Photo by Linda Gardiner
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I had equal parts of love and fear for my inlaw’s four horses. I watched them for hours, admiring their grace and power. At first I was afraid they’d step on me, so I visited with them across the fence. Then one day, my husband’s father, Jerry, put me up on the back of an ancient mare and led me around the enclosed paddock.
That experience left me feeling braver and more curious. I crossed the fenceline, and the horses came over to visit me, allowing me to groom them in the pasture. However, no horse there was safe for a beginner to ride.
About a year after David and I were married, Jerry brought home a quiet, well-trained horse that was no longer capable of the long days of riding the range carrying a burly cowboy and chasing down cattle. Trigger’s body was the color of burnished mahogany, and his legs, mane and tail were glossy black. He was smaller than the ranch horses, with a beautiful head and large eyes that seemed to radiate friendliness and compassion.
When Jerry led Trigger off the trailer and told me he was mine, I fell instantly and irrevocably in love. I vowed to learn how to ride despite limited natural talent. I took lessons twice a week and worked hard to learn to handle and ride Trigger, who lived out his days with us.
One vacation stood out for me: Peru. We landed in Lima on our way to Cusco and Machu Picchu. In Lima, we went to a dinner show featuring local cuisine and entertainment. The featured spectacle was the Marinera, where barefoot female dancers in voluminous, frilly skirts flirted with men riding Peruvian Horses. The woman on the ground flicked her skirt and pirouetted prettily, while the horse circled the dancer, also pirouetting.
The horses were truly extraordinary. I knew of Tennessee Walking Horses, but I’d never paid much attention to the difference between gaited and trotting horses. These Peruvian Horses had a regal bearing and seemed to float over the ground. I still preferred smaller horses, and these compact equines had a romantic history going back to the days of the Spanish Conquistadors.
I longed to run my fingers through their extravagant manes and tails. These were not the quiet stock horses I was accustomed to seeing around Alberta ranches. I was both intrigued and intimidated by these high-spirited animals. I felt like I had when I first saw Trigger. “I can learn to ride,” I said to myself once again.
The first time I rode a Peruvian Horse was during a half-day trail ride in the Sacred Valley of Peru. The stablehands assisted us as we mounted, and we had a few moments to get used to our horses in the grassy arena before we left on our ride. The horses began dancing with excitement as we passed through a narrow gate at the back of the property and out on to a dirt laneway lined with the high fences of the neighbouring landholdings.
I’d never been on a horse with this kind of energy, and I wanted to keep that genie in the bottle. I soon realized Bosco was obedient, if not calm.
The excitement continued as we turned and prepared to cross the main road through town. Our guide, Alberto, had his staff stop the traffic so we could cross safely as a group. A short distance later, we crossed a pedestrian suspension bridge.
The horses didn’t want to wait their turns, but only two could be on the narrow, fragile bridge at a time. The stablehands were there again to restrain our horses from charging across too quickly. Even gentle Bosco pranced and reared up on his hind legs a couple of times, wanting to catch up to his friends.
We’d been riding for twenty minutes, and I’d already had more excitement than in the two years I’d been taking lessons and trailriding along the river at our ranch! I forgot to be scared.
We headed up out of the canyon floor on a steep, narrow trail. Bosco began to lunge and canter to navigate our way through the rocks. “Hang onto the mane!” Alberto shouted back to us as our horses scrambled up. I couldn’t bear to look over the drop-off on the left side. It quickly became terrifying, and we were climbing ever higher. I focused directly on the trail ahead or the rocky wall to my right.
We gathered at a flat stop at the top of the trail to allow the gasping horses to recover. Alberto motioned for us to look back. “Behold Maras!” he said, extending his hand with a flourish. “These marvellous salt evaporation ponds were constructed by the Incas over 2000 years ago when salt was one of the most valuable commodities on earth. As you can see, they are still in operation today.” The vista delighted our tourists’ eyes.
Mercifully, the remaining three hours of riding were much less exciting than the first one had been. We immersed ourselves into the experience of riding through tiny villages where barefoot children ran out to see the horses pass by, shouting and waving their welcome. We rode past orderly fields of cotton, corn and potatoes. I was perplexed by what seemed to be a moving pile of corn until I spotted the tiny donkey underneath, bearing the stalks. “Nothing is wasted here,” Alberto said. “The corn stalks are used for livestock feed and bedding.”
It didn’t seem like four hours had passed when we neared the ranch at the end of our journey. David and I had done a lot of travelling, but we’d never experienced anything remotely like this. No one could have predicted the changes that occurred following that dinner show in Lima and trail ride in the Sacred Valley.
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“How could I have been so blind?”
This novel was written after Jocelyn shared dating “war stories” with her wonderful friends who had experienced similar stories of deception. Many of us were embarrassed at our naivete, and Jocelyn wanted to cast a light on how trusting people can be at risk of manipulation, create resilience and become less susceptible to emotional fraud.
Balancing trust with discretion can be a challenge. Sometimes we err on the side of caution, attaching intentions to others that may not be true. Other times, we make excuses for poor behaviour, attaching attributes we wish someone had when their actions haven’t supported our hopes.
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