Horse play

Yeeeeeeeeeehawwwwwwwwwwww! We’ve just pulled up at a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. It’s a mandatory stop on the bus, so although it’s not a choice any of us would have probably made, it sounds like it could be good fun.

We check in to a cabin, which consists of three bunk beds and about enough room to swing a kangaroo’s testicle. We then sit down for lunch on large wooden benches, lining up for steak and salad. Somehow it feels like scout camp. We’re not here to just enjoy the setting, though – they are a number of activities available to try. The afternoon’s choices are quad biking or horse riding. Let’s see…zooming around on bikes having speedy fun, or jumping on a sweaty horse, getting a sore arse, possibly falling off and properly fracturing my rib. What? I ticked the horse activity column? But I don’t like horses! I don’t know how to ride! I’ve ridden quad bikes and they were cool! What the heck am I doing? Well, it’s all about trying new experiences, isn’t it. I’ve done bikes in Wales but never ridden a horse, and I was promised that this is a great place to do it for the first time, as they have horses for everyone here.

I approach the ranch helpers to get my horse. “You can have Arrow. He likes to kick and doesn‘t like most of the other horses, but you‘ll be fine.” Which part of “A bit” didn’t they get when I was asked if I was nervous when they were picking my horse? He’s massive! Don’t they have any ponies or something? Dammit. I clumsily mount the horse and look down at the ground that seems a long way off. I have a thin white helmet on my head, but I don’t fancy my chances if this animal decides he’d rather go solo.

“Kick him to get him going”

I kick him in the side. Nothing.

“No, harder. They can‘t feel it otherwise.”

I kick again. Nothing. Crap, don’t want to upset him already!

“That‘s not a kick! Harder! It‘ll be fine!”

Ok, fellow. It’s nothing personal but I can’t stay here all day. I kick real hard. Lo and behold – he moves! I’m riding a horse! Ok, now for the steering…

The horse riding is not just a gentle trot in a single line through countryside – we have to round up 600 goats for this evening. There’s about a dozen of us wannabe cowboys and cowgirls plus a few helpers who know what they’re doing and who may call my ambulance. Errr, that’s if we had mobile phone signal here, which we don’t. The first part of the journey to get to the get goats is gentle. Actually, this is pretty easy. No problems. I seem a natural! Maybe I was a rider in a past life? Right. You’re going about 2mph on flat ground. Don’t be too confident, Andy!

We reach the goats. They’re all over the place! Hundreds of small, horned goats running around looking disinterested at yet another bunch of backpackers pretending to be John Wayne.

“OK, we have to yell at the goats to push them forward.” They give us the special yell. Seems silly to me…

“Heyyyyyy, up, up, up, up, up, up!” I yell. The goats carry on eating.

Gradually, we herd the goats into another field. Arrow is doing ok, and we take a few photos. I feel pretty cool – in control of my horse, doing something new. Then we get to a bit of a ditch, and Arrow decides to take the steep way down. My bruised ribs cry out in pain as we hit the bottom, and then make our way up again. Ouch. don’t wanna do that too often. We were doing well, sweating like a pig in the sun but enjoying this unusual activity. And then Arrow decides he doesn’t want to go left or right.

“C’mon Arrow! Stop eating!” Ten minutes of going forward every now and again and plenty of scoffing grass, Arrow is certainly in control now. After several kicks he’ll go forward, but any yank to the side just results in him yanking the reins hard out of my hands. Damn horses.

“Show him who‘s boss. Kick him hard with both feet and yank his head hard.” a helper shouts over to me.

Hmmmmm… Why do I get the feeling he might throw me off any minute if I do that. Oh well, here goes nothing… Hey – it worked! Back in business. I’m the one up the food chain, mate, and don’t forget it.

Eventually, we finishing rounding all the goats up and we go back to the paddock. I slide off the horse, grateful I survived. I thank Arrow for not killing me, and even being very good with me on the whole. We sure showed those goats a thing or two.

Ah. Goats. The next activity an hour later involved us being reacquainted with the very ones we’d rounded up. Teams of three – one had go into the pen, grab the goat chosen for us, drag it back any way we could to our teammates, where one would flip it on its side and the other would fake (cold) brand them. Quickest wins. First we needed a goat-related team name.

“How about “No Kidding”?” I suggest. All my years of Dad-related pun training came in handy at my instant suggestion. Unfortunately, this quickness in thought meant that our team was first. And I’ve decided to be the catcher, so all eyes are going to be on me first. We enter the ring, that contains about thirty goats. With horns. Sharp horns. Scared, fast, pointy-horned goats. Versus me. Gulp. I get pointed out my goat to catch – he’s not a big one, but looks fast. I line him up in my sights. You’re mine, goat. 3-2-1-go! I launch myself towards him, as the whole pack scatter. He’s nimble, and I shuffle side to side trying to outwit him, like a strange American football play. Damm – he’s fast! What if I can’t get him? Everyone’s watching! I dash towards him – and grab a horn! Ok, sucker, you’re coming with me! I grab him by both horns and drag him back hard towards my team. In seconds, we are finished. Applause rings round. The goat’s fine. Wow. That was something else!

We end up getting third place out of nine teams, so feel pretty good, The Danish woman who waded in and grabbed their one by the back leg in about two seconds won, but I was chuffed at our time. I don’t try the clay pigeon shooting later, but participate in experiencing 11,000 volts via the cattle prod. Don’t ask.

Dinner is chicken soup and beef, which is very good as I’m starving after all the riding and goat chasing. I think the nibbles we have before dinner that consisted of tearing a bit meat off a bone was probably goat.

We start to have a few beers from the bar, and look across to the mechanical bull which we’ll riding later. Hmmmm….not sure about that!

“Hey – we have a load of fancy dress clothes out the back that you can all have fun dressing up in” one of the helpers shouts out. Droves of people rush over behind the buses to don silly clothes. Good job I’m not daft enough to do that. What? Why am I walking towards them? Why the heck do I want to dress up in a stupid outfit? Turn back! Too late – I’m suddenly there in amongst a whole load of brightly coloured skirts, trousers, hats, masks, wigs. I have no idea how to dress up like this, having probably not done it since I was about three years old. What to choose…

The rest of the evening was spent in bright blue trousers, grey shorts on top, a string vest, a crappy grey suit jacket and a purple wig. I have no idea what I look like until I go to the toilet, but several people say it’s a good look. I sit and watch the mechanical bull throw off many fellow travellers, and plot my tactics. Many people get instantly thrown off, such is the violence of the first buck forward. Eventually, it’s my turn, so I grab a helmet and position myself. You can’t use your strongest hand, which you have to put up in the air, so it’s my bruised rib side that has to hold on. I put my arm up, cling on with my legs and wait for it to be switched on….1…2…3.… thump! My face hits the inflatable cushions around it. F**k! That was terrible. I get another go. 1.…2.…3.…thump! I trudge off humiliated. Wouldn’t be so bad but I got someone to video it and may be dense enough to actually put it on Facebook…

After more beers and watching a pro do it (even standing up on the thing!) I navigate my way in the dark through the mossies to my cabin. A great day, doing stuff I didn’t think I’d ever do. Now for that 6am start tomorrow…

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