Last Friday, I spent all night thinking what we should do for the weekend. A few ideas popped up, like going to Yosemite or Chico, but both parks were closed. We thought about driving to random cities, but what was really there to do? Archery sounded fun, but it didn't seem like we were able to just drop in somewhere at any time (although, maybe we just needed to do more research). We even slightly entertained the idea of going to LA to watch the Warriors & Clippers game, but we just drove back from LA the previous weekend and that just seemed a little too crazy. We were stretching, just desperate to do something other than lounging around or doing the same ol' things like every other weekend.
Then, suddenly, I randomly thought, "LET'S GO HORSEBACK RIDING!" We have never done it before, and after some research, we found out that we didn't need to sign up for multiple sessions to learn or anything like that. Most of these places charged at least $60 per person for an hour, until I found Five Brooks Ranch in Olema in Marin County, which was just $40.
Of course, we needed to call to make reservations and that wasn't doable at half past midnight (again, we were desperate!). We gave them a call in the morning, hoping for the best, and were able to book for 2pm!
We got there about half an hour early. We just didn't want to be late, and some Yelpers said it takes longer than you think to get there.
Now, we were excited, but um, NERVOUS. I really felt the nerves right when I got on the horse for the first time. I mean, it's not like they're a little bicycle or anything -- they're big animals with minds of their own. However, the guys at the ranch know exactly what they're doing and will assign you with the horse that fits your experience level. They were all very helpful and their one-hour Stewart Trail ride is great for first-timers/beginners like us.
There were six of us total -- four first-timers and two young intermediates, which I think made a good group. My horse, Danny, and I were basically in the middle, but there was normally a gap between us and Blaze, the horse in front of us. For some reason, Danny was just slower, and had to play catch up a lot of the times. I tried to do the kick, which is the method used to get the horse to go faster, but I felt like I just was flapping my legs. Our guide ended up giving me a "magic wand," which was a light stick, to help encourage him to go faster.
One of the best tips we learned was that in the "first gear" of the horse trotting, we'd feel it in the rhythm of "bop-ba-dee, bop-ba-doo." We practiced that as a group, but I soon realized that if I said to myself when Danny was going a bit faster, it helped calm my nerves.
Midway through the ride, our guide becomes our photographer, which is really awesome, as you can tell by these shots! I was way too focused on riding the horse, and I really don't think using your phone while riding is safe at all (total GoPro-worthy experience though -- wish I had one!).
On the way back, I was more at ease and felt like I was, for the most part, getting a hang of it. But... this was when the scariest and craziest part of the ride happened. I basically had to pull the Matrix move while on Danny. He was too close to the side where there was a tree with a chopped branch part sticking out and by the time I realized it, it was too late for me to have him move to the right. I had to lean all the way back to avoid getting hit. The back part of the saddle goes up a little, which helped me maintain my balance and not totally fall off. This could've gone very, very, VERY wrong, but I was so fortunate that this just left me with some dirt from the tree under my nails.
After the ride was over, we were thanking our guide and he said to me, "You survived it!" Oh man, yes I did. PHEW!
The following are some general tips from my experience riding for the first time at Five Brooks Ranch:
- ATTIRE: Shoes should really be close-toed, and preferably with heels. However, it is doable with sneakers, at least for the one-hour ride we did here. Long pants and long sleeves are recommended to avoid bugs and get scratched from any leaves/twigs/branches you might ride through. If you're bringing any personal belongings, make sure you have pockets with zippers on your jacket. You really don't need to bring much on the ride, unless it's a long one, so leave the all the extra stuff in the car. They told us that only riders under 18 are required to wear a helmet, but I recommend it anyway. First, for safety reasons, obviously, and second, I'm so glad that I don't have any leaves or twigs in my hair! (This ranch provides free helmet rental -- if going to a different ranch, be sure to check before going!)
- LISTEN/PAY ATTENTION: The guide was VERY helpful, and all I have to say is that you need to really listen attentively and pay attention. In addition to my Matrix incident, there were two times where I had to guide Danny to go to the side because I felt like he was too close to the edge of a mini "cliff" (it wasn't really a cliff, but I feel like he would've slipped if I didn't guide him, or at least I felt a lot safer if he was in the middle of the trail instead). Who knows what would've happened if I wasn't paying attention. Lastly, do NOT fiddle with your phone or anything else while riding your horse! It's too scary and unsafe if you're not 100% focused.
- RELAX: There were a lot of times where I felt nervous and tensed up, but I realized that it's easier when I actually relaxed. As I mentioned, saying "bop-ba-dee, bop-ba-doo" out loud/in my head in the rhythm of the horse trotting helped calm my nerves. Try it!
- BONUS: These tips are specific to Five Brooks Ranch. First, fill up your tank beforehand, as there aren't any gas stations close by (you do not want to be on empty once you reach there). Second, they have restrooms, but no sink, so bring hand sanitizer/wipes. Third, there's barely any signal for AT&T out there, so you may be draining your battery if you're trying to Snap.
This was such a cool (and spontaneous) experience, despite the crazy moments. Will I ride again? Yes! Probably not anytime soon, but count me in!