First Time in the Saddle
I asked him how old he was. “Five!” he replied holding up all the fingers on one hand to assist my understanding of his declaration. I opened the gate to start our Wranch tour and the young visitor’s body stiffened. He stood perfectly still. The little dark haired bundle of enthusiasm became tree-like, overwhelmed by the sight of a group of our alpacas running across the yard to meet him.
After enclosing the alpacas in their pen, my new friend was at my side once again. He relaxed and began to enjoy the fuzzy, long-necked, brown-eyed critters. With the fence between them, Jalen’s personal space had been re-established. My new friend was hand-feeding the alpacas and posing for pictures. I was trying to build Jalen’s interest in our alpacas, animals that, to me, are proof that God has a sense of humor. “How many different colors do you think alpacas come in?” I asked Jalen.
“Five?” he asked.
“Thirty? –no, wait…do they come in blue?” he asked excitedly.
“Alpacas come in twenty two colors” I told Jalen, “but not blue” I added, hoping he wouldn’t be too disappointed. The impossibility of seeing an alpaca that was his favorite color did not dampen Jalen’s spirits. He fed handful after handful of grain to the fluffy camelids giggling at the sensation of alpaca lips tickling the palm of his hand.
Wanting to move our tour forward before Jalen’s interest waned, I asked if he’d like to meet some donkeys. The answer was a resounding “Yes!” and off we trotted toward donkey world.
The donkeys ambled toward us. Unlike when the alpacas had run toward us, Jalen was not alarmed by the sight of five donkeys headed his way. The donkeys, seeing a youngster, stopped in front of us and Pumpkin, the leader of the herd, lowered her head as she stepped forward to meet Jalen. Chewbakkah was next, and the 30-plus year-old donkey remained as still as a statue while the youngster touched the Mammoth donkey’s soft, velvety nose. Jalen stood on his tip-toes and reached as high as he could, wiggling his fingers, wanting to touch the donk’s big ears. Those ears were out of reach as Chewbakkah’s head was as big as the youngster’s entire body. I asked Jalen if he’d like to ride a donkey and the squeal that escaped from the small boy unmistakably meant yes. I headed toward the barn to fetch a halter and saddle.
Zipper, our silver-dappled, riding donkey looked handsome wearing his turquoise halter and brown leather saddle, but as he is a Mammoth donkey standing fourteen hands-high, he was, at first, an intimidating sight for Jalen to behold. We started off by touching Zip’s soft nose and petting his neck. Then I asked if Jalen would just sit in the saddle to see what it was like. I made it clear that if the boy didn’t like it he could immediately dismount. Hesitantly, Jalen raised his arms so that his Dad could lift him up to sit in the saddle on Zipper’s back. Jalen settled into the saddle and a look of discomfort came over his face when he realized how far off the ground he was. I told Jalen to hang onto the saddle horn and guided his little hands to the leather-clad prominence on the front of the saddle. My little friend looked confused, but his nervousness began to subside once he had something solid to hang onto. I asked Jalen if Zipper could take just one step so that he could feel what it would be like to be in the saddle as the large animal’s muscles moved beneath him. The youngster looked me in the eyes, his eyebrows scrunched with concern, and gave a slight nod to let me know he was willing. “Hang onto the horn,” I told Jalen as I gave a slight tug on the lead rope. Zipper moved one leg and then another and I quietly whispered “Whoooooaa” so the donkey would stop and stand still. When I looked up at Jalen the boy’s eyes were wide as saucers, but he sat several inches taller in that saddle and his confidence was huge.
“Can we keep going?” I asked. Jalen gave a huge nod and his grin stretched ear to ear. It was as if he was filled with a new kind of electricity, he was lit up from head to toe. I tugged Zipper’s lead rope and we started off down the driveway, Jalen swaying slightly in the saddle as Zipper took each step. “Just hang onto the horn,” I told Jalen to reassure him that everything would be alright. When I glanced back at my passenger, that confused look had returned. “What’s the matter, Jalen?” I asked, hoping the excitement had not worn off. “This horn won’t honk!” Jalen replied, his voice full of consternation.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. It was one of those moments that touches me so; the beautiful innocence of children.
We returned to the starting point where Jalen proudly posed for pictures. His Dad lifted him down off the donkey and once on the ground Jalen’s excitement poured out of him. It seems he had a wonderful time in that saddle, even though the darn horn didn’t work.