For more about Jan, check out her book Back from Obesity, or scroll on down over at the Cranky Fitness Info Page, which mysteriously depublished itself for a while but seems to have returned. --Crabby
Heigh-ho Silver, away!
I was always looking for fun and creative ways to get more exercise as I took years to work my weight down from 396 to 144. High on my list of “someday I’m gonna be able to do this again” was horseback riding.
As a teen, I’d ridden horses with my country cousins, so I was well aware how much core muscle strength it took just to stay upright. I figured I’d probably be brave enough, and fit enough, to mount up again once I got under 200 pounds.
The Universe, however, had other ideas. The Universe thought it would be funny as hell to see me astride a powerful equine long before I deemed myself “ready.”
“Auntie! Auntie!” My 10-year-old niece bounded across the front yard of her family’s beach cabin and met me at my car door. “We’re going to go ride horses on the beach! Wanna go with us?”
I looked into the bright blue eyes of my darling niece (a.k.a. MDN) as I gave her a great big bear hug. How could I refuse her anything she asked? I took a deep breath. “Sure,” I said, “I’d love to.”
My sister, niece and I approached the registration table, money in hand. The woman in charge surveyed the three of us, top to bottom and back again. Her eyes came to a stop on me. “Our horses don’t carry more than 220 pounds,” she said pointedly.
A fast flush took over my entire neck and face. “Then I guess that lets me out,” I said honestly, knowing I’d tipped the scale that morning at 265. My sister is a few inches taller than me, and I had no idea what she weighed at the time.
“That lets me out too,” she admitted. She took her daughter by the hand. “I think we should go check out one of the other horse rental places.”
At our second stop we asked before they could embarrass us if there was a size restriction. The woman there quickly surveyed us and said, “We have some larger horses for larger people. I don’t see a problem here.”
I let go the breath I’d been holding and we began filling out the liability release forms. “Horseback riding is classified as a Rugged Adventure Recreational Sport Activity,” the form stated. “According to NEISS (National Electronic Injury Surveillance Systems), horse activities rank 64th among injuries resulting in a stay at U.S. Hospitals. Related injuries can be severe, and may have lasting residual effects.”
Did I really want to do this? I glanced at MDN. She was happily initialing all 12 of the individual release clauses, including the waiver for wearing a helmet. I certainly didn’t want to disappointment her, yet I also didn’t want to put myself in a position to foolhardily endanger myself based on the size of my ego.
“How long have you been renting horses on the beach?” I casually asked the woman in charge.
“Seven years,” she said. “And there’s never been an injury,” she added, anticipating my next question.
I completed the form and joined the group being paired with their mounts. Naturally, they gave me one of the significantly larger horses. Fair enough. But this horse was so large I felt compelled to ask where they kept the beer truck it usually pulled.
“Those are Clydesdales,” laughed the handler. “This is a Belgian quarter horse cross.”
Small consolation. The horse had hooves the size of dinner plates, and a back so broad I was sure my legs would stick straight out on each side.
“His name’s Trigger,” she said.
“Trigger? As in Roy Rogers’ ‘Trigger’?”
The woman smiled. “He’ll be gentle with you.”
Gentle was not the word for Trigger. Comatose, maybe. He plodded along so slowly we soon fell quite a ways behind. One of the handlers rode back and suggested I “give him a little kick” so we’d catch up.
“Actually, we’re doing just fine,” I told her. “When the group turns around, we’ll have a head start.”
She smiled, and urged her own horse ahead. Suddenly Trigger decided he didn’t want to be left back after all. He broke into a trot, and with the first step of this new advanced gait, I discovered I now had a tailbone. A tailbone that slapped painfully hard against the saddle with every jounce.
Reacting instinctively, I clasped my arms tightly across my chest to keep my big bouncing boobs from blackening my eyes.
Whereas I had previously worried about my legs being ripped from their hip sockets, I shifted my concern to just staying in the saddle.
“Auntie!” called my niece as I rejoined the group and Trigger resumed his one-speed-suits-all pace. She beamed. “Are you having fun, like me?”
“Probably not,” I admitted between clenched teeth, “but I sure like being with you while you have fun!”
That was good enough for her, and she skillfully maneuvered her horse through the pack and back into the lead.
Returning to our starting point, I discovered my adventure was far from over: I had yet to dismount. Astride Trigger, who was just over 16 hands high, the ground appeared a very long ways away. I wasn’t sure I could bend my knee far enough to get down.
“Could I have something to step off onto?” I asked.
They provided me with a green plastic beach chair. I hoisted my right leg over Trigger’s rump, and stepped tentatively onto the seat of the chair. My left foot was still in the stirrup when Trigger decided to take a few steps forward.
The chair tipped drastically, and my life flashed before my eyes. The last scene played out only in my overactive imagination—of me being dragged underneath the flying hooves of my marauding mount.
The reality was bad enough—the flimsy chair buckled and broke into a plethora of pieces. The words “mortified,” “humiliated,” and “devastatingly embarrassed” rushed into my panic-stricken mind.
Then my left foot suddenly popped free of the stirrup, and I miraculously stood upright in the soft sand.
I wanted to kiss the ground, but MDN, oblivious to my near-miss with mortality, pulled me by the hand toward her father, who’d wisely spent his hour listening to the radio in their truck. “Auntie!” she said, “Wanna go with us on the mopeds next?”
I wasn’t about to tempt fate a second time that day. While a part of me desperately wanted to go with her, my rational mind knew my body was holding me hostage. And strangely enough, that prevalent thought motivated me to keep on keeping on.
The following year, and for many years after, we rode both the horses and the mopeds, and I’m delighted to say “me and my horse” were about the same size as most everybody else out getting some exercise out on the beach.