First published Monday, January 8, 1996
On one of my regular visits to Barbados, someone asked me what I wanted to do. I gave them a short list of places that I would like to visit and before I realised it, I added horseback riding. They said alright and began to make arrangements.
As I pulled into the stable yard the next day, I smelled the pungent and overwhelming smell of horse sweat and manure. Sheer panic began to gnaw at me. All I could think about was the horse throwing me, trampling me or something along those painful lines.
When I met my horse, a pretty white pony named Spotlight, I felt a little better. “She’s so cute,” I murmured to the guide/groomsman. She turned, looked at me, then stood on my foot. Hard! I shouted out, but the guy thought I was still exclaiming about the horse’s “cuteness”. By the time they realised that the horse was actually on my foot, it was already well “mashed”. Once Spotlight, a little dense and truly unable to distinguish flesh from concrete, was removed I checked my poor toes. Cherry red, they protested at the movement, but they wiggled on cue. No broken bones.
The stable-hands told me Spotlight only stepped on my toes, because she liked me, “I certainly hope she doesn’t like me too much,” I replied.
When I apprehensively mounted Spotlight, and tried to lead her out of the stable yard, she refused to “giddy up”. All she was interested in was a particularly delicious clump of grass. She repeatedly pulled down to eat and ignored my gentle kicks/nudges. As the lead horse led the riders out of the stable however, she seemed to get the idea. The head stable hand called out some mystical advice to me as I was leaving, “Yuh and yuh harse hav ta becum one.” Spotlight and I bonded quickly. I learned that the only way to comfortably ride is to move with the horse, rather than against it.
The trail we followed, ran through gullies and through miles and miles of sugar cane. Spotlight paused every few minutes to bite off a stalk of sugarcane leaves to munch on. Well, at least one of us found all that sugar cane interesting.
The trail led to the second highest point on the island, overlooking Cattlewash. This section on the Eastern coastline that is particularly rough and thus a favourite of surfers both local and from around the world. The view was breath-taking. However we only stopped for a minute, before starting back. After passing a mound of garbage Peter, our guide, called back to me and said that I handled my horse very well. Apparently the shiny plastic jars them.
“They should hire you to be a guide. You’re a natural.” Self-satisfied and proud of myself, I forgot my aching butt for a moment, and basked in the glow of achievement. Until, of course, Spotlight began to jog around and the soreness came sharply into focus. About a mile from home and halfway through a shallow gully, we encountered, quite unexpectedly, a remarkably large cow.
She was ensconced across the path, eyeing us as we walked up. Peter “yah yahed” her out of the way and we walked forward. When the last horse passed her, she must have become a little irate, because we heard a bellow and she rushed us. Spotlight took off up the slope that led out of the gully, nearly dislodging me. I held on for dear life, struggling to calm the pony. Once the distance between herself and “Bessie” was adequate, she calmed down. Peter called back again and said, “Well, that certainly broke up the monotony!” A few minutes later Spotlight resumed her eating. I offered her several stalks of sugarcane leaves, which she ate from my hand. We were fast friends now, foot mashing forgotten. By the time we arrived at the stables, and “whoaed” the horses to a stop, dismounting was strange. I felt like I had never walked before. My steps were unsteady, my knees wobbling. I patted Spotlight’s neck and flank, thanking her for not pitching me off, for being so obedient and not being too disgusted with my inexperience.
I leaned against her, as much to support my shaky knees, as to show affection. She rubbed the top of her head against me, in what I was told was an equine hug and a kiss. “She likes you a lot!” said Peter.
“Well I like her a lot too.” I replied. I kept my feet well away from hers though, remembering her other forms of affection.
I wobbled over to the owners of the stables, the Roachfords, a couple who have owned the Caribbean International Riding Centre, for a few years.
Mrs Roachford told me of their plans to market the place to other islands in something akin to equestrian tourism. I thought it was a good idea. Their horses are quite obedient and although they were a little skittish, they seem well trained.
The horses are trained in equitation, (ie manners school for horses) show jumping and dressage, (advanced manners school). They have extensive obstacle courses and they have approximately 40 or 50 horses and ponies. However, I doubt that level of horsemanship is something I will ever take up. I think I’ll stick to nags and docile little treks.
Tour compliments Barbados Tourism Authority.