“Yes, it is. Thank you.”
He went on to tell me that it had been at least ten years since he’d been on a horse. I didn’t tell him, but I haven’t been on one since I was thirteen and was forced to sell mine. This day should be interesting, if nothing else.
We got to the stables and checked in. I had reserved a couple of horses and a picnic basket ahead of time. I was praying that riding a horse was comparable to riding a bike and you never forgot. The people at the stables were really nice. A young man named Sam selected a soft black bay mare for me and he asked me if I wanted to saddle her myself.
“Sure… I haven’t done it in a while. You’ll check it for me when I’m done, right?” He laughed and said he would. Seth stood and watched as I threw the blanket and then the saddle up on the horse and strapped and tightened the cinch. I lowered the stirrup and turned towards him and Sam. Sam was nodding and Seth looked impressed. I was proud of myself. Sam checked mine as his partner was leading out another horse, this one a dark gray gelding, for Seth. I heard the guide ask if he wanted to saddle her.
“I’d prefer it if you did it,” Seth said. I had the feeling that wherever it was he rode before, he had stable boys looking out for him and doing the grunt work. I tucked a toe into the stirrup and swung up into the saddle of mine as Sam held onto the reins. I watched as Seth mounted his and then Sam attached the picnic basket and a red blanket to the strap that would normally hold on the saddle bags. He gave us a rundown of “do’s” and “don’ts” and a map of the park and we headed out in the direction he pointed us in.
We rode along the trails that wound through the giant park. It never failed to amaze me how you could disappear into the park in one of the largest cities in the world and feel like you were a million miles from the concrete jungle. The season was changing and the harshness of summer was dying. The leaves on the trees were changing from light and dark greens to bright golds, oranges and reds. Some of them had already begun to drift to the ground and they crunched underneath our horses hooves as we pranced on top of them. After we rode for a few minutes, the skinny trail widened and Seth came up from where he had been behind to ride alongside me.
“You look good on a horse,” he said with a smile.
“So do you. I have to admit, I was a little worried about you back there at the stables.”
“I’ve never saddled a horse,” he admitted. “The last time I actually rode was at our house in Martha’s Vineyard. When my mother was alive we used to go there a couple times a year. We had stables and horses but we also had staff so if I wanted to ride, mother would call out to the stables and when I got there, the horse would be ready.”
“We didn’t have our own horses. My father used to take me riding at some stables up near where we lived whenever he had the chance. The man that owned the stables was really nice. He used to say you shouldn’t ride something you didn’t know how to take care of. He showed me how to saddle and bridle a horse and then how to cool them down and put them away when you’re finished riding.”
“You talk about doing things with your dad a lot. You had a good relationship with him?”
“Yeah, it was the best,” I said. I had to be careful here… I could feel the tears springing to my eyes and I had to fight them back.
“My mother and I had that kind of relationship.”
“But not your dad?” I asked.
“No,” he said, simply. The trail narrowed again and he dropped back. When we came to the little pond that wound through part of the park I stopped and slid off my horse. I forgot to anticipate how numb my legs were going to be. When I hit the ground it felt like there was nothing to hold onto me. I staggered back into my horse. The horse snorted at me, but held firm thank goodness. Her bulk kept me from falling to the ground on my butt.
Seth slid quickly off of his horse. “Are you okay?”
Embarrassed, I giggled and said, “Yeah. My legs went numb. I just got down too fast.” I stretched and walked around as the horses got a drink of water. We had stopped in a really pretty, secluded spot. The grass was thick and green underneath our feet and the trees formed a canopy of colorful leaves above our heads to block out the late season sun. “Do you want to eat here?” I asked him.
“Sure,” Seth said. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah, the feeling is coming back slowly.” Unfortunately as the blood began circulating I could feel how sore my muscles were. We had been riding for at least an hour and it was my first time on a horse in a decade. I stood underneath one of the trees, looking into the pond and worked the muscles in the back of my neck with my fingers. I felt Seth step up next to me as I slid my hand down and began to knead the places I could reach in my lower back. Then suddenly I felt his strong fingers on my neck. He was massaging the sore muscles and sending little jolts of electricity down my spine and arms as he did.