This is Not in the Brochure
This is ‘NOT’ in the Brochure
by Linda Windsor
Sure, the balmy weather was perfect and lazy palms dotted the white sand beach where crystal blue waters lapped at its edge. True, my steed, round as it was, qualified as a horse, at least physiologically. Psychologically, it was a demon-possessed pig with the sole mission of eating anything green on the tropical island. I, its frustrated rider, engaged in a tug-o-war with the reins, while guides in cool white cotton shouted at me to "Keep the line moving!" Ahead of me as well as behind, all the other horses were playing follow the leader, each seemingly mesmerized by the tail of the steed in front of them, but not Sling...er Swing Ting. (I changed the name to protect the not so innocent.)
To think, I could have been in an air-conditioned tour bus headed for an inland 18th century sugar plantation, instead of wrestling with a horse up and down some of the most beautiful scenery on earth–not that I saw much more than the back of Swing Ting’s head and the backside of the steed in front of us. But it was my daughter’s graduation cruise and she begged me to go riding along the beach with her. "It will be so romantic. Just like in the commercials."
Pardon me while I decry an emphatic "NOT!" I began to regret giving into her when I was packed like a sardine at eight in the morning with twelve other sacrificial lambs (aka: unsuspecting tourists) in an un-air-conditioned minivan and hauled across the part of Jamaica that is never shown on a brochure or commercial. We eventually arrived at an oasis of prominence and exotic splendor–a polo club/golf resort–where we were dropped off to await the assignment of our steeds for the scenic horseback ride to a picturesque private cay. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Don’t believe everything you read.
Guests were matched one by one with horses and allowed to mount from a platform. Walk up three steps and swing onto the saddle. Piece of cake, I thought, relieved at not having to play hopscotch with one foot hung in a stirrup, while the horse danced sideways and I wrestled to get my butt up in the saddle before I pulled the whole she-bang off center and rode with a ten o’clock tilt. As I fumbled with my sunglasses, I heard a nearby lady gasp, "Oh my, I hope that isn’t my horse." Coming from the stable was a pale yellow critter with wide off set eyes, rearing its head up and down, ears laid back and nipping at the groom leading it. It was either hideously bloated or with foal. I didn’t have time to decide. The groom pointed to me and said, "You!"
I was introduced to Swing Ting, the club owner’s favorite polo pony. The name wasn’t reassuring. Swing Ting was fat, gelded, and acted like he still held a grudge. But I’d grown up with horses and figured a forty-something woman in peri-menopause, baking in tropical heat was a match for anything he had to offer and the fight was on. Up one hill and down the next. The horse had a mouth as hard as its head. I pulled on the bit till he grinned from ear to ear, but not enough to tug his head away from a tasty bunch of grass or a low hanging branch...or a bush. If it was edible, Swing Ting had a go at it. Kicking only made him chew harder.
I heard others marvel at the view, but my vision was blurred by sweat and the rush of impatience mapping out the whites of my eyes in red. By the time we reached the picturesque beach, I was in more of a lather than my loathsome four-legged transport and ready for the tropical punch served from the island-style gazebo of bamboo. I had persevered and walked with an admitted, although somewhat bow-legged, swagger to claim my drink. The enthusiasm on my daughter’s face and in her voice erased all the trite comments I had in store for her about what was not romantic about horses.
As she happily babbled on, sharing her bliss with others, a large flat bed truck arrived with snacks, towels, etc. In the corner of my eye, I spied the guides stripping the tack, bridles and saddles, off the horses. My mental processes accelerated to an alarming conclusion, one which I could not believe possible. But sure enough, one by one, the guides began boosting guests up on the horses, which now sported nothing more than rope halters. I turned to my daughter and through thinned lips, hissed, "This was not in the commercial. Those people had full tack and they rode in the sunset, not the blazing morning sun."
But she was off, bounding up on her steed like her mom had taught her...when mom was much younger. Beyond her, a tall islander, who stood at least six feet tall and weighed no more than his cotton shorts and shirt, crooked a finger at me from Swing Ting’s side. Given the weight differential between us, my first thought was "No way, mon!" But by George, he got me up there... and handed me a floatation belt. Now what is wrong with this picture?
I’d no more than donned it and settled, thinking the beast was so wide, I’d have no trouble staying on, when the lead guide took off on his horse into the water at a full canter. For the first time that day, Swing Ting showed more life than a slug and away we went–into the water, up past my knees, and up over Swing Ting’s back. I had no clue how slippery a horse, even a fat one, can be in salt water.
With Swing Ting swimming now for all he’s worth, I desperately try to hold on to him with my knees. The rope halter was beyond reach. His back was submerged in the water, and my rear was floating about a foot above it thanks to my bloomin’ ski belt! Behind me someone shouted in panic, "What do we hold on to?" A guide responded, "The mane, mon. Hold on to the mane."
Well, someone had given Swing Ting a punk rock mohawk, close cropped. Either that or previous riders had pulled out what little mane the horse had. There I was, clutching at what few strands there were and clinging, slipping and sliding with my knees, and butt floating a good six inches above the horse’s back. Just when I thought panic would over take me, I saw a vacated horse swim by dragging a soaked tourist, who clung to the animal’s tail, in its wake. But his rear end was afloat. That was one honeymooner thinking about divorce, believe me.
I wasn’t doing so bad after all...until I looked ahead. One of the other horses had apparently had a big breakfast, for there, floating in the crystal clear blue Caribbean water was a floating island of manure. I had forgotten how it floated when fresh, but there it was and Swing Ting was swimming toward it as if a sign reading "Home, Sweet, Home" was planted in it. Now this was definitely NOT in the brochure!
With buttocks floating, I held on with the tips of my slipping knees and one hand buried in the three strands of the horse’s mane. With the other I started slushing water aside, trying to direct the drifting island away from me.
I thought I’d been subtle until a guide came up beside me and asked if I was okay. I think he thought I was having a seizure and I was.. a seizure of panic. I answered, "No mon. I want out...please."
Now he was tall and skinny, weathered and snaggle-toothed, but no hero I’d ever written about looked better to me as he led Swing Ting out of the water. After that debacle, he ride back was actually enjoyable. I appreciated the saddle like never before and Swing Ting, knowing there was food back at the ranch, was as anxious to be done with me as I was of him.
As an author, I’m frequently asked where I get my ideas. In the case of my latest contemporary release, It Had To Be You, most of the mayhem my hero and heroine experience (including the horseback ride from Hades) come from an accumulation of my own adventures in life or from those of family and friends. Yes, they really happened and are the perfect seasoning for the following recipe for love:
Take one wary, disgruntled cowboy, hornswaggled by the new stepdad he suspects of fraud into a family Thanksgiving cruise. To this add one Nurse-Fix-It, who becomes a walking accident-waiting-to-happen every time she tries to set his Stetson straight. Tossing them together results in love and laughter on the high seas. May it tickle your funny bone, warm your heart, and lift your spirits.
Linda Windsor is the author of award-winning romantic comedies
Hi, Honey, I'm Home, and Not Exactly Eden. Her early Irish historical fiction series debut Maire, Fire of Gleannmara was one of the inspirational category winners of the Dorothy Parker Award for Literary Excellence presented by RIO (Reviewers International Organization) and nominated in the secular historical division as well. It’s sequel, Riona, is scheduled for September 2001. For a signed bookplate, send SASE to Linda Windsor, Multnomah Publishers, PO Box 1720, Sisters, OR 97759 or contact her at Lindwins@aol.com.