Journey to Lake Natron and Back
by John Fuhring
Chapter 6
Bitch, bitch, bitch

     It's no use trying to write about  the beautiful scenery and the unfenced and unspoiled wilderness we were passing through at this part of the ride.  Having nothing else to write about just now, I think I'll start bitching about some of my favorite gripes.  If you think that life should be all "happy talk" and you don't want to read about negative stuff, kindly scroll down and skip to the next chapter.

     My loyal reader (if there is one) will remember how I bragged about how well I got along with my horses during the last safari a year and a half earlier.  How I rode Cougar and Queen in a loose rein and how they relaxed and were so easy to ride.  Well, evidently something really bad happened to those two and to all the horses since then.  Either that, or they were extremely nervous and upset about this trip through an unknown territory.

     Unlike last time, there didn't seem to be anything I could do to get the horses I rode to relax and just take it easy.  I noticed that the other riders were having the same problems I was having.  Mile after increasingly painful mile the damn horses would jog along wearing themselves out and shaking their backs and your back and butt to pieces.  The more tired and upset they would make themselves, the more unmanageable they would become.  I tried everything I knew - riding in a loose rein, making them put their heads down, tight rein, sidestepping until they behaved.  Each technique I tried just seemed to make them worse.  I got so I just hated those horses and the pain and discomfort they gave me sure had an evil effect on my overall attitude.

     To make matters terribly worse, the damn things were extremely "herd bound" in a way and to an extent I never experienced during the last safari. For those who don't ride, a "herd bound" horse is one that gets uncontrollable when separated from the group or even thinks it might be separated.  If it notices it's a little further from where it wants to be, it rushes back without any regard for the comfort of its rider.  The condition of being herd bound is considered a severe defect by all knowledgeable horsemen and a bad habit that one's horse should never be allowed to develop.

     If all of the above weren't bad enough, I began to develop large and painful blisters on my butt.  These blisters eventually broke open and that made the situation that much worse as the skin was now raw and oozing.  Part of the reason I developed these blisters was probably because of the riding jeans I was wearing.  The patch pockets had been sewn too low and the seams might have rubbed me.  The other reasons for the blisters was the old and poor fitting saddle, sticky with too much oil, rubbing me where it shouldn't have.  I knew from the other safari that the saddles weren't all that good, but last time I got by just fine by using a "seat saver."  A "seat saver" is a sheepskin (with the hair left on) that you attach to the saddle by small straps.  Before that first safari I never used one, but now I'm a fervent believer in them.  After returning from the first safari I bought myself a really good one of genuine sheepskin and intended to bring it with me on this safari.  For some reason, it didn't get packed and I didn't know it was missing until it was too late.  I wasn't worried though, I'd just use one of their seat savers - right?? - WRONG!! - they didn't have enough to go around and I was left to ride an ill behaved horse with a blistered butt in a ill-fitting oily old saddle and no seat saver.  Oh the agony!

     Oh, you think that's funny, do you!??!  Why don't you try riding nine plus hours a day under those circumstances?  I was not a "happy camper" I tell you.  We weren't through with the second day of riding when I was getting so mad about things that I was seriously thinking of telling Jan to take me back to the Farm in the Land Rover and I'd go from there to some other safari company or go home early.  If I had known what was going to happen next, I really would have bailed out at this time.

     Ok, I'll tell you about another couple of things that really bugged me.

    First there was an extremely annoying habit (or lack of regard) that Lisa had.  This is where Lisa would change from a walk to a trot or to a gallop without any warning.  Even in fox hunting (where we sometimes have to ride recklessly in order to keep up with the hounds) and especially on trail rides, the Field Master or the Trail Boss never, but never, but never takes off at a gallop without signaling the field his/her intentions.  This is just common courtesy and basic safety.  Even when I was learning cavalry maneuvers as part of my Civil War Reenactments, I learned the Army's standard signals and commands that proceeded a change of gait.  After a while I very much got the impression that we'd speed up every time I'd pull out my GPS unit and start to take a fix.  I got to the point that I'd pull it out when I was tired of the horse jiggling and wanted to go faster so I could stand up in the stirrups.  I don't know if that's what Lisa's intentions were, but it did seem to work.  Out would come my GPS and off we'd go at a gallop.

     By the way, many months ago, because of problems I was having using reading glasses on horseback, I made myself an old fashioned monocle.  My monocle is made out of a plastic lens from a broken pair of reading glasses.  The lense was easy to grind to fit my eye socket and after shaping it, I drilled a tiny hole and threaded a string through it so I wouldn't loose it if it dropped out.  I tried it out and found that the monocle was just the thing to use while on horseback.   It was so much smaller, lighter, more rugged and handy than a standard pair of reading glasses and there's no way you can loose it.  With the monocle I could read my GPS display, my compass and my map and not have to bother with a clumsy pair of standard reading glasses.  It worked especially well on this safari.  When Lisa would take off suddenly, I'd just let the monocle fall from my eye and it would safely dangle on its string.  Those little things are so simple yet so useful, I can't understand why they ever went out of style.

Anyway, back to my complaints.

     The other thing that really made me mad was Lisa's habit of making a mad, flat out gallop the last 150 yards or so into camp.  It really came to a head with me on the second afternoon when I was weary and very sore and I knew the horses were totally exhausted.  That evening we had been traveling over very, very bad terrain full of deep cracks in the volcanic soil.  These cracks were covered by tall grass and it was very bad going.  We made a mad dash through this footing and into the picket line on horses that were basically out of control.  I was mad and complained, but that was a "voice crying out in the wilderness," that's for sure.  Next day I told Tom and some of the others about my personal experience with out of control horses and picket lines.

The infamous Gettysburg picket line disaster.

     At the end of June of 1998, I gathered up all my Union Cavalry equipment - my saddle and tack, my revolver, saber, Smith carbine, uniform, tent and everything a soldier needs and traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the huge, huge reenactment they were going to have there.  Earlier, (by E-mail) I had arranged to rent a horse and it was to be delivered at the campsite of the Federal Cavalry Regiment on the day I arrived.

     The reenactment was truly an awesome event and so much more grand a spectacle than any movie could ever hope to be in or see.  There were over 40,000 uniformed reenactors on both sides and way over 1,000 cavalry.  I was assigned to Company A of the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment and (as is the custom) pitched my army tent near the horse picket line so that I could see to the needs of my horse and be ready to ride out when "called to arms."

     The picket line was arranged per the usual standards which means that the picket rope was above the heads of the horses.  This is the best arrangement as it prevents the horses' lead lines from getting tangled in their legs (which can severely damage their legs).  Because this is such a good arrangement, this is the universal way that horses are to be picketed and the safari used this arrangement too.  The only problem with this is that the picket rope is extremely dangerous to people who are foolish enough to be mounted while entering the picket area.

Picket lines.
     In every cavalry reenactment, training session or trailride I've ever been on, it was and is always mandatory that the riders WALK their horses into camp and when we were no less than 20 yards from the picket line, we would dismount and lead the horses in on foot.  Indeed, according to military regulations, a company of cavalry is required to line up in a rank, dress the line, count off by fours.  The even numbered riders advance one length forward then halt.  At the command "ready - dismount" all troopers are to dismount together and the odd numbered men are to move their horses up to the front with the even numbered men and horses.  The men are to stand at attention in a straight line, holding their horses until dismissed ("by the right and by the left") by the Captain.  Only then are the men allowed to walk their horses to the picket line.

     Well, at the Gettysburg reenactment there was one person who disobeyed orders.  The guy in the tent next to me was also from California and during the reenactments we rode together side by side.  We had just returned from reenacting General Custer's famous repulse of Stewart's cavalry charge.  We were very hot and exhausted in our heavy wool uniforms in that very hot and humid summer weather.  We all lined up as ordered and were told to dismount, but my comrade choose to not get off his horse.  I wanted to say something to him, but thought it really wasn't any of my business if our sergeant or other officers didn't say anything.  Anyway, we continued to talk as we approached the picket line when, all of a sudden, this guy's horse (who had been walking quietly up to then) spooked at some movement in the nearby woods and charged full speed into the picket line.  The sudden acceleration of the horse set the guy back into his saddle and prevented him from ducking even if he had wanted to.

     I have seen people killed who didn't scream as long and as loudly as this guy did.  I will always have a mental image of a jaw opened wide and showing all the teeth and screaming "I broke my back, my back is broken."  I remounted and rode my horse as fast as I could to where I knew there was a first aid station.  Soon they had the guy sedated and on a stretcher and out of there.  The remainder of the reenactment I was stuck taking care of his horse for him because, indeed he had fractured a vertebrae in his back.  Lucky for him that no nerve damage was involved.  I know all this because our captain looked into him and gave us a report the next day.

     As mentioned, I told this story (in an abbreviated form) to Tom and to some others in the hope that it would get back to Lisa and we'd stop this foolish gallop into the picket line, but to no avail.  My advice was ignored until I went absolutely berserk at the end of the ride on the third day.  Oh, I was hurting.  That evening, the stupid dog meat (AKA, the horse) I was riding had made an aching mess of my back and my butt.  I was in a foul mood when we galloped into the picket line and yes, I went berserk.  I made a fool of myself by jumping up and down, yelling and shouting in a most unseemly manner (I'm lucky Jan didn't bash me in the teeth), but we stopped galloping into the picket line after that (mostly).

     That should be enough bitching - for now anyway.

 Go to Chapter 7

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