When I finally woke up, the camper was swaying under the heavy footsteps of an enemy army in a manicured campground just outside of Etzatlàn, Mexico. We had been staying there for nearly a week in the company of five dogs and several horses. “Too soft, too complacent!..”, I chastised myself as I reached out for my machete by the bedside and drew a blank. My mind raced in the dark, weaving wild stories of violence, terror and murder, read in too many random articles from too many random news outlets… But truth is often disconnected from the schemes of the mind, or the press.
We got up to a glistening lawn littered with broken palm branches and exotic fruit, victims of an overnight storm. The alpha dog of the pack, a nondescript mixture of breeds going by the name of “Tres Patas” came to greet us first, wagging a scrawny tail. Balancing precariously on two legs, he raised the third one against a tire of our truck and sealed his good sentiments. The rest of the group was quick to follow. I resisted the temptation to show them better and we headed towards the stables.
The kids met the horses with mixed feelings. As I come to think about it, it was mostly apprehension. The animals were towering above us, different creatures from a different, freer world. Knotted muscles beneath a silky skin, gentle brown eyes. Docile enough to serve, wild enough to inspire awe, creatures of the wild, coerced by man to serve for labour or pleasure.
Our instructor, a Mexican cowboy by the name of Guillermo, favored the laissez-faire approach. In no time the girls were riding on their own, flanked by a group of dogs, hair spilling in the wind. Then things took a turn for the worse. Julie’s mare, spooked by something only she could see, broke into gallop. Lilly’s horse was quick to follow. The animals were galloping mad with fear, fueled further by the panic of their riders. Julia was the first to catapult, as her mare buckled wildly to get rid of her, and landed on her back. Lilly took a more opportunistic approach and was able to slip off the back of her ride, landing on her feet. “Let’s do it again”, pressed Lilly.
Next stop – the Pacific.