My Horsey Bestie, Tatanka (Horse Tales, Pt. 1)

Last week we went to Tumbling River Ranch in Grant, CO. Initially, the plan was to write about the horse I was paired with, but the trip was rich with insights that I decided to write a few Horse Tale installments. I couldn’t pick one focus, so I decided to write a few different things and spread them out. I’m being punny with the “tale” portion of this, but I’m totally serious when I say that this is one of our better trips. We had an awesome time, including our teens who half-heartedly agreed to the dude ranch trip. 🤷🏻‍♀️ With that said, they’d wholeheartedly go back.

Today’s installment is the basic setup of our trip and an intro to Tantanka, my horsey bestie.

The days leading up to this trip have been a City Slicker sort of affair for me. I bought the boots that rode around town for a couple of days (which you don’t have to do–TRR has an awesome boot barn with all kinds of sizes that you can borrow for the week; I just love boots, so there’s that…) and the anti-butt crack riding jeans (they came in good stead, by the way). I also got the funny idea to talk up the horse I was to be paired with, that I affectionately referred to as “my horsey bestie,” the entire time prior to leaving. 😂 Chief and the boys were convinced that I was going to get the opposite of what I was talking up. They were teasing me that I was going to get a cranky horse and that I would not find my horsey bestie. If you remember, I was making up all kinds of stories about how we’d take selfies and just get on–all the horse talk turned into a real yarn. The funny thing is, I’m not sure how, exactly, to describe my relationship with my horse. Probably the best way to describe it is–a process or an evolution, of sorts.

The ranch guests were all assigned horses for the week on the morning of our first full day on the ranch. We met in three smaller clinics to learn how to handle them. After the general presentation, one at a time, a horse was brought out and paired with its rider. A beautiful, energetic white horse with smatterings of cinnamon was led up to me–Tatanka. One of the wranglers (and one of the many Bens 😂), later asked how I’d describe her coloring. I think we decided she’s like a latte with cinnamon and nutmeg. She’s got a spicy side, for sure. I’m pretty sure that spicy side found me lacking that first day. Horse eye-roll sort of thing with a splash of belabored sigh. 😉 Each rider seemed to get a quick low-down on their horse, then were helped up. The head wrangler, Annon, was talking to me about my horse a little longer than the other riders. I now understand why Tatanka was looking down her nose at me–and it’s not the height difference. She has a wee bit of an attitude, likes her space, but doesn’t allow others their own space. Read: she tailgates. To a certain extent they all tailgate on the trail, but she really didn’t like it when I tried to maintain her required bubble. She’s the horse that needs to “socially distance.”

For obvious reasons, I was one of the last ones to be paired with a horse. We did a few exercises in the arena to become acquainted with our new friend for the week, then headed off to ride on the trail.

Later that afternoon, the boys asked how the ride was. More specifically, they were interested in why I got the longer talk.

“What did she say?” they eagerly asked me.

I told them, “My horse kicks, so I have to watch out and not get too close to other horses. Just a few days ago, she purposely backed up to kick a horse who didn’t do anything to her.” Looks of I told you so were passed around along with grins (at my horsey dreams). I ignored that and continued, “I also have to ride at the back, right before the end wrangler.” Even more laughter and ribbing about not finding my horsey bestie and how they were right. It’s also part of a personal joke I have about being the “poop scooper/shit shoveler” at the end of the parade 🤣. I shrugged. It’s okay with me because I’m learning. I’m, literally, going along for the ride. Not in a passive way, but in a way that’s open to the learning experience. Tatanka and I both know that she’s in charge, on many levels. I think I might’ve initially worried some of the guests and wranglers, because she was not listening to me in the arena. I say this because one guest (an experienced rider) commented on how much I had improved from the first day in the arena–of course this was after asking me about our bonding time, lol. I wasn’t assertive enough, for sure. Once we went out on the trail, she was pretty good, aside from running me into various trees on our first ride. Her real quirk is this habit of giving the proverbial “hairy eyeball” to the horse behind her. Her ears would go back as she cast a squinty look over her shoulder. Sometimes she went from wide-eyed to narrowed. You know the look–Sugar, don’t mess with me or I’m watching you. I interpreted the wide-eyed to narrowed look as, an indignant What?! followed by an annoyed Yooouuu. Kind of like Seinfeld’s drawn-out, disapproving, “Neumann.” For the longest time I thought it was something I was doing until one of the end-of-the-line wranglers (they switched it up for all the rides) reprimanded her when she was casting her over-the-shoulder-look. I was pretty regularly told to be firm with her; as well as, don’t let her boss you around. That’s just our first day together.

Our stay was set up with a nice schedule that had options. Fly fishing, pond fishing, river rafting, hiking–they even had small animals you could visit and the teens went rock climbing, amongst other activities. Sadly for Tatanka, I chose to ride every day, morning and afternoon. I was dedicated. Totally wanted more saddle time for experiential research with (maybe) a splash of “I’m not sucking at this. Seriously, I’m not.” Aside from being sore, I really enjoyed riding. So, Wednesday, I decided to forgo river rafting for extra horse bonding time. The joke (and some truth) was, I was going to “be one” with my horse. I even did this thing with my hand where I kept my pointer and middle finger together folding the other fingers down to indicate our “oneness.” I’d hold the fingers together upward while saying “be one.” Of course pushing the hand forward for emphasis, sometimes a flick of the wrist to get into position. I was joshing around because I’m such a newbie rider and I had created this alter-universe that I existed in with my horse 🐴🤠😂. Our family had gone on one ride two years prior for about an hour or so, across a field. No real ups or downs. Essentially flat. That’s when Chief got the mule–this time, he got Bill. Beautiful Bill, that’s what I call him–he’s a tall, regal horse. At any rate, Wednesday rolls around and my knee is killing me–it’s from the fall down a flight of concrete stairs I took in January, deciding to act up. That’s a good story, I’ll share it, later. 😉 That and the Day That Never Was or as Chief likes to call it, The Most Expensive Nap Ever. There were a couple of weeks of mishaps for me at the beginning of the year. I didn’t realize it until just now–I had a head start on 2020 sliding sideways. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Not my proudest moments, let me tell you.

We had a beautiful half day ride in the morning and some arena time in the afternoon. It was just me, Annon, and Tatanka. Riding back from the arena to the corral, we passed a couple of the wranglers who asked if I was one with Tatanka (hand symbol and all 😂). It was a riot. (It’s also kind of funny that while they were asking me about our bonding experience, Annon was leading Tatanka while I was riding her–kind of like a very over-grown kid on a pony.)

I had to sadly shake my head and be honest, “No, I think she’s her own woman.” Heads nodding. Some agreement. Perhaps some unspoken words in the ballpark of you just aren’t there yet, lady. With that said, they are all way too polite to ever express anything like that, even if they were thinking it. They were also supportive of my horse shenanigans and “dreams” 🤓. Add Tatanka’s reputation to the mix…

With that said, I really do think we would have been closer to oneness (imagine me giving you the pointer finger and thumb sign for a tiny bit 🤏🏼–or at least I’d like to think so, alter-universe and all), if I wasn’t dealing with such awful knee pain. I didn’t want to say anything, either, because I hate to be a nuisance. However, on Thursday, I was a nuisance. I joked that three wranglers had to hoist and shove me onto Tatanka (not quite, but it sure felt like it in my mind)–one knee wasn’t boosting me high enough or staying steady so I could swing my leg over the saddle. At some point, I think that the other knee just refused to do its thing and I was afraid to throw it over and injure it more. It felt futile and extremely embarrassing–I asked for help on the third try. The wranglers actually guided me to a rock, one held Tatanka and two were on either side, in case I tumbled as well as for emergency hoisting. 🏗🤦🏻‍♀️ However, all of TRR’s wranglers are so totally awesome and professional (fun, funny, and kind–not blowing smoke). They never fussed about anything–they never looked put out, either. Even when putting in some heavy lifting. 🙄

Friday, I finally asked for the step stool. I saw others use one, but didn’t think to ask for it. After Thursday’s shoving-Ami-on-cranky-pants-back show, I thought I should. Let it be known that if someone shoved me on my back and she wasn’t sticking the landing I’d be cranky, too. Just sayin’. Heck, I’d be cranky if I had to haul myself around. Maybe, sometimes, I am. 🤔 Horse kindness aside, I didn’t want her to try to scrape me off on some random tree after tugging and pulling on her (I still have a little iffy feeling about grabbing her mane–I did it, but I still worried and wondered if it might hurt). Poor girl. 🐴 I mention scraping me off, because I missed the memo on pushing away or stiff-arming the trees for my first two rides when she got too close to them, so my knee got it good a couple times there. I was beginning to think that she was trying to lose me 😁–not really. I’m sure she was testing me. 🤠

So, the pic here is one of our selfies. A real one, Ben let me hold her and the camera. Lol–I sound like a small child. I did it! Let it be known that I don’t normally take selfies because I just can’t manage it in a flattering, Instagram-ish sort of way. I’m also somewhat like Sasquatch–I don’t like having my pic taken. This was the last one I took, so she started to become more interested in the camera itself–plus, she’s the star of the show 😃. The earlier ones she was leaning into me, which was sweet. ❤️

If you’re wondering how I feel about her–I like her. She certainly taught me some things that I’ll share later. 🌟

Happy Trails!

Give me a shoutout! 🤠

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