successfully avoiding the discomfort and awkwardness of riding a
horse since I was in junior high at camp (a memory I had repressed
along with that of my parachute pants), while on vacation, I found
myself actually paying for the privilege of a two hour (yes, two
hour) trail ride on the beaches of South
Padre Island. The purpose of this voluntary humiliation was
so that my competitive equestrian-riding daughter, Ally, wouldn't
have to do it alone and I could make the fatherly gesture of watching
over and protecting her. It almost immediately became clear, though,
that what I was really doing was providing comic relief for everyone
there, and not because I was trying to be funny.
My first mistake, other than getting up that morning, was my outfit.
Apparently, khaki shorts and flip-flops aren't ideal equestrian
attire-if you want to be able to walk afterwards. Because of my
choice footwear, one of the guides (stifling his laughter) had to
cram my feet into the stirrups for me as if I was Miss Piggy in
the shoe department at Dillard's. My shorts revealed my next problem.
For some reason, I thought the saddle would be softer, or at least
feel less like I was straddling a utility pole wrapped in razor
wire. No matter which way I shifted, I found no relief from this
contraption that seemed designed to turn me into a human croquet
wicket. And every time I jostled the saddle in my attempts to find
the spot without the broken glass, my horse looked back at me as
if to ask, "Really?!"
Speaking of the horse, I was told that his name was Dr. Pepper.
"How cool!" I thought. "I love Dr. Pepper!" At first I assumed he
got his name from his dark caramel coloring, flecked with white-like
the carbonation in my favorite soda. Or maybe his name came from
his "peppy" spirit. I soon realized, however, that his name must
have been based on his personality. He was like the cranky old lady
who has to drink at least two full cans of Dr. Pepper a day while
watching reruns of Family Feud, or her rheumatism acts up and she's
meaner than an old lady who ran out of Dr. Pepper and her game show
was pre-empted by a Presidential State-of-the-Union Address announcing
a plan to ban canned soft drinks and any television programs featuring
Steve Harvey. On the day of my ride, there was no soda, and the
survey said, "You're dead!"
When we first started out along the shoreline, everything seemed
fine. Dr. Pepper was actually moving, and I hadn't fallen off and
been trampled to death. He did seem to have a fixation with the
hind quarters of the horse in front of us and had no respect for
personal space. Ally was expertly guiding her horse left and right,
in and out of the shallows with a mastery of the reins, occasionally
throwing me a glance full of pity and embarrassment. I figured that
if a thirteen-year-old girl could do it, I could, too. Or at least
I could get Dr. Pepper to avoid exposing me to further ridicule
because of where he chose to stick his nose. However, when I pulled
my reins to the right or the left, Dr. Pepper just snorted what
I'm sure was a horse insult at me and went right on nasally violating
the leader horse. Oh, well, at least he was enjoying himself and
not maiming me. I was even able to take a few (hundred) photos of
Ally with my 35mm camera, which, while riding a horse, was a little
like juggling a family of hedgehogs while balanced on a broom handle.
Ally hates to have her picture taken, especially by me, so naturally,
I risked life, limb, and lots of other body parts to take as many
To make the ride more interesting for us, and more amusing for the
guides, they eventually led us off of the shoreline and up into
some steep dunes that overlooked a beautiful valley. The serenity
of this magnificent natural scene was soon shattered, however, by
the sudden onslaught of a biblical plague of rabid pterodactyls.
Ok, they were mosquitos, but when we swatted them, they actually
made a thud on the ground. And remember; I was wearing shorts and
flip flops, so when I first looked down at my legs, they looked
like the buffet lines at Golden Corral on a Sunday after church.
Dr. Pepper didn't seem to mind that much. In fact, I think I heard
Once we escaped the bloodbath in the dunes, we rode back down to
the shore and through a shallow tidal marsh to see the sun setting
over the water. It was a magnificent sight. Despite the hardships,
it really was a special time to spend with my eldest child doing
what she loves. I just hope she remembers this thirty years from
now when I ask her to bring me my second Dr. Pepper and turn up
© Jase Graves
"Quips and Salsa" June
15, 2017 column