Wednesday, October 5, 2011

More Americana than a Norman Rockwell illustration

About a week and a half ago, I convinced my dear friend Lara to accompany me on what I will call the cliche New England Sunday. On the agenda: Horseback riding, apple picking, pie baking, football watching, and pumpkin ale drinking. It was going to be a blast...

Here's the catch, both Lara and I love the idea of being outdoorsy, country folk, but in actuality we are about as urban as you get.  We agree to these nostalgic outings of mountain climbing, bike-riding, kayaking, nature photography, etc and then realize that we aren't totally comfortable with natural environment. We appreciate the beauty of the landscape, foliage, and animal life, but we wish it was always accompanied with bottles of antibacterial, air freshener, and bug spray. You laugh, but I'm serious.

Anyway, we began our Sunday at 7:30AM with a quick trip to Dunkin Donuts for coffee and drove to Princeton, MA.  We ohhed and aahhed over the changing leaves and quaint towns we passed by as we neared our destination, Cornerstone Ranch.  I found Cornerstone Ranch through a Groupon for a 2 hour trail ride. They claimed to cater to novice riders.  Besides the fact I adore her, I invited Lara along because like me, she'd never ridden a horse.  I mean, we'd both been on pony rides as children, but had never been in control (or were under the guise we were in control) of these large animals.  So as we pulled into the ranch and signed our liability forms, we were a little nervous about what was to come next. 

The people who work at/own the ranch were bring the horses out of the barn and readying them for the ride, while the rest of us stood around chatting.  Most were chatting about there previous riding experiences and how beautiful the horses were.  Our conversation was a little different.

Lara: This helmet really smells. I think I'm going to gag.
Me: *trying to wipe dirt from my boots* I didn't expect to get so dirty already.  I should haven't worn designer boots, huh?
Lara: *pointing to some ponies* Do you think they'll let me ride one of those? I'm small and they look about my size.
Me: Do you think it will be really buggy out there? I hate mosquitoes.
Lara: We are so urban....

Let's fast forward a bit.  We've been instructed to each bring a horse into a fenced off riding area and line them up.  (I was informed that my helmet was on backwards and I should probably fix it.)  We spent several minutes being paired off with horses and the guide helped us climb into the saddles and prepare to ride.  She was uber helpful and gave several excellent instructions on how to make the horse go, "Git up," slow down, "Easy," and stop, "Whoa."  Seemed easy enough.  She mentioned that some of the horses were stubborn and we shouldn't be afraid to give them a good kick with our heels to get them moving or even use our reigns to lightly smack them and if completely necessary, take a thin stick and us it as a crop (mostly for the new pony on the ride).  This made me pause, but I decided I would just go with it and let things fall where they may. 

This is where things get interesting. As we are getting ready to leave, the guide turns to me and says, "Your horse is called Louie.  You look pretty comfortable up there, so I normally wait to tell people this until after the ride, but you'll be okay.  Louie was a wild Mustang.  You can see he has a brand (some type of dye not fire and poker kind of brand) there from the wrangler who captured him.  He has more of a survival instinct than the others, so you might have to be a little forceful with him. Alright? Great." She smiled and we started on our way. Except, I hadn't said alright, I hadn't nodded my head, I had sat there on top of Louie looking panicked and trapped and completely helpless. But, as I was too stunned to speak up, Louie decided we should follow the crowd and head to the trial.

I decided right then and there that my horse, with his superior survival instincts, knew better than I did about what we should be doing. If Louie wanted to take a break, we'd take a break, if he wanted a drink, he'd have a drink of water and if he wanted to take off in the other direction, I wasn't going to stop him.  As long as he didn't mind me coming for the ride, we were going to be fine. I told Louie this as well, in a soothing voice.  I kept up both of our ends of the conversation and decided that we'd be good friends. If he kept calm, cool and collected, I would keep the pesky flies and mosquitoes off the parts of his back and ears he couldn't reach.  I think the woman on the horse behind me thought I was insane.

The trial ride was pretty relaxing and Louie seemed to know what he was doing.  A few times I had to ask him nicely to move and stay out of the branches so I wasn't decapitated, but no need for any excessive force.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Lara.  She was on a younger horse, Hope.  Hope was new to the trail rides and, we came to find out, had recently had her first set of horse shoes attached (ouch!).  I guess Hope was hesitant when getting to a certain part of the path because before her shoes, the gravel was difficult on her hooves.  The part of the trail prior to the gravel happened to be in the middle of the road.  So, poor Lara was stuck on an unmoving horse, blocking traffic in the middle of a street.  From a few horses back, I heard her say, "Please move Hope, please. We've got to get going."  From in front of Lara, the guide was telling her to give Hope a few good kicks. Lara hesitated and I knew why.  Who would kick a horse? Honestly, isn't the cruel?  PETA and the humane society would be throwing paint at us or something.  So Lara tried her best to keep pleading with the horse to no avail.  Finally, much to her dismay, she gave Hope a slight kick. Nothing.  The guide was climbing off her horse and trying to get Lara to kick Hope again and harder until she started moving.  Lara really didn't want to kick Hope, but she also didn't want to be road kill, so she shut her eyes and gave hope a few swift kicks and Hope started moving.  I felt terrible for my friend and saw Lara apologize profusely to the horse afterward. 

We had a few more hiccups with stubborn horses, but for the most part the ride was relaxing and enjoyable.  My wild Mustang kept me out of danger and skillfully managed to take us up and down some pretty steep hills.  Louie is alright in my book and seemed to have entirely agreed to the terms and conditions I laid out at the start of our ride. He didn't even seem to mind that I kept shifting my weight to attempt to lessen the discomfort that the bones in my butt would feel in the hours and days to come... unfortunately, that was wasted effort.

After we said farewell to Hope and Louie -Hope nuzzled Lara and left her with some sticky substances on her jacket (gross!)- we found our way to the kind of nearby Meadowbrook orchards (I had never been there) where we could disinfect our clothing and persons and pick our own apples.  We took our time wandering through the orchard and picking as many Macintosh and Gala apples as our bags could hold, while enjoying the scenery. The layout is lovely, with a pond and Adirondack chairs that look out over the orchards. We stopped in the general store-like restaurant to have some chicken stew and apple cider for lunch and because it was getting later than we expected and we were tired, we bought some frozen pre-made apple pies (something I will never do again). As much as I enjoyed the experience, I doubt I would go back to this orchard, I prefer Brookfield Orchards and their apple dumplings to the pie and unlabeled rows of trees at Meadowbrook.

We ended our day visiting my parents, tasting the seasonal offerings of Sam Adams, including Oktoberfest and Pumpkin lager while watching the Patriots lose and eating the pre-made apple pie.  It was everything that I love about autumn in New England.   I suggest everyone spend a Sunday in October doing the same.

<3 K