In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Sherry Spitsnaugle. Sherry has written for me before, so I’m thrilled to have her back to tell this story about her first horse riding experience. I can certainly relate to horse riding fear, I was bucked off a horse a few years ago and am so lucky that I was ok. I’ve asked Sherry to share a few of her stories here as I’m busy traveling. All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry
I’m perched on my trusty steed, Sabino, at the foot of Suicide Pass, nervously staring up at the steep, cactus-lined path. It’s my final morning of a five-day visit at White Stallion Ranch, just outside of Tucson. It seemed like a good idea when I signed up this morning at the last minute. Now, as I study the rocky trail I ask myself, “What the heck was I thinking?”
I have a horse riding fear and have had it since I was a kid. Granted, I do not admit this to the wranglers or do my due diligence in asking specifics about the ride.
Instead, I spend time picking just the right cowboy hat from the community stash in the main lobby. After checking the mirror, I leave my baseball cap in place of a slightly worn but fine-looking ten-gallon.
I join the other riders, and at first glance, can see that they are far more comfortable on their horses than I am. They’ve been riding all week, and it’s obvious I’m going to be the lagger. First clue is that I’m the only one wearing tennis shoes rather than boots.
As one of the wranglers helps me awkwardly climb on Sabino, the thought crosses my mind that the perfect Stetson does not a cowgirl make.
First Time Horse Rider
As we clip-clop through the Saguaro-studded Sonoran Desert under a cloudless sky, I breathe in the smell of creosote and earth under the hot Arizona sun. The only sounds are of the horses as they whinny and the birds as they warble. I’m content in the saddle and feeling like this is the perfect end to my dude ranch vacation. The desert is lush—words not often used in the same sentence—because there’s been a lot of moisture this year and the cactus are in glorious bloom.
Shane, a volunteer wrangler, and I are at the back of our group of six. I am guessing he’s supposed to keep an eye on the rookie.
The head wrangler calls for a quick break to check in and she asks if anyone is a first-time rider this week. I alone raise my hand. She’s on a horse named Baby Clyde, and I admire her grace on top of the beautiful animal. (There’s also a horse named Bonnie on property).
Fear of Riding Horses
Shane and I are behind the others by 20 feet, which gives us a chance to chat. After some easy talk about our hometowns, (he’s from New York City and I was raised in a small Kansas town) I share that I grew up with a fear of horses.
My mother’s 12-year-old brother was killed on a horse on the family farm.
As kids, my siblings and I were not allowed near horses. Understandably, the memory was traumatic for my mom.
Shane shares a similar story that his aunt was kicked off a horse. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt, but the story stayed with him. Our talk is therapeutic.
Encouragement and Kindness Eases the Fear
Now, we stop at the foot of Suicide Pass. White-knuckled, I stare at the hill.
Shane is helpful and calm, and dishes out advice: “It will be rocky. And steep. Remember to stay single file.”
He keeps talking and giving advice which I find comforting. He suggests that I lean forward on the way up and lean back on the way down.
“Hold on to the mane to steady yourself,” Shane says as we start our gradual ascent. “The horse doesn’t mind.”
Sabino slips on the rocky surface and I gasp.
“Horses have three other legs to stand on,” Shane reassures. “You’re fine.”
The Legend of Suicide Pass
Shane tells the story of Suicide Pass: Years ago, two horses, Taco and Tico, were best friends and always played together.
“One day, Taco–or was it Tico–died unexpectedly,” Shane says. “After that, Tico walked up the trail and simply stepped off the cliff.” The legend and Shane’s storytelling distract me.
“I’m sure the story has grown and changed over the years, but it’s something along those lines,” he adds.
We are far behind the rest of our group, and I am really wishing I had leather chaps on, rather than cropped jeans with several inches of ankle exposed to the cactus spines as we brush by.
Expert Horse Riding Guides
“Don’t worry,” he says, “the horses know exactly what to do.”
And they do. Staff at White Stallion are experts at selecting the appropriate horse for every rider. The True family is adamant about safety for guests and animals, and the horses are extremely well-trained.
For that, I am grateful, as Sabino carefully steps down the rocky path.
“Maybe don’t lean back quite so far,” he suggests, as I realize I’m practically parallel to the ground. “But, you’re doing great!”
At the bottom of the pass, Shane beams like a proud teacher and asks, “How do you feel after your first mountain ride?”
My over-the-moon smile says it all.
All photos by Sherry Spitsnaugle
White Stallion Ranch — If you go
White Stallion Ranch is an easy drive or shuttle from Tucson. The ranch is described as a traditional, historic, upscale, family-owned and operated dude ranch. According to their website, “We are not a resort or corporate hotel. Service is honest, sincere, personal, guest-centered and friendly. Not scripted, practiced or robotic. Experience is real, diverse, and natural, but not luxurious, contrived or artificial.”
Horseback riding is among the main draws. The True family, who have run the ranch for more than five decades, have infinite knowledge about horses and are dedicated to the safety of guests and animals. Guests are assigned one horse for the duration of their stay. With one of the largest private herds in Arizona, the ranch and its staff match horse and rider, from rookie to experienced.
The True family has made the ranch their home for over 50 years and make guests feel like family. Guests can also ride ebikes, get a massage, join a cattle sort, swim, go rock climbing, watch the weekly rodeo, or take an onsite tour of locations where Hollywood filmmakers have shot dozens of scenes.
Prices vary depending on time of year, type of accommodation and package. Visit whitestallion.com or call 520.297.0252.
Meet the Author:
Sherry Spitsnaugle, guidebook author, travel writer, wife and dog mom, first expressed her urge to explore at age four when she packed up her little red wagon and took off for an adventure— around the block. Today, she continues to fulfill her travel bug tendencies, exploring and writing about her experiences.
Sherry Spitsnaugle attended the Society of American Travel Writers Western Chapter conference in May, at White Stallion Ranch, near Tucson. Each of the 40 attendees received a discounted media rate for their stay at the ranch.