“Poker Ride” on a Thoroughbred?

Since I don’t play polo anymore, I crave adventure and take it whenever it comes.

This morning, instead of letting my best polo horse– April, my beloved 14 year-old, 16-2 hand Thoroughbred– be ridden by another player, I rode her in an obstacle-course “poker ride.” At each obstacle the rider draws a playing card for what becomes his “hand” at the end. At the sign-in grounds April got so agitated, tacked up in polo gear but not playing polo, that she pranced and snorted and spun and bothered some of the cool-as-rocks Western horses. Out of 30 or so horses she was the only T-bred and I was the only one with an English saddle and helmet. (My excuse? “I’ve had six concussions; one more, they’ll make me a judge.”)

When the ride began I asked other riders we came upon, as they plodded along on ribbon-marked trails, if we could go ahead of them “so I could take a little zip out of her.” Soon we found ourselves in front of everyone, and I let April have her head. She leapt to a gallop and sustained the pace for the whole poker ride, only slowing to trot at blind corners around Tamarisk trees. We added at least an extra mile to the course by taking wrong trails b/c I couldn’t spot the erratically placed ribbons. I finally figured out “pink” ones were for outbound and “orange” were for inbound.

So we arrived at the end of the ride, meaning back at the initial staging area, between 20 and 30 minutes before anyone else. (There were no points for speed but– what-the-hell– we loved it.) Despite April’s agitation, we conquered four of the five obstacles: (1) Opening and closing a “gate” made by a rope— at which April first backed up, preparing to jump it; (2) Taking a stranger’s jacket out of a mailbox, slinging it on my shoulder, then replacing it; (3) Walking across a 12’X12’ tarp placed over uneven ground and (4) Mounting from the horse’s right-side. (As April nervously danced around the mounting block, I flung myself on her neck and slid down to her back to cheers of “Ride-um cowboy!”) The one we flunked was the easiest: backing up for twelve feet between poles placed four feet apart. (Before leaving the ranch we’d practiced backing up in a straight line for 20 feet, no problema.) Still, like a Thoroughbred, after galloping in 90-degree heat for five miles, April remained keyed-up. Since we were way too early for the planned barbecue, we headed the half-mile back home.

When we returned to the ranch (now mouthfully called “The River Valley Equestrian Center”), four of the folks with whom I’d ridden over to the start of the ride were already back; they’d quit. What went wrong? Two had been thrown and two loyal friends quit to come back with them. Why, I asked? “Because of YOUR damned horse!” shouted one. Rather than talk about “proximate cause” (I was at least twenty minutes and a mile ahead of them when their horses freaked out), I simply accepted their blame and apologized. (Scared and shaken, the riders needed a cause for their terror and disappointment besides their own spooky mounts and poor horsemanship.) To try healing any bad vibes we’d created with other riders, I rode back to the staging area on Zarahas, my relatively placid Arabian. I ate lunch and chatted with other riders, Zarahas calmly standing behind me, hanging his head over my shoulder to inspect my victuals. Except for “Wow, he’s sure more mellow than that polo pony you rode at first!” the tale of my calamity-causing T-bred had apparently not spread to other riders. It will.

So, good-sporting aside, methinks being the only rider on a T-bred (“and on a $%&*! polo pony too!”) will make me persona-non-grata at next year’s poker ride. But perhaps I’ll try riding Zarahas instead. When I shared these thoughts with April, she just snorted, “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!”

About Art

Art Campbell’s Non-Blawg contains thought-sprinklings from an aging jock, recovering lawyer, and die-hard poet. Campbell was born in Brooklyn, raised in Appalachia, and scholarshipped to Harvard and Georgetown Universities. Prior to earning his second law degree he was a road-maintenance worker, janitor, boxer, rugby player, and professional musician. He then became a trial lawyer in Washington, D.C.– both for and against the government.

For over 40 years Campbell has been challenged to follow the path of Zen Buddhism through varied venues. Although a full-time law professor at California Western in San Diego, he’s seen his poetry win prizes and publication throughout the United States. Married to best-selling novelist Drusilla Campbell, with whom he’s raised two sons, he now trains two dogs and three horses, and occasionally runs roadraces in southern California.

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