This post belongs further back in the scheme of things, somewhere in between Nashville and Chattanooga actually, but I’ve only just got the photos developed, so it’s going here.
A phone conversation.
Woman: Hello, Juro Stables…
Me: Hi, I was wondering whether my brother and I could come on out and go riding?
Woman: Well, sure, are you country boys?
Me: Yes ma’am!
Woman: So, what level do y’all ride at?
Me: Well, y’see… it’s been a while now… I erm.. well.. let’s just say beginner?
Woman: Right. I understand.
Moral of the story? Don’t ever say you’re a “country boy” in Nashville unless you really are a country boy. Living near the countryside or having trees near your house doesn’t count. In Nashville, country boys can ride horses.
We went out there, parked, discovered we’d forgotten the camera, drove at light speed to the nearest store, bought camera, returned, got saddled up. A hectic start, but it was the start of an unforgettable experience.
Our guide was Brandon: he really is a cowboy. He trains horses for a living, has the cowboy walk, and rides rodeo: real buckaroo, bareback bull-riding rodeo. He was awesome. The guides here don’t get paid — they’re volunteers, so you are expected, as they say at Juro Stables, “to kiss your horse and tip your guide”. We did both.
It was like going back in time to when the horse was the central point of commerce and travel for the world. We were out in the forests and plains of Tennessee, not a road or a car in sight, but just pure, unadulterated nature. The air tasted different, the colors were brighter, and we were at one with horses, and there’s nothing like getting on a horse to rekindle your respect for nature’s creations. As we tromped around, Brandon told us all about what the horses were used for in working situations: there are trail horses for basic riding an’ roping; ranch horses, trained to pull uncooperative cattle onto the right paths; cutting horses which act like sheepdogs do — splitting herds of cows into groups, then making sure each group stays separate from the others — and the horses can do all this by themselves (once properly trained). It was hugely eye-opening.
After our first stage of walking along the trail we approached a clearing. “All right! Now how’s about going a little faster?!” said Brandon. Nick looked at me. I looked at Nick. We nervously assented. Brandon continued, “Just make a kissing sound and give her a good kick in the sides — don’t worry for her, she’s over 1100 pounds — you won’t hurt her.” To be honest I was more worried about me getting hurt than my horse (Stella), but I kept that to myself.
Apparently you don’t say “Giddy-up!” — a kissing sound will do it, though this may depend on who trained the horse. I always figured it would be funny to train the horse to run when someone yells “stop” and to stop when someone yells “run!”… so it’s probably lucky I’m not a horse trainer.
And they can go fast. At least it seems fast when you’re up on top. I was bouncing around like a cartoon cowboy — I couldn’t walk properly for two days afterwards. But then we learned how to ride even when the horse is going fast and not to hop around in the saddle: it’s to do with your legs. Holding on for dear life with your hands doesn’t work.
In all it was a really wonderful day. Out in wild nature, miles from modernity we felt free in every sense. We followed a rugged trail over hills, through valleys, across streams; the wind was blowing cool, but everything was brightened by a warm September sun; I’d say it was one of the best experiences in my life. Brandon was great, knowledgeable and friendly and he pointed out some local relics as we went through the wooded dales. We saw a real, 1890s moonshine keg (moonshine, for those not in the know, is illegal/homemade liquor — not so good to drink, but fine if there’s nothing else available) and the remains of an old stone fireplace built by a hermit who was trying to keep out of the civil war circa 1863. So we had history, nature, freedom and real animal contact all in the same wondrous moment. It was perfect.
Now. Being a real Nashville cowboy, Brandon also plays guitar — country music of course. He’s starting to get some success in a difficult field, and he’s on youtube with his song entitled, appropriately enough, “Rodeo Cowboy”. Check him out!