Ride ’em Cowgirl
By Emily-Ann Elliott
When I signed up for a horse riding trip in Tupiza I’d had a romantic vision of being carried leisurely through countryside which wouldn’t look out of place in a Wild West film. After all, this is how the Lonely Planet describes the Bolivian town: “If there’s ever a place where you want to throw your leg over a horse, brandish spurs and say, “ride ’em cowboy, this is it.”
What I hadn’t expected was to be thrown off a crazy horse less than five minutes after getting on it.
In hindsight, I should have read the warning signs when the guide asked the four of us who were taking part in the trip who was the most experienced rider before allocating the horses. It turned out that I held that somewhat grand title, merely based on the fact that I had actually sat on a horse before, while my three companions hadn’t. However I hardly think the few times I’d been on short horse riding trips as a child could count as “experience”.
I explained this to Marcel, our guide, as I ungracefully tried to mount my horse and I joked “No es loco?” [“he’s not crazy is he?”] Having assured me he wasn’t, Marcel then said the ominous words: “Hold him tight and never let go.”
Feeling slightly nervous, we set off and for about two minutes everything seemed to be fine. Pretty quickly we were surrounded by beautiful scenery of red rocky mountains and cacti. It was at this point that I realised I’d left my camera in my backpack so, as we were moving very slowly, I thought nothing of reaching behind me with one hand to get it out.
It was at this precise moment that my horse went insane. It broke away from the group and started bucking furiously. I’m certain an “experienced” rider would have handled the situation in a much better way and I’m pretty sure that horse books would advise staying calm. But instead I did what an inexperienced rider would do, which was panic and scream.
I had no idea what to do and was just holding on for dear life when I heard Marcel shout “Your bag, your bag.” I took that as a sign to hurl my backpack to the ground and a second later realised that I was going to follow it. I fell off sideways, landing on my right arm. But all I could think about was standing up as quickly as possible as images of being stamped on by an angry horse filled my head.
It all happened very quickly and I was shaking all over as I walked back to the group where Marcel had managed to catch my horse and was trying to calm it down. “He’s a little scared of backpacks,” he explained to me. Great. I didn´t bother to point out that it might have been good to mention beforehand that my horse has a fear of something all tourists wear.
“Here, get on this one instead,” Marcel instructed me, handing me the reigns of the horse he had been riding. What I actually wanted to do at that moment was sit down (preferably on something that wasn’t moving) and have a good cry. And I probably would have done that if I’d been with friends. But, as I was with three strangers I’d only met half an hour ago, I did the terribly English thing of saying “Sorry about that boys,” as though it had been awfully rude of me to spoil their ride by being thrown to the ground, before getting straight onto the other horse.
Luckily Rosalita (my new horse) didn’t share Crazy Horse’s backpack fear. She did however speed up and slow down at will, ignoring any commands I tried to give her. She also had her foal in tow so any photo opportunity for us was a chance for her to feed. Multi-tasking at its best.
The scenery in Tupiza really was stunning and I enjoyed the rest of the ride, albeit in a nervous kind of way. But judging by the bruises on my arm, I don’t really think I’m cowgirl material.
About the Author
Emily-Ann Elliott is a journalist who gave it all up for a life on the road, doing 30 things she’s always wanted to do before she turns 30. Check out her blog here.