sally´s horse went wide right and was making ground on the group. He realized he was cutting down the lead and wanted to lighten the load. He took Sally right into some overhanging trees. The thorns on the tree gashed her face and neck and pushed her toward the back of the horse. It was enough that she was only able to hang on for a couple more strides. I glanced back just in time to see a pile of dust 10 feet behind Sally´s black stallion who was still racing toward the front of the pack. I grabbed the reins like I knew what I was doing and yanked back with all of my might. It took about 30 seconds for the horse to come to a complete stop. I took off running toward Sally´s howling body expecting the worse.
Blood was dripping from her head, ear, and neck. She clearly in a lot of pain but thankfully nothing was broken. I used my shirt to clear away some of the major blood and to expose the severity of her wounds. The tree had done the most damage causing her neck to look like a strangle victim. The English kid and Oscar were moments behind me. The French couple were unable to get their horses to stop. Sally expressed no desire to get back on her horse (which was good because it ran off) so Oscar raced back to the farm to get a jeep.
The English guy and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to make Sally as comfortable as possible (a few pictures and a little ribbing of course).
Oscar returned in a jeep and the three of us piled in. The jeep only had enough gas to make it out of the riverbed it literally died as soon as we hit the pavement (of course!). Oscar took off again to get some gas for the jeep. We waited another ten minutes for Oscar to return with small can of gas and then it was off to the hospital.
The nurse and doctor spent 30 minutes cleaning all of the dirt out of Sally´s wounds and trying to ask medical questions in Spanish. It was refreshing to see Oscar and his manager when we emerged from the E.R.. They covered the hospital visit (11 Bolivionos / $1.59) and said they would offer a ride to our hotel but the jeep ran out of gas, again.