After lunch, as we made our way back, the guide shouted out and his horse took off. Of course our horses followed suit, nimbly down the rocky decline. The brush at the edge of the path became sparse and the meadow appeared, and my horse made a break for the open, at full gallop. I could only hold on and pray. The next thing I knew, she had veered one way and I went the other, landing hard, no breath, seeing stars. I lay there and wondered if I could just quit and go on to Florence. What a way to celebrate my 40th Birthday, flat on my back… so this is what they meant by the “Center of the Celestial Universe”! My mom had caught the reins and brought my horse back to me. When I could breathe again I had no choice but to get back on. What other possibility? We were hours from the farm. My body ached, I was close to tears, I was pumped with adrenaline, and the horse named "Nobody" stood calm and ready, ("...What? ...Who me…?") I managed to drag my self back in the saddle, and we continued on.
Apparently we had passed the skills test, because they said we were ready to go off on our own the next day. In retrospect, I’m not so sure about that conclusion. We still had plenty to learn! In any case, we set out briskly. I had the narrative describing our route, and was happy to lead. My horse was peppy and alert, walking out willingly. Nothing is more frustrating than a slow unwilling horse, I thought at the time. Some of the trek was to be on busy roads, but we had been told that these horses had done this route numerous times... they pretty much knew the way... just pay attention... no worries.
It was a beautiful day, and despite my aching tailbone, I felt good. As a motorcycle came towards us, my horse’s ears perked; she tensed and whirled, ready to bolt back to her barn and safety. I clamped my legs and held one rein, low and tight, circling her and holding until she settled a bit, and the bike was long gone. This was not going to be the stroll through delightful meadows that I had expected, and I was sitting on a firecracker. "What on earth were we thinking?" my mom said, the first of many times one of us said that specific phrase during the next few days. The other fun phrases we may have used cannot be reprinted here.
A little later, as we rode up a steep and muddy track, I thought that we must have missed a turn because the trail was just too dangerous. There was a pipe sticking up in the middle of the trail, from which came a loud hissing and gurgling. You can guess what happened next. The sound put my horse in a frenzy. She tensed, tried to turn and run, and since there was no way to stop and dismount, with the others close behind, I coaxed her past and we continued on. The air was fresh and she remained skittish, jumping at every new sound. Our narrative said that we were to come to a clearing with a water trough, as it was a critical time to water the horses. We found the clearing, but the trough was empty, the pump broken, so we continued on. At that point, if nothing else, we had found a landmark and could assume we were on the right track.