I had never touched a horse before, and my first time in far east Cochise County became an adventure.
I was assigned Mickey Free, who usually gets ridden by 9-year-olds. I can’t imagine what he was thinking when he had to carry an overweight 22-year-old.
Because I arrived with sandals and tennis shoes, I had to borrow a pair of boots. I tried to slide one foot into the right boot, but it felt as if I was trying to get my foot into a closed box. Not the best of starts.
With the boots on, I thought I might break my ankles. The heels felt weird, and I walked like someone who was tipsy.
I don’t think Mickey, brown with a black mane, was comfortable with me when I tried to pet him. He looked away.
Tamara Lawson approached and gave me a brief history report on the horse, then told me what the horse was scared of.
“Things that move and things that don’t move,” she said, and I looked at Mickey and wondered if he was scared of me.
When we arrived at the trail, it was a breezy day. There were some clouds in the sky. The sun was out and bright but not putting off too much heat. I started to feel as if I was back in Washington, where the sun refuses to give any heat.
Like some twisted choreograph, our horses decided to take a dump. It stunk everywhere. I wanted to spray Febreze.
Helped onto my horse and given a brief lesson on how to survive, I learned I should hold onto the reins at all time, how to lead the horse, how to make him move and other basics.
Mickey didn’t listen. He decided to make it tough. He walked over to the dead grass and started to eat like it was a buffet. Not only was he ripping out the grass, but he was ripping out the ground. What a savage.
After the others got on their horses, we formed a line and hit the trail, with me second because I had no idea what I was doing. Tucked behind Craig Lawson’s white horse, I watched Craig ride. He did so with ease and looked like a professional, holding onto the reins, sitting upright, not shifting in his saddle and looking very comfortable.
I can only imagine what I looked like on my horse. Tamara kept reminding me to shift left on my saddle. I was moving, slowly tilting to the ground.
Mickey would start to run and I would have to pull up on the reins to make him stop. I would almost go flying off. I suspect that was Mickey’s intention.
As I looked at the mountains, I started to get a nervous feeling in my stomach. I started to wonder where Geronimo and his band of warriors were. We were riding on the Apache Pass, where Geronimo would launch attacks after Fort Bowie was built in 1862.
We reached the post cemetery. Inside were white wooden tombstones with the names of soldiers and Apache youths. One was Geronimo’s son.
My legs ached from the ride. I wanted a wheelchair.
After hobbling around, I returned to the horses. Mickey, munching again at the grass buffet, let me pet him. I felt more comfortable and started to like him.
We got back on and at one point Tamara pointed out to Craig that something on my saddle needed to be adjusted. Craig fixed it, and I really wish he hadn’t. He asked me to move my left leg back an inch, and the cramp hit.
It felt as if someone had stuck two knives in my leg and told me to walk. For the next five minutes, I was swearing about my teacher who made me get on the horse.
We approached Apache Spring. When we got to the hill, I watched two riders before me go up. Horses literally did a little jump and then a small sprint. I thought to myself, “Hell no.” My horse stepped forward, and I had a surge of fear. Mickey jumped and sprinted, and I almost fell off the back again.
What lasted only a couple of seconds felt like forever.
As we approached Fort Bowie, and the remains of the fort scattered everywhere, it looked like a battlefield, with the enemy leveling as much as possible.
Before I got off Mickey at the visitor center, I began to realize how comfortable I felt riding. I wanted to trying running, or cantering, again.
We stayed at Fort Bowie for about two hours. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to live back then. The fear of being attacked by Geronimo or anyone else. There is no way I would’ve survived.
After needing a picnic table to climb back on Mickey, I realized we were starting to go up a mountain. I almost quit. I barely handled some minor changes of terrain, and now a freaking mountain.
I looked to the left and Fort Bowie. You could see dirt clouds from the wind, the remains of the fort and the mountain range.
I started to feel like Geronimo and wanted to storm down the mountain.
As we neared the end of the trail, I didn’t want to get off. I wanted to ride down the road toward the sunset.
I could’ve been a horse thief, but I couldn’t do that to Mick.
Zach Armenta is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for high resolution photographs