I figured out my wife wasn’t enjoying herself when I heard her scream.
“Madame Trixie, do not panic,” our guide called out to her.
“Aiii!” my wife replied.
“Turn the horse back toward the trail,” our guide instructed, though in her Quebecois accent the ‘orse lost its “h,” much as my wife was losing her cool. “Pull the reins toward your left knee. Pull 'arder … 'arder!”
It was no good. Trixie — that was the horse’s name, not my wife’s — Trixie had spotted a shortcut back to the stables. Seeing a choice between spending the last day of August munching hay in her stall or clomping up Mont Tremblant with my beautiful wife swaying in the saddle, Trixie had chosen her belly over beauty and was voting with her hooves.
The other horses could only look on with envy.
“She won’t listen to me!” shouted my wife, who’s named Miriam, by the way.
At this point our son, William, seated astride his pony, called out: “Tell Trixie to turn back toward the trail this instant!”
“Yeah, Mom,” our daughter Leah agreed, “use your no-nonsense voice.”
“Use the reins,” our guide insisted.
Trixie paid no attention to any of them and continued to carry off my wife. In another moment they’d be lost behind the stand of pines that stood between us and the stables. Should I gallop off after her?
Perhaps not. My equestrian skills were limited to staying in the saddle while my horse, Monsieur le Boeuf, ambled along slowly — very slowly.
Fortunately, at that moment, guide number two giddy-upped out of his spot at the back of our column. He quickly pulled up beside Miriam, swung out of his saddle and captured Trixie by some of the gear attached to her head. The gear might be called a bridle, but — hey, don’t ask me.
“Aiii!” shouted Miriam as she bounced about on Trixie’s back.
“Give her a time out!” William shouted.
“Time to get moving,” our lead guide corrected. “Madame Trixie will follow.”
Leah’s and William’s horses promptly fell in line behind our guide. Monsieur le Boeuf eventually did, too. I don’t think he was a stubborn horse, just slow. Between my suggestion we go and Monsieur le Boeuf moving his hooves lay a five-second gap. That was good enough for me, but apparently not for our guide.
“Monsieur le Boeuf, you must keep your ‘orse moving. Madame Trixie will wander less if she has a tail to follow.”
“So it was your fault!” Miriam said, as Trixie resumed her place directly behind me.
“You okay?” I asked.
I nodded. “It’s just another hour and half up the mountain and back,” I said, reassuringly I hoped.
As you might have guessed, it hadn’t been Miriam’s idea to go trail riding. Leah spotted the pamphlet in the foyer of our resort. Having read a library full of Pony Club books back in grade four, Leah immediately announced that going riding was her number one priority for our holiday.
“You mean like we actually get to sit on a horse?” William asked. “Cool!”
Cool indeed. We booked a trail ride for the next day.
When we arrived at the stables, we learned we would have two guides for the day — a woman in her late 20s who rode at the front of the line and did all the instructing — and a man in his forties who rode at the back and spoke little.
The man — guide number two — scooped up William without a word and plopped him in the saddle of a pony named Petite Prince, or Little Prince.
Prince appeared not to notice he had a rider, which was perfectly possible given that William weighed no more than a summer breeze.
Getting me on Monsieur le Boeuf was more of a production. “You must keep your weight as close to the ‘orse as you can,” our lead guide instructed me. “Monsieur le Boeuf, he is our largest ‘orse, but you…“ she gestured as if at a loss for the English words “…you are tres grand. If you lean back as you mount, you may injure the ‘orse.”
Then just to be sure I didn’t injure the ‘orse, both guides braced Monsieur le Boeuf as I mounted.
For his part, Monsieur le Boeuf let out a big horsey sigh and ambled over to the shade cast by the stable building. I suspected Monsieur le Boeuf wasn’t supposed to amble without my say so, but hey, I’ve always been open to good ideas, wherever they come from.
“Aiii!” Miriam screamed.
“Madame Trixie,” the guide called out, “keep your feet in the stirrups.”
“Who?” Miriam asked.
“Trixie — this is the name of your ‘orse,” the guide explained. “I call you by the name of your ‘orse.”
Miriam’s ‘orse made another attempt to bite her.
“No!” our guide said as Miriam again pulled her leg out of range. “You must keep both feet in the stirrups. Trixie is just snapping at flies. Her aim is good. She will not actually bite you, I think.”
“Look, Mom,” William said helpfully. “My horse is behaving himself.”
Prince swished his tail in agreement.
Trixie snapped at Miriam’s leg again.
“Let’s go,” said our guide. “Trixie will stop biting once she starts to move.
Fortunately she did.
Our guide rode half-turned around in her saddle so she could face us when she spoke. She sat like that for most of the afternoon, glancing ahead only occasionally. Apparently navigation was the horse’s job.
First we went to a fenced yard — a corral, it might be called. The guide instructed us in how to steer a horse, and we practiced by weaving in and out among a line of padded blue barrels set out around the corral.
Miriam had some trouble with Trixie, who kept turning too close to the barrels, apparently trying to brush Miriam out of the saddle.
For my part, I had no trouble steering Monsieur le Boeuf despite the absence of a steering wheel. Clearly, I was becoming some hotshot horseman.
“Hey, Dad, look. No hands!” William shouted. Then to be sure we could all see him, he stuck his arms straight up over his head and stood up in the stirrups. His pony continued to weave around the barrels without guidance.
Once we started our trek up the mountain, our daughter, Leah, proved to be the best rider. She urged her horse through puddles with no problem, while the rest of our horses walked daintily around them, regardless of what we might suggest.
Leah had only one difficult moment when her horse — Black Beauty — decided to stop and munch on the grass as we rode through a meadow. But with a firm tug on the reins, Leah was able to get Black Beauty back on track.
As for me, Monsieur le Boeuf continued to behave, so I rode well, with only a few words of encouragement from our guide.
“Monsieur le Boeuf,” she called out on our way up the mountain, “you must lean forward to ‘elp your ‘orse. Otherwise you will do it an injury.”
Then on the way down: “Monsieur le Boeuf, you must lean back! Otherwise, your ‘orse may fall and do itself an injury. And you could be ‘urt too, you know.”
But other than an excruciating cramp in my right leg, nothing further happened to mar a marvellous end of summer afternoon. We rode through pine woods, across meadows and amongst the dappled shade of maples, where a few leaves were already bleeding red.
Trixie settled down and even Miriam had a moment of pleasure as we passed a herd of deer grazing on the mountainside. They didn’t raise their white tails and run, even though we ambled by a stone’s throw away.
When we finally arrived back at the stable, only one guide braced Monsieur le Boeuf as I dismounted, but it did take both of them to haul me back on my feet after my legs gave way.
“Can we go again tomorrow?” Leah asked once we were in the car.
“No,” said Miriam.
“Can we have lessons when we get home to Toronto?”
Miriam sighed. “Sure, why not.”
Leah cheered. So did William. “That’s great!” he said. “And we can tell them we’ve already had our first lesson. Then we can go straight to learning circus tricks!”
Brian Henry publishes the Quick Brown Fox blog and has been an editor, writer and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. You can read more of Brian's stories here and here. The Last Day of Summer was originally published in CommuterLit here. You can find information on submitting to CommuterLit here.
See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Barrie, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond