Thursday, January 15, 2009

Andrew's close call -or- the longest post about horses you'll ever read

Although I grew up in a somewhat-rural town (a town that shocked even me with its "small town-ness" when I returned to visit it with my husband) my cousins teased me about being a "city slicker."

They grew up on a real, live farm.

But not the kind of farm that has horses, so even though I would visit their farm often, horseback riding didn't often figure into the picture. Unless we went to their cousin's house--they raised cows and had horses, and sometimes we'd go over there to help brand the cows or ride the horses or just because Aunt Susan would give us candy and let us watch movies.

My Uncle Ken had horses when I was growing up, too. I think his horses were the first horses I rode. He lived in the far away land called "Utah," which I could never spell correctly and is sometimes found as "Uhta" or "Eutih" in my childhood journals.

I was so excited to ride a horse for the first time and explained to him in all my six-year-old knowledge that I already knew how to ride a horse. You hold the reigns like so and pull left to go left and right to go right and back to stop. You kick the horse to make it go. And that's that.

He let me ride Fox--his oldest, gentlest horse, who happened to have a bad case of arthritis.

I was a little offended, at first, that he would chose such a tame animal for me, but let it be known that I almost died of fear up on that horse. I did not like my first ride solo and I haven't really enjoyed many rides since. Although it was pretty funny when one of the horses sat down on a car bumper to scratch its behind. That put a smile on my face, but it didn't instill a deep love for horses within me.

I think the closest I got to loving horses was the "My Little Pony" fascination I had when I was four--though, I only named my tricycle and not my ponies.

I'm sure it didn't help any when I was riding one of Uncle Darrel's ponies (another relative who lived close by on an acreage; he had goats, llamas, miniature horses, ponies, chickens, rabbits, cats, dogs, and a pot bellied pig) and the pony reached its head around and bit my leg.

Darrel got me off the pony and started slapping it immediately, which I guess is what you do with horses that bite. I'm not sure what scared me more--being bitten or watching Uncle Darrel with the horse.

My horse riding experience is, apparently, pretty sparse.

Andrew's, however, is worse. He went riding once at a Smithson family reunion in St. John's, Arizona when he was 13 or 14. He rode on a "stupid, white horse that was, like, feral," or something. It was riding around a corral that had barbed wire along the fence and the horse kept rubbing up against the fence so Andrew's leg was getting cut up. That's the only time he'd ever ridden.

See? His horse riding experience is even more sparse than my own.

So why we decided we were game to ride Egyptian horses across the desert in the dark, I'll never know.

Especially after Carolee, an animal lover, volunteered to stay at home and watch Rachel and Finn so that we could go out with the Masons and Josh. According to her the horses ran too fast, didn't obey anything, and the whole experience was just a little too scary for her.

The Schillings' neighbour married an Egyptian and he's got some wusta with a stable by the pyramids so he set us up with a few of his friends and they took us to go ride horses.

We took the metro to Giza and then took a microbus to the stable. That was quite the ride--I thought for sure we were going to die. We kept weaving around semi-trucks and big busses. We had so many close calls it wasn't even funny.

Trying to look happy on the microbusP1140088

When we got to the stable, alive, it was all we could do to not kiss the ground. Thank goodness for all the horse manure or we, for sure, would have kissed it! Instead we all just stood around nervously waiting for the horses to be brought out.


They brought the horses out a few at a time and we all watched them, trying to decide which ones were the calm, docile ones. None of them seemed particularly calm-tempered, but there was one--the one on the far right--who was a little more skiddish than the rest. Even after one of the stable-hands took him out for a run to calm him down he still seemed to be quite angry. We nicknamed him the Devil Horse. No one wanted to ride him.

I ended up on the horse with the long white stripe down its nose--the one just to the left of the Devil Horse.

One by one we all got up on our horses and were told how to ride.

Egyptian equestrianism is pretty straightforward, at least I thought so. Pull right to go right, left to go left, back to stop, and kick to go. Perhaps that's just universal...but just because we already knew the commands didn't mean we didn't run into trouble, because we did.

The first problem we had was with the saddles. One look at these saddles had me scared. No horn?! What the heck was I supposed to hold onto? Apparently there are different types of saddles--English saddles and Western saddles. I am used to the latter. I like to hold onto the horn for dear life. Wedging my fingers between the saddle and the horse's back just didn't seem as safe somehow.

After we all figured out how to stay on our horses things were pretty easy, for awhile at least, until we wandered into some alleyways of poor dwellings.

Apparently Egyptian children think it's fun to carry around whips and sticks to hit the horses with while you're going down the alley. Do you know what happens when you hit a horse? It goes faster. We didn't want fast.

One boy grabbed my leg while I was walking by on my horse and he wouldn't let go so I yelled at him and shook my leg out of his grasp. When Melissa was going by she accidentally kicked him while trying to avoid him.

We finally got through that area and were then faced by a makeshift garbage dump.

"This is where Carolee's horse almost fell over the last time we went," Josh called out.

Thanks, Josh, for telling me that. Because that's just what I wanted to know when I'm on an uncontrollable animal. Thanks.

I start shaking while we're picking our way through the garbage. It was pitch black and frightfully chilly. I couldn't tell if I was shaking from fear or from the cold. Most likely it was a combination of the two.

We made it through the garbage unscathed and the whole desert opened up to us. It was dark, so everything was in shades of grey, but it was an amazing view. Sand dunes rolled off into the distance as far as the eye could see and the pyramid light-and-sound show was going on to our right. It was like two Hollywood movie sets had collided. We were starring in a Western and an Ancient Egypt movie at the same time.

Just as the view was really starting to sink in one of the stable hands yelled out something that sounded like, "Get go! Get go!" and then cracked his whip in the air.

Our horses were off like rockets. We were galloping across the desert, flying!

I didn't think I would like going fast but, aside from being afraid of dying the whole time, it was pretty okay. In fact, it was much nicer than trotting, I found. It would have been even more fun if any of us could actually control our horses.

The horses only seemed to listen to the stable hands, who somehow commanded all of the horses to stop at once, right by the carcass of a worked-to-death horse. Thanks.

We had to wait for Melissa's horse to catch up. It was having a lazy day and just wanted to walk. While we were waiting, Patrick's horse decided it needed a break so it got ready to lie down. It got down on the ground and started rolling over.

It was Patrick's first time on a horse and he was just as scared as the rest of us. No one really knew what to do about the horse that was about to roll, casually, over its rider.

Some were yelling for him to jump off. Some were yelling in Arabic at the horse. George, one of the Egyptians who came riding with us, jumped off his horse and grabbed Patrick's horse's reigns and made it stand back up.

We all thought that was going to be the worst of our problems because all the horses seemed to be fairly gentle riders. When Melissa had caught up, however, the stable hands sent us all into a gallop again.

And then they yelled, again, "Get go! Get go!" spurring the horses even faster. Too fast, if you ask me. I could hardly breathe, we were going so fast. I was trying to stand up in the stirrups a little so that I wouldn't bounce on the saddle so much but it was all I could do to keep my grip on the saddle.

One moment Andrew was right up beside me.

"How are you doing?" he yelled over the rush of the wind.

"Not good!" I yelled back, "I can hardly hold on and the camera keeps bouncing. I'm afraid it's going to break. And I. HATE. THIS!"

I guess my yelling sent my horse into a frenzy because we shot far ahead of Andrew and kept on going at break neck speed. The horse shoes were sparking against the sand.

And then I hear, "Whoa! Whoa! Ahhh!"

I turned around just in time to see someone fly over their horse's head. I pulled on the reigns to stop, or at least slow, my horse. No response. I pulled harder. Again, harder. I felt like I was going to yank the horse's head off before it actually slowed down.

That someone did a front layout over the horse's head--kind of like a front flip, but all sprawled out. Then they disappeared.

The horse went down next, head over heels.

I didn't see their silhouettes reappear.

"Is that Melissa?" I heard Patrick call out to me.

"No, it's Nancy. What happened? Who fell off their horse?"

"Andrew! I was right behind him and his horse tripped. He just flew off!"

By this time I was really worried. It was dark and I couldn't see them at all. And my stupid horse wouldn't stop. It just kept plodding along.

I couldn't get it to turn around or stop. It just wanted to get to the campfire, I guess. So I reverted to yelling again.

"Is he okay?" I screamed, "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine!" I heard Andrew yell back at me as a blob of a person reappeared several sand dunes back.

A few minutes later I made it to the campsite. I hopped off my horse and waited for Andrew to get there. Someone had helped him back onto his horse, who now had reason to go a little bit slower than before. He jumped off his horse and stumbled over to me.

I took out the flashlight and we checked him over for injuries. He wasn't hurt too badly. Just his neck hurt, his elbows, his hands, his knees. You know, pretty much everywhere.


The only blood we noticed was on his elbow. This picture is post-shower when we got home, so it looks a lot better than it did originally. He was wearing a long sleeved shirt and a jacket and still ended up bloodying his elbow. Don't know how he managed that one...


He's not really sure how he fell or landed. He remembers flying off his horse and thinking something like, "Wow. I'm going to die. Right now."

The next thing he remembers was opening up his eyes and seeing the horse rolling towards him in a big cloud of dust. He couldn't have blacked out too long because he was still sliding through the sand and was able to just curled up into fetal position and use his momentum to roll out of the way of his horse.

We were hoping to get some nice pictures from our vantage point, but Andrew was too shaken up to think straight and I don't know a whole lot about cameras. Then there was the group of annoying teenagers who kept sticking their faces in our business and counting how many pictures we were taking.

I'm sure they were trying to be friendly but they were actually just annoying. One girl offered me some tea.

"Min fadlak," she said, thrusting a cup of tea in my face.

"Laa, shukran," I said.

That sent her and her friends into a bubbling pot of excitement.

"She understands Egyptian [Arabic]! She must be from Egypt! Blah, blah, blah!"

"Why are they taking so many pictures! It's just he pyramids. Blah, blah, blah!"

"They understand what we're saying."

"Oh, yeah! I forgot!"

And so forth. The funny part was that I didn't say anything impressive at all. They kept coming up and asking me things and I'd say things like, "I don't know" and "I don't speak Arabic" and they still were excited that I spoke Arabic. Crazies. We were glad when they left and stopped counting our exposures.



Once the teens stopped chattering and left to join a dance party on a farther dune we were able to enjoy the view a bit easier. The moon was rising and it was a brilliant orange color (thank you, pollution).

To keep a long story short, Neddie insisted to the stable hands that we walk back through the desert. He yelled at them whenever they started talking about making the horses run and we made it most of the way at a pretty lazy speed.

Once we got to the trashy area, almost in town again, the stable hands made the horses run again and we ended up coming into the stables bouncing uncontrollably.

It was there, in the light, that we noticed Andrew's hands. Can you guess which hand was holding onto the saddle?


We walked to the main road to catch a micro bus and ended up standing by a store. Neddie was kind enough to go in and buy some antiseptic, cotton swabs, and band aides.

I would have gone in myself, but I didn't realize that P _ _ M A _ I E meant to say "pharmacie" or, as I like to spell it, "pharmacy." The Arabic sign was much more intact but since I don't know how to say pharmacy in Arabic, reading the sign wouldn't have helped.

We got him all cleaned up in no time, caught a taxi to the minibus station, and rode the microbus all the way to Maadi. 2 pounds from the Giza Pyramids to Maadi! That's amazing, and really just about as comfortable as a taxi.

We got home shortly before midnight.

Andrew is feeling much better after having a good night's rest, but his back is still pretty sore, not to mention his poor elbow.

This might be an adventure of the "one time only" genre.


  1. Pharmacy --> sidelia. That's the best transliteration I can do. I'll tell you in person tomorrow. Did you ever yell the stable hands out? They would have gotten an earful and NO BAKSHEESH! That's funny about the saddles, though. I actually prefer an English saddle, you can sit closer to the horse. But I also learned on an English saddle. Feel better, Andrew!

  2. I have ridden both english and western, I like the western saddle better. Uncle Darrel's horse I rode used to be an old Chariot racer, so his commands were different then the other horses. I like horses, but not a deep horse lover. Poor Andrew, hope he feels better soon!

  3. I also prefer English saddles, most likely also because that's what I learned on. And because (I know you won't believe me, but...) I feel like it gives you more control.
    But poor little Heisses! It sounds like Andrew's horse experiences have been awful two for two now. His knuckles look awful!

  4. You and I had better stay away from "cool" experiences at the pyramids from now on! By the way, the nail on the toe I damaged falling at the pyramids just fell off the other day. It was black and dead, and the new stuff underneath just pushed it off. I hope you feel better soon. Love, Mom

  5. Great story! Nancy, you really need to write a book or two. And feel better, Andrew. I am glad you lived through this experience.