There was once a time in my life where I found myself on my knees in the midst of lush green flora on the bank of a tiny stream in Ireland. I recently found myself in a similar position on the slope of a mountain amidst tall grass during a light drizzle of rain in Mongolia. And while both of these instances may sound reverent and transcendental, allow me to clarify: they were not.
Let’s rewind three years to the time I spent WWOOFing (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Ireland with my sister. Mid-summer found us in County Kerry, living with a German woman in her electricity-less cottage. The garden was overgrown in a charming sort of way, and the cottage was homey in a peaceful sort of way– rife with relics that I, through my usual lens of romanticization, saw as secrets from our host’s mysterious past. I even interpreted her wearing a singular earring as a sign. Maybe I’ll post the poem I wrote about that later…
Back to the garden: it was beautiful. There were so many trees and plants and land that was overtaken by them that a) the midges were atrocious,
and b) I wanted to live there happily ever after.
There also happened to be an acre or so of land fenced off for animals that weren’t there. Yet.
Jenny was our host’s friend and neighbor– a broad term for the countryside– who was leaving for her native home of England. The problem of living in the countryside with other living things relying on you when you want to get up and move is the question, what do you do with those living things relying on you?
Enter: our host.
Our host accepted those living things– in this case, a father donkey named Fergl and his son named Rolph– due to her expansive and unused portion of fenced land. She got two donkeys to keep her dog company. Jenny got to leave with a clear conscience. My sister and I got the experience of walking donkeys from one farm to another and then fencing them in. Everyone won.
To celebrate, we shared tea and conversation in the kitchen. Right as we were getting to a most interesting [read: boring] and engaging [read: confusing] topic of politics, Jenny exclaimed, ‘Oh my god!‘ I had occupied myself with the dishes to avoid faking polite facials and interjecting ignorant non-opinions, so I assumed she was a political activist of the sort I don’t usually talk politics with. Mainly because I don’t talk politics with anyone. But really— and both host and sister realized this before I caught on– the exclamation was a reaction to the father donkey giving a tour of the garden to his son. Illicitly, mind you, considering we had just fenced them inside the fenced area. Our job now was to fence them in again.
Read: chasing them down until we could coax them back into the fenced area.
I’m not exactly sure how it worked out, but my sister and our host assigned themselves to the younger one, while Jenny and I were to manage the dad. I thought it’d be easy enough, considering the dad had already stopped as the son ran on, so I did as Jenny [read: the ‘expert’] said. First she told me to stand in back and push this donkey that refused to cross the one rock across a tiny stream that it just ran over two minutes prior when it was on tour guide duty. Uh huh, sure, I think. Stand in back, where donkeys are known for doing damage. I’ll just stand here [about 3 feet away] with my fingers touching. Safety first.
That didn’t last long. Jenny moved me to the front so she could whip him into shape from behind. In front, where nothing can go wrong. I got into position: reins in hand, face forward, and I started pulling. Hard. The reins went slack– clearly due to my inherent way with all things natural– and then some forceful object gored my back, slamming my knees into the rocky earth and leaving my bloody hands to break my fall by impaling themselves onto tiny rocks. As I envisioned my life ending via angry charging donkey, I watched the donkey run around me in the throes of liberation.
Jenny, that dear, kind soul, ran up to check on me. I’m so glad it was you and not me, she says. At least you bounced!
I’m comforted. Really.
You’re never supposed to turn your back to a donkey! The expert says.
Again, I’m enlightened. Thank you so much for sharing.
…hence my aforementioned kneeling position in which I sat until I no longer wished to rip her head off.
Fast forward three years, and I’m here in Mongolia. Not just Anywhere, Mongolia, but at Summer Camp in Mongolia. (Remember how much fun it was last year?) This year, the trainees wanted to ride horses, those glorious, half-wild, fully dangerous beasts that roam this country. As their trainer– Peace Corps technical trainer, not horse-riding trainer. Puh-lease.– I did all I can to make this happen. And happen it did.
On our last day, we hopped on horses one at a time to be guided around a green pasture for 10 minutes. While this may be exciting for a five-year-old at a circus, we ‘adults’ wanted something more story-worthy. Well, they wanted a ride worth the money to be paid. I wanted a story.
One of the trainees and I were strapped to the same guide. This was a) fun because we could chat, and b) uncomfortable because our horses kept running into each other and bruising our legs that consequently also kept running into each other. The guide sped up; our horses sped up. We were exhilarated. And then the 10 minutes were up.
Enter: problem #1.
My guide made eye contact with the camp manager who said something about my horse. I demanded to know what was wrong as they smiled and told me to get off the horse. Turns out the saddle wasn’t really strapped on. My guide laughed as he made a motion of my falling off and dying? breaking my neck? It was truly comforting, whatever that motion meant.
But that initial exhilaration was intoxicating– I wanted more. The guide took us toward the river, which we forded in true Oregon Trail fashion, and across a field to a mountain. We trotted along and sped up the higher we got– counterintuitive? counter-counterintuitive?– somehow urging the guide to forcefully stop us every few meters to prevent us from gathering any real speed. I tried to appreciate the jarring in true Peace Corps flexibility fashion.
Enter: problem #2, not totally unlike problem #1.
The last jarring halt made my horse hungry, so at the same time I was bracing myself against the stop, I found myself sliding down my horse’s head as it bent to graze. I grabbed for the guide’s sweatshirt and for the horse next to me, neither of which appreciated it very much, and the two horses I was attached to started walking backwards to allow me to fall forward more swiftly from my perch with my feet still stuck in the stirrups. My knees hit the ground, and the saddle was now being worn as a hat by my horse. Turns out it wasn’t really strapped on. Again.
It hurt, but I got my story.
..hence my previously mentioned kneeling position in which I remained until my almost-hysterical breathing-turned-laughing-for-lack-of-an-appropriate-alternative returned to normal.
Basically, the lesson I learned from these experiences combined is that I have a way with all things equine.
I am rather skilled in equitation.
You might as well just call me The Equestrian.