When I first worked in the Entertainment Industry, I was the Executive Assistant to the Empress of International Sales. Her lover was the CEO of our production company.
Hollywood is messy like that.
Both my boss and her boss/partner grew up riding horses. My boss even talked about riding her horse to school. For real.
I’m a city girl. I’d been on a horse exactly twice when the Empress decided everyone in International Sales should spend a Saturday morning horseback riding together. We met at an equestrian center in Burbank. The plan was to ride up into the northern side of the Hollywood Hills.
Imagine my excitement. Saturday with my boss, smelling stable yard manure, swatting an omnipresent flies, participating in a “voluntary” activity at which I sucked. The likelihood of impressing my boss and increasing my upcoming Christmas bonus looked slim, indeed.
Even better, the Mr. CEO came along, too, complete with a cowboy hat. Imagine how thrilled I was to have a chance to not impress him, too.
Every woman in our department showed up.
Every male employee called with a last second excuse.
Those men either didn’t care about team-building activities or they were secure in their Christmas bonuses.
All of the women must’ve ridden before. They discussed stirrups and saddles. One even brought her own riding hat. Ms. Riding Hat, Mr. CEO, and the Empress chatted with the stable owners about which horses were suitable for experienced riders.
When it was my turn to be measured for stirrups, I whispered, “How about a nice little pony? Something that can’t go fast and isn’t too high off the ground?”
The stable owner looked up at me and snorted. I was the tallest and broadest person in our group (yes, including Mr. CEO).
She said, “You’ll ride Hercules.”
Hercules was the biggest horse they had.
Ms. Hat exclaimed over my terrifying steed. “He’s beautiful! He must be at least fifteen hands!”
“Sixteen,” corrected the stable owner.
Ms. Hat asked, “Does he have some Friesian?”
Here is a picture of a Shire Horse, with some normal-sized humans for scale:
In case you can’t tell, Shire Horses are the size of Clydesdales (the Budweiser horses). From the back of a giant horse, the ground looks far away away and very, very hard.
I leaned forward and whispered into an ear the size of my face, “Listen, Gigantor, I used big rubber bands and two-hundred and fifty pounds on the adductor machine to get these thigh muscles. Don’t make me use them.”
Hercules flicked his ear, tossed his head, and ambled out of the yard after his buddy horses.
Thankfully, all he did was amble. That’s all any of the horses did. They walked up the trail. I didn’t have to pull on the reins or yell “Whoa.” Hercules and I brought up the rear, and I was fine with that.
After about an hour, the Empress decided that we should head back. Mr. CEO wheeled his horse. Hercules wheeled himself.
The group behind me may have shouted. I didn’t hear them. All I could hear was the thunderous drumming of Hercules’ hooves.
All I could do was hang on.
Mighty thighs are good for that.
We ran around a bend and out of sight. I wondered if the demon steed was going to run all the way back to the barn. Thankfully, Hercules had to slow down for a switchback. Then I yanked on the reins, squeezed my thighs, and yelled “Whoa! Whoa, you goddamned devil beast!
Hercules stopped. I have no idea if it was me, or he was tired.
He was probably tired.
So was the riderless horse behind us. I hadn’t even realized there WAS another runaway horse, but there it stood, empty saddle and all. Hercules was blocking the trail, and so the horse couldn’t get passed us, but I couldn’t reach the other horse’s reins. Hercules didn’t seem inclined to move closer to the other horse, either. Holding Hercules’ reins in one hand, I climbed down and led him over to the other horse. I collected that horse’s reins, and climbed back up on Hercules.
That sounds easy. It wasn’t, even with long legs. I’m not sure how I did it, but I got back on the mammoth devil horse.
“We’re going back,” I told the Hercules. “Go.”
He didn’t move.
“Giddiyup, Hercules.” I nudged him with my heels.
I kicked him with my heels.
The other horse followed.
After a few minutes, we ran into Mr. CEO.
He told me that all the horses had tried to bolt when we turned. Ms. Riding Hat had been thrown, but she was okay except for a cut chin. Everyone else – except for me – had managed to control their horses. Then he held out a hand. “I’ll take those.”
I gratefully handed over the reins of the wayward horse. We continued up the trail until we rendezvoused with everyone.
One of my coworkers let out a squeal of delight as we approached. “Mr. CEO! You caught the horse! Just like a real cowboy!”
I waited for Mr. CEO to humbly demur and say, “No, no, Autumn already caught the horse and was bringing him back.”
HE SAID NOTHING.
Not a word.
I sat on the horse from hell, my mouth hanging open in shock, until a fly nearly flew into it. My coworkers cooed over Mr. CEO/ Faux Hero Cowboy.
After the Empress helped Ms. Riding Hat back up on her horse, she rode over to me. “You all right?”
“Oh, fine,” I assured her. “Stayed on until he slowed, then I got him turned around. I don’t know why he ran in the first place, though.”
“He’s barn sour,” the Empress explained. “It happens with trail horses. They know the routine, but they’re lazy. As soon as you turn around, they try and run back to the barn so they can get their feed or a treat faster.”
Barn sour or not, the horses walked sedately the rest of the home. After I happily relinquished the Satan’s mount, the Empress proposed breakfast. Mr. CEO declined and went off to do CEO things.
Ms. Riding Hat went to the ER to get four stitches in her chin.
The rest of us got breakfast. Some of the women were still googly-eyed over Mr. CEO’s heroic actions. They sighed over how lucky the Empress was to have a partner who was a real man, a hero, a man of action, and, yet again, “a true cowboy.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. “Oh, my GOD!” I yelled. “Enough already. He didn’t catch the horse. I caught the stupid horse! And it wasn’t that hard, because the horse was tired and it had stopped, okay? So all I had to do was climb off my horse and get the reins and climb back up and Mr. CEO met us and then he took the reins, but he DID NOT CATCH THE DAMNED HORSE!”
There was an awkward silence. Super awkward. As one, they all turned to the Empress.
She just took a sip of water, smiled, and said, “I always knew you caught the horse, Autumn.”
I got large bonus that Christmas. I also got a huge personal check as a “gift” from my boss. Maybe because I worked long hours. Maybe because I was a team player. Maybe because I held my tongue just long enough.
I never asked the Empress why.
Because you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.