When I first see him, I am awed by his sheer size. He towers in his stall, a black head in the semi-light of dawn.
It's a dangerous business, this riding other people's horses at full gallop over rough country. I consider it this morning, less sharp than I should be. Jet lagged and hungover, I consider what I know, inventory my fears and their companions. I tell myself I am a good rider; that the horse is very safe (I've been told); that after all, you only live once.
Once I am on board, though, I fall in love with Chubby. He's plucky and fast and keeps up just fine, and is surprisingly sure-footed for such a giant. His canter is smooth and rocking; he grabs a branch or a snack of tall grass every chance he gets. I am comfortable. Except.
Round about hour two, I feel as if my hips might break off. Chubby is wide. I think about what it must be like to have sex with a very, very fat man, only sex can be quick and we are out in the cool fall woods for hours.
The next morning I ride Willoughby. I have ridden him before and know him to be a steady fellow. He's much more my size, which is good, since after Chubby I walk like a caricature of a cowboy, bow-legged, ass behind, the muscle below my right shoulder a wrong-breath away from tearing in half.
We are galloping through a narrow trail that opens out into a cornfield. The rider in front of me turns hard left and Willoughby snatches the bit out of my hands, flattens his body and runs. In these split seconds, I don't know fear, I only see the events passing as in a stop-motion cartoon. This is when I see the ground come up to meet me.
No one makes a big deal. I get back on. I ride for two more hours, it's the best thing. Get off and give up and risk seizing up like a stone. Keep moving.
The bruise is the shape of Texas. I'm happy, for once, that I am carrying 20 extra pounds of weight. I think about thin people hitting the ground that hard and of their bones cracking apart like glass meeting a tile floor. I did not shatter.
At home again I kiss my horses. I thank them for the daily intimacy we share, the familiarity, the predictability. I know what they'll do, when they'll do it. I read their cues like a book, an ear flick, a tightening of the back, a snort. I know their language. I vow to them that I'll avoid riding other people's horses.