Along for the ride:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Red horses in Ireland - Jon Carroll

My wife loves to ride horses. My younger daughter loves to ride horses. I do not love to ride horses. I believe that horses wish me ill. The horses sense my fear, and therefore they do wish me ill. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We were traveling in Ireland, attempting to find our roots. We were shown a crumbling section of wall, the only remnant of the once-mighty Carroll castle. In the ninth century, we pretty much ran the joint.
Then the evil O'Somethings took over. Oh, it was a sad time.
After three minutes of communing with our ancestors, we drove on to the prestigious riding academy. We were given fine, large, high-spirited horses. My horse was red, with a wild eye. I had to mount him by standing on a fence. 
Tracy and Shana mounted their horses the regular way. I had to use the Dopey American Mounting Device. Already I had self-esteem issues. Your stout writers do not, in general, make the best horse-men. They do not look convincing in the saddle.
Off we went! Oh, what fun! Shana and Tracy were laughing with their heads thrown back. They were at one with their animals. I was at two with my animal.
The countryside was lush, damp and green and filled with trees with low limbs. We trotted along a roadway, and I tried to post. I can post for about 17 seconds before my body becomes confused. Then I just bounce along and pray for the horse to die.
Suddenly, more excitement! The horses veered off the roadway and started climbing a muddy hill. "Whoopee," yelled Tracy "Ha ha HA!" whooped Shana "Lean forward, " said the O'wrangler to me. 
Then he said: "Don't grab the mane!"
I knew that was wrong. On the other hand, the horse seemed to swerve so that every branch hit me in the face. It knew, and I knew that it knew, and it knew that I knew that it knew, but it didn't care.
So I grabbed the useful mane. If I was going down, I was taking a handful of hair with me.
The ride lasted nine days. Empires rose and fell as we plunged through the shrubbery. Finally, we came into an open meadow and slowed down. I was breathing shallowly.
Tracy and Shana looked deeply satisfied. There's a thing with women and horses; I know that. I've read the advanced text books. The flush to the cheeks, the maidenly downcast eyes, the non-stop grinning; I know what that's about.
"Isn't this great?" said Tracy.
'It seems to be over, at least," I said.
We looked across the meadow to a lake and beyond that, yet another castle. The air was crisp and sweet with the scent of new grass. My horse, suddenly quiet, ambled down the hill to the lake. I began to feel almost peaceful.
"Don't let him go in the lake!" screamed the O'wrangler. I tried to urge my horse to stop, but it went implacably on. I pulled on the reins. I said, "Whoa there, big fella." Nothing. In we went. I felt my feet get wet.
I thought: Gee, this isn't so bad. It's sort of peaceful. The horse is thigh-deep in mud-it's not going to gallop anywhere. I really hate galloping.
"He's going to roll over!" screamed the O'wrangler "He loves to roll in the mud."
I found sudden courage. Using language taught to me by members of the Teamsters Union and a strength provided by fear of dying, I managed to kick the horse landward. The others were waiting for me on the shore.
Only a few of them laughed. My daughter stared at the far horizon, a corner of her mouth twitching. My wife said, "Isn't that castle pretty?" with the air of someone distracting a collie with a squeeze toy. I experienced some more self-esteem issues.


  1. I've been a daily Jon Carroll fan for years, how do you come to him?

  2. What an excellent story... I am embarrassed to admit I had the same thing happen to me in France, when my daughter, who rides regularly, wanted her dad (who does not ride at all) to come with her on an afternoon worth of riding in the Camargue region, on the south coast... I didn't ride, I bounced for those interminable hours, and man did my butt hurt the next day ! Thank you for bringing back such charming memories !

  3. What a great narrative of that ride. I remember my very first real ride on a horse and I can't say it was much different lake. Hey, at least he stayed on. *G*

    My family on my Mother's side were Carrolls from Ireland. Don't know exactly where, though. Maybe it was "our" castle too...or maybe not. *S*

  4. I used to subscribe to the San Francico Chronicle, which is where I found Jon Carroll and several other worthy writers.
    I love this piece- I have lived both roles; of the keen and happy riding daughter, who's Mum found an excuse to get off and walk home, and the O'wrangler with a group of varying abilities and enthusiasms; hoping they would make it back in one piece and that I wouldn't laugh too loudly if they fell off.
    Owen: The Camargue was my dream. I was there two years ago this month, grinning ear to ear as I rode my white horse with the flamingoes. I vow to return.

  5. Priceless ! Loved this....what an entertaining piece of work. Will have to google him

    I had a similar experience and ended up in the lake as well...I was vacationing at the J&J Dude Ranch in Northern Michigan. The wranglers were barking at me to dismount the horse too...easy for you to say Cowboy...but this Cowgirl could not get her tennis shoed feet out of the stirrups..

    I thought of the possible eulogies...

    She liked to horse around, and look what happened boys and girls...

    These adages come to mind..

    You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink...Hell, I was the one who needed a drink or six after that near death experience.

    Don't look a gift horse in the mouth....ok fine, but i need to know if the horse has an inclination to run like the wind to water, before I accept the gift.

    I did actually get the horse back to land with the assistance of one of the wranglers. I then had to ride another hour and a half, wet from the waist down. At dinner, I had to endure the humiliation yet again. It was my good fortune that one of the wranglers was a professional storyteller. I was a good sport about it..he was so funny that I was laughing with the the loudest.

    To this day I vacillate back and forth about whether it was all a set up. Giddyup!

  6. ER - Ahh, so you have been to the Carmargue... you do get around ! It is an unbelievable area; did you visit les Saintes Marie de la Mer by chance? And the flamingos, yes indeed... I took pictures of them, but I was bouncing so badly many of my pictures that day were blurred. I loved the part in Carroll's story where he says he tried to "post", and gave up to pray the horse would die... what a wicked wit he has ! Joyous !

    That reminded me that "post" is indeed a horse related term, and helps me understand better the close link between riding and blogging for some people...

    So, hope you had a very happy Mother's Day, and ... happy posting !

  7. Brilliant piece!.. I often wonder what the hell it is with females and horses. My daughter would run a mile if asked to play rugby, but let her in the field with her quarter ton pony with a mind of his own and off she goes, *cue Thelwell scene of child on mental pony.

  8. Damn! Ran out of time today to write my personal Mother's Day post, and to respond in detail to all you lovely comment-ers.
    Suffice to say my day left me happily smelling of horses and sunshine. I don't know what other drivers think when they see me inhaling my forearm as I drive home, to get the last possible whiffy essence of Pong-du-Cheval. Ahhh! Perfect!
    Owen, 2 posts on Camargue and Ste Marie. Homework for you!

  9. oh my, I'm embarrassed... now you know I hadn't quite gotten around to reading all your back posts yet... but I did just rectify the gap on the Camargue pieces back in March there, sounds like you were in heaven. I did not know that the famous white horses are born black, but turn white later... how on earth does that work ?