Setting the Stage for This Day’s Near Tragedy
First, I thought, “Everyone is doing it. I will write about sex!” But, there is enough sex going around Medium writing these days. Besides, I don’t want to catch a textually transmitted disease.
So, when in doubt, self-deprecating humor wins out. This type of humor might be better called self-defecated since I nearly crapped my pants while on this adventure.
So that you don’t accuse me of clickbait by leading you into a sordid sex story, let me get to my yarn.
A Long Time Ago, In A Far, Far Away Land
1983 to be exact, I dated a girl from Texas who was also a US sailor stationed at NAS Sigonella, Sicily. She, an accomplished equestrian, decided we should go horseback riding.
The base, Naval Air Station Sigonella, is located south of Catania, Sicily, in the Plain of Catania. We lived several miles away in the hilly area above a town named Misterbianco in the foothills of Mount Etna. Yes, life had its ups and downs back then.
Though I never once hinted that I would make her my beneficiary in case of my sudden demise, she convinced me that we should go on this life-threatening adventure.
Eventually, we parted ways. But that is a horse of different color.
Before this equestrian event, I could count the number of times I had ridden a horse on one finger — excluding carousals or the overpriced horse rides at the grocery store. Yes, when I was a child. To keep her sanity, mom would fork over her hard-earned nickels and dimes for those one-minute rides. I am aging myself. Now, those cheesy rides cost dollars.
I should have been suspicious of my girlfriend's mal-intent. Riding up and down those narrow winding roads, I expected to pull up to a hidden villa surrounded by men with Berettas and sub-machine guns. Instead, we arrived in the middle of nowhere.
The place was hidden better than an ISIS training camp.
Long before Google Maps, Waze, Trip Advisor, and all the other apps that take you to the nether parts of the world, my girlfriend found this place — an exploration discovery.
We turned off the barely paved, narrow winding road onto a dusty dirt road with uneven rocky ground. Desert shrubs and cacti grew sporadically out of the hard soil and through the cracks in the rock.
My Equestrian Training
Finally, we pulled up to what I thought was a World War II machine gun nest. It turned out to be the horse stable. Forget those visions of the Americana midwest; no big red barn, no fertile fields with green pastures lined by white fences, and no fancy sign with a horseshoe logo overhanging the driveway.
This place would have turned Joseph and Mary away for the lack of room. The small building manufactured with cinderblock and mortar had a wood-framed overhang with green corrugated plastic for a roof. A Sicilian lady in equestrian attire met us as we walked toward the stable. She turned out to be both the proprietor and our trail guide for the day. She quickly groomed and saddled three horses.
We asked her, “Do you speak any English?” She held up her thumb and index with a small gap, “Poco.” Poco means little. We spoke no equestrian Italian. I knew a little mechanic Italian, a little shopping Italian, and a little pay the rent Italian but no equestrian Italian. In her best English, she gave us the 30-second crash course.
I looked over at my girlfriend. She chomped at the bit. Her excitement reminded me of a dog standing over a food bowl, waiting for the command to eat. All that was missing was the drool.
She had ridden European saddle, Western saddle, and probably bareback. The instructions were a formality only.
City boy — me — is thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” Let me clarify. I don’t mean the big apple like NYC type city boy but a small city as in Plattsburgh, NY, an apple seed city boy.
Upon completion of her training session, our trainer looked at each of us to see if we comprehended. My ego won out. With as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “Yes. Let’s do this.” She understood that as a YES. She then smiled, nodded, and said, “Okay?”
The Adventure Begins
I don’t remember the horse’s name so we will call him “Horse.”
Horse spotted me immediately. He threw his head back and neighed in laughter. His thought, “Finally, I get to have some FUN.”
My trusted steed stood nearly two meters at the shoulders. Give me a hand if you know how many hands that is.
I looked up at him. He winked and smirked.
My first obstacle, “How am I going to mount this beast?” I‘m five foot six.
Oh, he was a beautiful horse with a dark braided mane shiny red-brown coat. Don’t ask me his breed. All I know is that this particular breed is known for sarcasm.
The Yoga pose that I used to mount him.
If I recall correctly, a stool and a push were required to get me in the saddle. The moment I was on him, he tested me by jerking me around a little.
Sidenote: Who thought up the European saddle anyway? Was there a leather shortage during that period in history? That saddle is like wearing a thong to the beach. It protects only the bare minimum.
We headed down the dusty trail with me dragging the rear. The trail guide and my girlfriend, both experienced riders, kept leaving me behind in their dust.
The diabolical beast would wait until the others were almost out of sight then take off at a gallop with me hanging on for dear life. My man parts retracted up into my throat from the pounding they endured from the ride. With no provocation, Horse took off at a gallop several times during our ride.
On the trail, we passed a sheep farm. Where there are sheep, there are sheepdogs. Forget the image of a well-trained cute border collie you see performing the miraculous in the dogfood commercials. Sicilian sheepdogs are feral. They are more like unkept African Painted dogs. In those days, many of the Sicilian shepherds cropped the dog’s ears down to nothing. These tick-infested ornery dogs were not house pets. They worked, lived, and slept outdoors.
The trail guide and my girlfriend had left Horse and me to the dogs. Fortunately, Horse knew the trail. I was at his mercy. He stayed on track despite the pack barking and nipping at his heels.
Horse and I made eye contact. I thought, “A connection! Maybe now, Horse will work with me.” The connection lasted but for a moment.
Horse tip-toed his way with the mangy motley mutts surrounding us. Eventually, the dogs grew bored and left us to harass the penned sheep.
My riding party waited for Horse and me at the top of a hill. When they saw us come up behind, they continued down the hill then up another. Horse and I crested the top of the first hill, then he stopped. I watched as they disappeared again.
In my 30-second training session, I didn’t remember any of the Italian cues. Giddy up, shaking the reigns, threatening Horse’s life did nothing. He refused to budge.
“What is wrong with this crazy horse?” He stood there, ignoring me. Suddenly enough poop blew out to fertilize a good size farm. The stress from the dog pack must have caused Equine Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Horse refused to move because he needed to have a movement of another sort. He finished his business, then without warning, took off like Shadowfax to Gondor. Only it wasn’t Gandalf the white riding but Don the Naive. I swear I went airborne a few times, slamming into that concrete hard saddle.
Our merry little adventure continued back to the stable. On the way home, my girlfriend smiled, “How did you enjoy riding?” At three octaves higher than usual, I responded, “Great!”
“What’s wrong with your voice?” I just smiled and nodded.
I Lived to Tell the Tale
I survived that day and made it home. I woke up the next day, barely able to move. My butt, nuts, and thighs were sore as hell.
Despite the beating, I received on that momentous day, several years later, my wife — not the same woman I dated in Sicily — and I conceived. Three kids and eight grandkids later, life is still good.
My ex-girlfriends response to my demise, “I thought I told you that you need to post when riding. Posting helps you to flow with the horse’s rhythm.”
A little late, but here I am posting.