My brother scoffed when I said I wanted to ride a horse through part of Brazil’s famous wetland – The Pantanal, reminding me that my only equestrian experience to date had been riding a donkey on the beach at Margate when I was four. A friend, a keen rider himself, recovered from his hysterics and managed to gasp that he would pay good money to see that.
Not put off, well not too much, I was looking forward to riding my steed, a black thoroughbred no doubt, through the paths and waterways, casually doffing my stetson to passing locals.
The first inkling that this image might be a little way from the truth came when I was given safety headwear: first, a hairnet, for hygiene purposes, then a blue plastic pudding basin which purported to be a helmet.
Then my first sight of the horse: his name was Gabinete; he was a dirty white colour and had only one ear. Gabinete had done this before, I could see. He knew exactly who was boss.
Heaving my bum in the right direction
The next image to disappear was the one of my nonchalantly stepping into a stirrup and effortlessly swinging up into the saddle.
Instead, read a wooden crate as steps, one person, the cowboy in charge, holding the very patient horse and a second person, our lovely guide, heaving my bum in roughly the right direction.
The terror I felt at this point cannot be described, but the friend I was with thoughtfully took a photo.
In fact, she took many photos, as did the guide. Next the stirrup lengths were adjusted, strangely ending up at different lengths each side. This was not the suave image that had beguiled me for so long! Wearing a pudding basin on top of a hairnet, sitting lopsided on a one-eared horse!
And so we set off, the cowboy leading Gabinete and our guide following, still taking photos. I soon realised that Gabinete was going to go his own way, as far as the leading rein allowed.
As we rode along a wide, open trackway the grip of terror started to lessen and I began to look about me and take in the surrounds from this different perspective.
Next, though, we followed pathways through trees. These pathways would be totally flooded in the wet season but as this was the dry one, only a few pools of water remained.
Taking evasive action
Now, horses pass easily under protruding branches - don’t even give them a second thought. Riders, however, have to take evasive action.
I had tried steering Gabinete clear of the overhangs, but he saw no reason to alter his path as he was fine; I had not yet realised that I should duck and was pushing the offending branches out of the way. This worked wonderfully with thin, whippy branches.
Then we came to the very solid, sturdy variety and I tried to push them away, which didn’t work at all. As I hung there with both hands clutching the branches, I realised that Gabinete and my legs were continuing on their way. I became more and more horizontal until my guide, who was laughing but politely trying not to show it, rescued me and we carried on.
He deserved a drink
We then came to more open, flooded, country and by now I was enjoying the views of lake and flooded shore through which we were riding. Then the horse decided to have a drink. Indeed, every time we came to water Gabinete would stop suddenly and have a drink. Most disconcerting, but I suppose he had earned it.
Finally, as we neared our destination, my hairnet and pudding basin were removed and I donned our cowboy’s stetson so, as we hove into sight of my friend who had come by boat to meet me, I had at least the appearance of someone who was as used to riding as I was to walking. I removed my stetson and nonchalantly waved, as I had always imagined I would.
My brother had been wrong. My last equestrian experience had been on a pony at London Zoo when I was three. My horse-riding friend saw the photos, the good ones wherein I was stetson-clad, and kindly bought me a bottle of whisky in celebration. J.M.
Bespoke Brazil specialises in Brazilian holidays including flights; covering tailor-made tours to Brazil, adventure holidays and events like the famous Rio Carnival. New for 2015 the company also offers a selection of exclusive wine tours. www.bespokebrazil.com
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