Gandalf the Grumpy

Day 10 – Ahhh yes. Tapped into my latina genes today and lay about in bed for way later than I should have, drifting in and out of a sweet syrupy sleep, blissfully aware that I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. That I needed to do anyway. Around 9:45am I mustered enough energy to get dressed and think about where, exactly, I wanted to bum around for the day. I stopped by the front desk for some ideas, and booked myself a 2pm beach-side horse ride. All a part of my relaxing day, of course. Who could turn down a quiet afternoon horse ride in Abel Tasman? Not me. Certainly not me.

But first! B&B – beach and book. Coquille Bay was a manageable 45 minute hike away, and would give me a little taste of the Abel Tasman track. I could spend a couple hours soaking up the sun and my books, and turn back in time for that horse ride I’d already romanticized. There’s not too terribly much to say about this first half of the day. The walk was pleasant enough, minus that one stretch of flowers and their devoted worshippers, my friends the bumblebees. The Coquille beach was near deserted when I arrived, and had a handful of visitors at most by the time I left. The sun was strong, but the breeze kept me comfortably cool. The scenery had not dulled from the day before. In fact, the peppy cheerleader was just as bright (I’m talking light here, not intellect of course) and beautiful as she ever was. The sandflies that are rumored to plague visitors – rather than bumblebees – did not trouble me a jot. What a happy few hours was spent on that beach and on that walk. Exactly what the calm non-crazy-perfectionist-Lisa ordered.

I stayed a touch too long on the beach, and had to hustle back to my car so I’d make it to my 2:00pm appointment with the horse people. I was told that the person to ask for was called Harmony. That’s when I should have known. Because once I arrived at Pegasus Park, the day took a turn and things got weird.

Harmony Aquarian, horsemaster extraodinaire! He is an Amurrican. Hails from Toledo and is turning 65 in a few short days. Harmony is a portly fellow that looks like he belongs in a biker gang, and who’s to say he doesn’t. He was wearing black pants and a sleeveless shirt that featured a noose and the word “hanged.” He’d done a great job distressing it. It was as well-worn as any vintage store could hope for, and topped off the look with a hat that was a mix between a cowboy’s and Crocodile Dundee’s. A full mangy white beard adorned his face, though under the hat there was not much hair to speak of. That was the image that filled my eyes as I shook his hand and had the first little inkling of doubt about the day’s outing. That doubt was quickly overturned when he introduced me to my horse for the day, Gandalf. Gandalf?! Gandalf! Really truly, Gandalf? “Really truly,” he confirmed, “I was in the Lord of the Rings movies as were many of my horses. I was a Rohan Rider.” Well, you can imagine what happened next. After the massive jaw drop, I quickly peppered him with questions about the experience, expecting prideful tales and, ooo wait what’s Aragorn, I mean Viggo Mortensen like?? The response I did get was most definitely not what I’d expected or hoped for.

My inquiries seemed to give him the freedom to launch into a diatribe about the horror of working for the Lotr franchise and Peter Jackson. “8 horses died in the making of the movies,” he told me, “even though we warned the crew that the conditions were unsafe.”

Within the first 5 minutes, I learned the following about his experience with the Lotr movies:

Harmony – The battlefields for a few of the big battles were peppered with rabbit holes, making it terribly dangerous ground for the horses. The production people hushed everything up. We were paid next to nothing for our time or our horses. We were basically indentured servants. They were trying to cut costs, but we were the ones that paid for it. It was a hellish experience. I took them to court, but they turned things around and tried to pin it on me. They said I was obsessed with Peter Jackson because I sent him letters and emails and called him – but I just wanted to make him aware about what was going on! Of course I had to drop the case because you can’t win against them. They have endless funds. Endless funds to shut up a $7,500 NZ case. Imagine that. And The Hobbit movies were no different!

He changed the topic. “Gandalf is a bit of a head thrower. He’s a character. You ok with that?” Umm… sure? I guess… what does that even mean, a character? His name was Gandalf though, so I decided, really based on no logic or sound reason to speak of, that things would turn out just fine. Me and Gandalf would be best of buds. We had to be! Oh the naiveté.

Three other unwitting fools would be joining for the ride. I still don’t know where they’re from. Then there was this other guy. I figured he was an assistant of sorts. He was, except he was a hitchhiker that Harmony had given a ride to not more than a week ago, and was earning his keep by “helping” with the rides. He had zero experience with horses, not to mention, this guy was weird and kind of a creeper. I have nothing to substantiate that judgement with other than my intuition told me so. Merg. Weird start to this ride.

We had a brief – maybe 2 minute – introduction to horse-riding, English style, and off Harmony sent us one by one into the paddocks behind him to practice. This is also when Harmony started to get snippy at us when we didn’t do exactly as he said, or do as he didn’t say but assumed us to know and/or guess. I went off to practice with Gandalf and found that he was not really in the mood to a.) be ridden and b.) be told what to do. I don’t consider myself a as a weak-willed person exactly, and I wasn’t scared yet – that would come later – so it was a frustrating half hour trying to gain some semblance of control over a pointedly stubborn beast. Finally, Harmony joined us on his horse Elvis with the blood-shot eyes. We practiced walking around a circle as a group, and Harmony waxed poetic about the synchronicity needed to be in the movies with horses. K…

After what seemed a much too long while, we made for the beach. Our group was to walk in single file. A horse called Happy Feet needed to stay towards the back of the line since he was a bully and liked to try and bite other horses. I wondered why he was coming along for the ride in that case, but decided that Harmony must know what he’s doing. On the beach, things seemed much better. Gandalf was doing a bit less of that head tossing thing, and we were in single file just enjoying the day and the view. Yes. Awesome. Awesome until it wasn’t. Gandalf was pissed, or some horse emotion that parallels that. He made grumpy sounds, neighed, tossed his head, and refused to move. It was not pleasant. But then he one-upped that unpleasantness by deciding all he wanted was to run ahead and not do as his reigns were telling him. This made Harmony mad. At me. I kept doing exactly as I had been instructed, namely pulling back on the reigns, being firm, and lightly slapping the whip to catch Gandalf’s attention, but he wasn’t having it. The head tossing and gruff noises continued and I barely kept him under control. “Oh that’s just Gandalf,” said Harmony. My faith in his expertise was dropping steadily.

What followed was a series of horrible mishaps. The horses fell out of line, got agitated. The dude next to me’s horse did a mini bucking thing. Adam – the creepy hitchhiker – had to run out from under his horse as it randomly lay down to roll in the sand. Happy Feet, the bully, snapped at the others when we tried to pose for a picture. Gandalf kept willfully disobeying most of my commands. Then Harmony took us to the “playground,” a flat stretch of tide-exposed sand where he let his clients run and play on their horses. And push out of their comfort zone. Well, at this point my comfort zone was next to nil. My horse seemed ill-at-ease and unruly (only later did Harmony tell me he was the newest to the bunch, and still skittish at the sound of the waves), but he wasn’t the only horse behaving badly. Not to mention the riders had next to no experience riding. A bad combo. Trotting, cantering, going at any speed beyond a slow, mild walk seemed like a terrible idea. It was.

The first run was fine because when I tried to command Gandalf to canter he refused and went on at a walk/trot pace. Fine. That’s fine. The next run fared differently. He saw his buds off and speeding along, so he decided to do the same. I was not ready. Both of my feet came out of the stirrups and I was holding on only by the pressure of my legs and a wild grasping onto the saddle – which is NOT how you stay on a horse. By some miracle, I managed to hold my seat. Behind me came the girl on Happy Feet, the girl who had opted not to partake in the running at all (‘cause she’s smaht and I’m dumb) but Happy Feet – aptly named, it turns out – had different plans. By the end of it, this poor girl had blanched considerably, and was short of breath and somewhat speechless when her horse finally came to a stop. We both opted out of the next run, and instead tried walking the horses around tamely – and made sure they were looking in the opposite direction than the rest of their crew.

By this point I was angry, and I wanted to go back. Not before some more action from Gandalf. Once we’d regrouped, Gandalf decided he’d try his hand at the rolling on the sand trick. THIS. IS. SCARY. Harmony just screamed at me, “run away, run away! Now run back, grab his harness, don’t let him run away!” Ok, fine, but the horse is on his back with his legs flailing everywhere and I’d rather not have my brains spilled out onto the sand during WHAT I THOUGHT WOULD BE A RELAXING, ROMANTIC HORSE RIDE ON THE BEACH. But I went and grabbed the reigns anyway. Then awkwardly struggled to get back on the horse. Much to Harmony’s frustration.

That was the end of it, thankfully. I could not wait to get back and off the horse. Stupid Gandalf. Gandalf the Grumpy. Gandalf the lame. You’re no Gandalf to me, grey though you may be. Harrumph. Back at the ranch, Harmony helped himself off his own horse but then let everyone sit awkwardly around not knowing what to do. Fed up, I scootched myself off Gandalf, who had already busied himself eating everything in sight. I stood holding his lead until finally creeper Adam came and took him back to his post, under his tree, to do his grumpy thing.

Now I needed my keys. I’d given them to Harmony for safekeeping before we left. It took 3 different attempts to get him to pay attention to me. The first gentle, the second patient but anxious, and the third firm and angry. The third worked. Harmony had taken some “action pics” but he was charging $30 NZ and burning them to a DVD. I have no such antiquated drive on my computer, so asked if he would email them to me. He would, he said, but he didn’t know when because #birthday. (The hashtag was my embellishment). Ugh. I paid for them anyway because they were fun pics. Pure fear caught on camera – who doesn’t want memories of that? I suppose I might as well have fed Gandalf the $30. So, depending on the trustworthiness of Harmony, I may or may not have pictures of the ride of terror to add to this post. At some point. Maybe. I’ll share the precious few I took myself.

I joyously drove away from the ranch, happy to be alive and somewhat astonished that horse riding has turned out to be the most dangerous thing I’ve done in NZ thus far. I went to a restaurant for some pizza because that’s exactly what my terrified and famished self wanted/needed. Oh, the Oven Fired Pizza restaurant only actually makes pizza on Thurs/Fri/Sat? Alrighty then. I went to a famed burger joint just down the road instead, which turned out to be a great choice. I wolfed down a delicious mussel patty burger that was truly one of a kind. But the sand flies had decided to come out so it was time to end my “quiet” day of R&R.

When I got back to my room at 8:15pm, I was beyond tired. Beyond. My legs hurt, I was achey all over and still worked up about the whole Pegasus adventure. I collapsed onto my bed for a nap. A nap that didn’t end until 9am the next day. Not quite the day I had envisioned, but sure makes for a good, if harrowing, story. For that, if nothing else, I suppose I owe thanks to the one and only Mr. Harmony Aquarian.

*UPDATE 12.1* He did it! Harmony sent me the pictures. BAHAHAHA yesss!!!

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