Tiny Dancer's birthday...my present was to take her and a friend horseback riding. I used to ride horses every weekend when I was a teenager so I was excited to share this experience with her. Making arrangements with the owner of the ranch was a nightmare. She never returned phone calls or emails. And when she did she had 10,000 (maybe an exaggeration) stipulations and instructions. This should have been a sign but we trudged on...The day of the ride was glorious, sunshine but crisp and cool...perfect day for sitting astride a magical steed and riding into the sunset. We arrived early because the owner had directed us to arrive early. We had water and sunscreen and signed releases absolving the ranch of any responsibility for any mishap. When we approached the barn, after climbing a fence or two we found one lonely horse grazing in the yard but no human present. We waited at the barn gate, peering inside and seeing only dogs who acted as if they would eat us alive if we entered the gate. Finally a woman's voice called to us from the dark recesses of the barn.
"Can you please tell me who you are?" We identified ourselves but she was not convinced and said she would call our cell phone to make sure we were really who we said we were. We told her we didn't have our phones with us. Finally she said the words that carved a mental image in my brain that will be with me for awhile. She said..."I can't come out yet. I'm not dressed...I'm nursing puppies." She then berated us for being early though she had instructed us to be early the day before. As we waited outside she would occasionally shout out complaints and excuses and we began to wonder if we should run in the other direction. She finally came out, fully dressed and with no puppies attached to her. She whistled one loud long whistle and about 10 horses came running from some hidden corner of the ranch...it was a thing of beauty and our spirits brightened as we were allowed to enter the barn.
Terri was a small wisp of a woman but with hair and a personality that were bigger than life. She began to explain about the puppies, their mother had a rabies shot while pregnant which caused some complication in the birth and the ability to nurse her own puppies. So Teri had been giving them their mother's milk every two hours with a turkey baster. She said she was covered with milk everytime she fed them so had begun to change into her 'milking' clothes whenever it was feeding time. It took hours for the ride to start as Terri told us story after story, cleaned the barn, fussed over the puppies and finally got the horses ready. In between she would give the young girls gems of wisdom like, "opportunity has two faces, one with hair, one that is bald, if you don't grab opportunity by the hair then you will be bald." She told about learning to ride when she was very young and her trainer yelling at her because she wasn't a good rider at first. She asked her trainer why he stuck with her since she was so bad and he explained to her that he had stayed because he was in love with her mother. Her father finally kicked him off the ranch because of his excessive drinking. Terri warned the girls that she would be yelling at them during the ride, like her trainer yelled at her, but only because she wanted them to be safe and learn how to ride.. But she assured them, "I am your friend, in a few years when you get into some trouble in the middle of the night and can't call your parents, you can call me and I'll come get you at the police station, if I remember you...well I'm come get you anyway if you tell me you rode here when you were younger." When the horses were saddled we found these were not ordinary trail horses that respond well but horses with spirit and minds of their own. I wondered about the wisdom of placing inexperienced riders on such horses. It soon went from excitement to tears when the girls couldn't control the horses even inside the barn.
In an effort to make things better Terri went ahead and took the riders outside to journey across rocks and deep gullies and ravines on horses they couldn't control. I stayed at the barn with instructions to check on the puppies and make sure the mother dog was not suffocating her babies by sitting on top of them. Soon I heard the cries of Tiny Dancer begging for someone to let her off the horse she couldn't control. Terri's warning that she would be yelling at them was no empty threat. She began screaming directions in a loud harsh manner. When that didn't solve the problem she began calling the girls babies and the worst riders she had ever seen. There's nothing like name calling to motivate children to want to experience something new and difficult. Finally she helped Tiny Dancer off the horse, sent her into the barn with me, telling her she was done with her. More sobbing and self-recrimination as we waited for the other riders to be allowed to dismount and return to sanity. Climbing back over fences, we made a clean and quick escape. Happy Birthday Tiny Dancer! Next year I'm giving cash...