My Wild Ride

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MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger

Each spring, my dad would disappear into the old corn loft where rabid raccoons used to hunker down and stare out with their glowing eyes for wayward children and dogs to bite. A few moments later, he’d emerge with an antique rocking horse, a faded plastic steed held aloft by four rusty springs and a creaky metal frame. 

These rides seem quaint today, when children run around with smart phones and dive in and out of virtual reality. But in the 1980s, an old, yellowed plastic nag that bounced around when you climbed aboard her back was the best you could hope for. 

“Here you go,” my father would say as he set it down in the yard. “Have a great summer!”

He’d head out into the fields, and I would be left to get reacquainted with my horse, who had wintered in the corn loft with all the mangy Procyon lotor. 

They have many names. Some call them “hobby horses,” which I suppose makes it clear that you are only bounding around on an ancient toy for fun, and only periodically. “This isn’t my full-time job,” says the hobby horse owner. “It’s just one of my hobbies.”

Others call is a “wonder horse,” which sort of makes it sound like a very curious equine, like a pinto Socrates, who sits around asking questions about the cosmos and our place within it. 

Still others call it a “rocking horse,” which I think fails to do justice to the type of wild, dangerous movement these toys are capable of. “Rocking” is a slow, steady movement, the type of thing that lulls babies to sleep in lullabies. My horse, who was named “Silver” despite her jaundiced hue, did not rock. She bucked. She bounded in a volatile, fickle manner. She pitched forward and back, side to side, like an old ship in a Herman Melville novel. 

One spring, my dad retrieved Silver a bit later than usual. Once she was placed on the grass behind our house, I said hello and climbed atop her chipped, brown saddle that insinuated leather but felt identical to her hard-plastic flesh. 

“Easy girl,” I said as I prepared to take off on a new adventure. 

As I lightly kicked her flanks, I heard a sound deep within her belly. A faint hum that made me shiver. 

As we bounced, the hum grew into a hiss, and then a buzz. The buzz grew louder and angrier, and I could hear tiny, rage-fueled bodies flinging themselves about inside Silver’s torso. 

Before I could do anything but be afraid (it’s amazing how quickly we can be very, very afraid) a wasp emerged from a hole somewhere in her neck, flying up and glaring at me. 

Drunk with panic, I saw dozens more wasps emerge and prepare to sting me. I did what came naturally, succumbing to the ancient, atavistic “fight or flight” phenomenon that has kept our species alive for hundreds of thousands of years. I was in no place to fight these angry insects, so I chose to flee. 

“Haaah!” I cried, riding as fast and as hard as I could, “Heeaaawww!”

The increasingly violent ride further shook the horse, further agitate the bees, and further added to my problem. In my mind I was racing like the wind, riding for safety as if my life depended on it. 

To my mother, peering out from inside the kitchen, I was sitting on a large plastic container that was filled with wasps, and I was shaking it as I bounced in place. 

That was the hardest I’ve ever ridden a horse, that day, as I tried without success to escape my tormentors. What a strange hobby, to antagonize stinging insects who have built a hive inside your plastic horse, and to try to will that horse to life and ride away from the problem. 

I’ve always been bright, so my brain searched for an answer. “I know,” it thought. “Maybe if I ride a little harder, maybe if I make her gallop a little faster.”

Later, as the old lady who lived next door put meat tenderizer on my many hard, red stings, I realized, probably for the first time, that if the thing you are doing isn’t working, if the thing you are doing is actually causing your problem, doing it more might not always be the solution.

*Procyon lotor, which is the Latin term for raccoon, means “before-dog washer.” Seriously.

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