Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
February 3, 2022
The last column I wrote for the Fernandina Observer was about horses, specifically those used to portray the history of Fort Clinch. I didn’t know then that I would be on top of a horse myself a couple weeks later in Costa Rica. Bucko and I were on our first vacation outside the U.S. since the pandemic and were happily relaxing at a beach hotel on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This luxury hotel had a stable, offered horseback rides, and, why not? Bucko stayed behind and I climbed a steep, rocky, ungroomed path up a mountain, it seemed like, from the beachside hotel to the stables, and was tired out and breathless before I even reached the horses.
It was billed as a “ride for beginners and families alike” through jungles, across beaches, and into a small town. The guide Michael selected a perfect horse for me and put the two other riders, a young couple, on two other horses. How he picked the horses I’ll never know. My steed “Marisca” was the best trained horse I’ve ever ridden. Her ears were attuned to my every sound, the softest clicks and whoas got her immediate correct response. I loved that horse! But trouble was brewing for the young couple The guy told all of us he had never ridden before, and he was a giant of a man but the horse he was given was the smallest one in the group, and the youngest and liveliest. Michael was no help at all as the rider tried to slow the horse down, as it twirled around in complaints. I was sure glad I had Marisca.
At the start of the ride I was ecstatic! Michael pointed out a pair of scarlet macaws, two different species of hawks, large iguanas and both capuchin and howler monkeys along the vegetated paths, and then we headed along a pristine unoccupied beach. The horses
moved at a fast walk and faster trot. It was wonderful. But that was the first half hour.
An hour and a half into the ride, we were just arriving at the town of Tambor. By then we had traversed four different beaches, a few more kilometers of jungle paths, and then through a fishing camp into the town itself. When we dismounted for a break, my legs were jelly, my knees hurt and I could barely walk up the road to a local grocery store to buy Bucko some shaving cream he had run out of. (What a good wife I am.) After a cold Coke with lots of ice, I was almost ready to get back on Marisca again. Still another five kilometers of trails back to the stable! Good Grief!
During the ride back, I stopped taking photos. I clung to the reins and pommel like a beginner and kept hoping to see the stables soon. But still it was another hour and a half. When we finally got off the horses I was more exhausted than I’ve ever been. My legs could barely support me, my hips and knees all hurt, and my vision was erratic and spotty. The young couple solicitously stayed with me until I sat on a bench and recovered a bit, then accompanied me down the steep, slippery trail back to the hotel. It turns out they were nearly as exhausted as I was, despite their young age and physical condition. The guy told me how his horse kept trying to bite his leg and shake him off. His wife told me her stirrups were on backwards with her toes pointing in, not her heels. We had lots to talk about once we caught our breath.
Back at the hotel, I had to lean on trees to rest along the way and barely made it to my air conditioned room, where I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes and crashed on the bed. When I recovered a bit, I took a shower then tracked Bucko down by hotel phone. He delivered more of the ice-cold Coke I craved—must be the electrolytes in it, since I never drink soda. It was another two hours before I had the energy to even leave the room and head to the pool.
At the pool, a marguerite and a view of humpback whales passing by, and macaws and monkeys in the trees around us restored me once again.
When I finally had energy to post my photos on Facebook, I received the best words of wisdom ever. Gaja Marconi, my water aerobics instructor commented, “Next time you want to pretend to be 20 years old meet me at the gym!”
I’m still twenty inside, but this wake-up call will caution me next time. Maybe….
Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org