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Memories of riding

Posted: February 7, 2014 4:55 p.m.
Updated: February 10, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Few people know or would believe that I have often been a rider. Although living in Camden, the home of the Carolina Cup, and touring England, the site of Epsom Downs, I never rode or attended there. How, then, could I be writing about riding? My mother, a widow at 40 with two young children, left us to our own devices as long as she could check on us out the window. If we were actively playing, she did not intervene. Without a television, money or radio, we had to use our own imaginations for activities. Climbing trees and riding my Uncle Will’s farm horse were acceptable play.

Why I never had a broken bone is a mystery for I once jumped from the garage roof with a child’s red umbrella for a parachute., egged on by my brother, who said I would not dare and could fly. That was the time my mother said, “Laura Jean, I often wonder if you have good sense,” something many others have thought through the years.

My first encounter with riding was atop Uncle Will’s horse. Several children were playing, I being the only girl and also the scapegoat. I was to ride a horse that had no saddle or rein. Imagination was necessary. We fashioned reins from a ragged, rotten rope. I clambered aboard a horse that was far taller than I and grasped the rope. Then, the other children offered me yet another challenge. I was to stand up! Even I had better sense than to stand and ride the horse, as gentle as he was. I just rode him and then stood just before disembarking to the back steps. Nobody could say I did not take a dare or was afraid.

My next riding experience was in the Christmas parade more than 50 years ago. Asked to portray a Biblical personage, I agreed, never thinking now little I looked the part nor remembering my lack of expertise. The donkey there was one constructed of plywood and duct tape with no leg rests, so I had to hold my long legs up for the whole parade and pray the “beast” did not fall apart, making me an object of ridicule forever. I did have to ride sidesaddle and deal with the long robes of the costume.

Years passed, and my riding on a horse or anything else stopped. Then my husband and I went to Santorini on vacation. One of the mandatory events there was going up a steep mountainside on foot or on a donkey. I preferred the donkey. My husband determined I would not miss a chance, so I had to join the queue of tourists waiting their turn. The lady before me, after having a difficult time mounting, annoyed the donkey so much that he threw her, perhaps causing a concussion, making her leave to get care. I was ready to go -- not so.

My husband said, “Go on,” and would not hear of a refusal. Certainly, I was not going to ride sidesaddle as I had in the Christmas parade. What I did was sling my leg over like a professional, facing the right way. I certainly did not want to annoy the donkey! Seeing my proficiency, the donkey guide ignored me and led my husband’s donkey all the way up. My donkey, that had already had success unseating his previous rider, tried scraping me off the side of the cliff or tossing me into the sea far below.

When I finally got to the top and dismounted with agility, so thankful to be off, I discovered there was shopping at the top, something that made all the pain and fear worthwhile. I refused, however, to ride the donkey down, preferring to deal with the blazing sun, heat and the donkey droppings on foot. I have kept a note from my husband that says, “Remembering Santorini and the donkey ride?”

Do I ever!

My next experience was in Egypt, where all the tourists (fools that they were) were to ride camels. I really was not eager but had no choice. Camels smell! Also, the only way to mount them as to have them bend and you struggle aboard. These beasts also spit if they become annoyed, a most noxious substance. They do have beautiful eyes with exceeding long lashes. Even more annoying was the fact that the camel driver insisted that the tourist wear a Bedouin hat, but on everyone’s head so the picture made would look more authentic. The picture was extra and mandatory. This was the first, last and only time I have ridden a camel -- it cost too much in many ways.

The final course in riding came in India, Thailand and Egypt again. That is not really correct: in Thailand, I was to lie on the ground and let the elephant place his foot over my face while tourists took pictures. It seems that age taught me something. Even if my brother had “double dog dared” me, I would have declined that honor. In Egypt and India, I did ride. Of the various beasts, elephants seem the gentlest. They have, on occasion, become violent with their keepers and others, often after being mistreated. As the saying goes, “An elephant never forgets.”

Now, many people know I have had training in riding. Hopefully, I shall not receive invitations to ride in parades or competitions. I am far too old and have learned much through the years.

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