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Mounting Up in Mazatlan

| June 30, 2005

Cruises often give one the opportunity to try something new, and that's just what I did on a recent port stop in Mazatlan, Mexico, when I mounted a horse for a riding tour of one of the area's pristine beaches.

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No one would ever take me for an avid equestrian. I was last on a horse some 25 years ago, and the outing left a bad taste in my mouth when I fell against the horn of the saddle. Suffice it to say, I was walking funny by the end of the day – and I don't mean bow-legged.

Eager (but somewhat nervous) to try it again, I booked a riding tour through Randi's Happy Horses, a Mazatlan-based tour company that nets

excellent reviews from past clients. The reservation for my steed was made weeks in advance via email, and I was happy to see Randi's bright pink signs when we arrived at the cruise terminal.

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I and my fellow riders – totaling about 40 that day – were led to an open-air truck; the bed had been fitted with benches. The truck was to take us to the boat launch for our ultimate destination, Isla de las Piedras (or as we gringos say, "Stone Island"). Randi quickly got us organized in several small boats, and we headed across the bay. Five minutes later, we made land and hopped on a tractor-pulled wagon, which would take us to the ranch.

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I was struck by the simple lifestyle of Stone Island. Small houses nestle between stands of trees and swaying palms – quite the difference from the hustle and bustle of downtown Mazatlan. Randi told us that one must be born on the island in order to reside there, which keeps the population to a minimum.

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In the center of the island, we arrived at a simple home where Randi boards her horses. A friendly family met us; all its members work with her in managing the excursions and caring for the horses. In preparation for our adventure, we were asked to leave our backpacks and purses behind, although we could tie a water bottle to our saddle. (A tip: Bring a fannypack to hold your camera so that you can record the fun.)

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Stepping across the street, we perused the horse-staging area. One by one, Randi and the father of the family matched each of us with a steed, based on our physical size and riding ability. Rest assured, novices and children are able to take the tour.

Because of my height, I was assigned one of the larger horses. Being in the saddle took some getting used to, but Randi's associates were all smiles as they helped fit my shoes in the stirrups, strapped my water bottle on the saddle and instructed me on the simple commands. After 10 minutes or so, we were all ready to head off for our ride along the pristine beaches of Stone Island.

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Before arriving at the shore, we made our way through lush palm groves that fill the interior of the island. The slow, leisurely pace allowed us to become accustomed to the ride and enjoy the scenery. I was amazed how the horses deftly avoided stepping on the many coconuts dotting the ground. With the ocean in sight, the pace picked up – especially for me and my steed, as well as the one next to mine. I later learned that horses have a ‘pack mentality,' so two to three will jockey for a lead position by walking, trotting or sometimes even galloping faster. Lucky me -- mine was one of those steeds.

We made our way to the shoreline, relishing the cool breezes under the 85-degree sun. We were arranged in an informal line. Once again, the trip leaders explained the commands and asked whether we had any questions, and then it was off for the ride.

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The pace of the horses picked up as we made our way through the soft sand toward the water. I couldn't help but laugh for the fun of doing something so different, and I was proud that my horse was one of two at the head of the line. This glee was short-lived, however, when mine decided to keep up with his competition by breaking into a full-on gallop.

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Of course, we were the only two going so quickly, and our leisurely pace suddenly turned into a white-knuckle ride for me as I tried to control the galloping horse, using the command "Despacio!" or "slowly" in English many times. Within two to three minutes, though, and sensing my discomfort, one of the family members brought the horse train to a stop. I was quickly given a more manageable horse as they apologized for my steed, who was the favorite of the father of the family and full of energy.

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My new assignment – a mare that had given birth three weeks earlier – was much more relaxed. The family members had a nickname for her -- Flojo, which translates as "lazy" in Spanish. True to her moniker, the pony was slow to move, but eventually began walking – albeit ever so leisurely. Now, instead of being at the front of the train, I was the caboose. But Flojo, her colt (which tagged alongside) and me loved our relaxing stroll on the sand … about 50 feet behind my fellow tourists.

A mile or so down the shore, we arrived at our destination: a thatch-covered, open-air restaurant. There we dined on some wonderful Mexican dishes, drank several cervezas, compared notes on how we enjoyed the tour, and paid the $45 for our excursion (lunch not included, but the first beer was complimentary).

The hour to 90 minutes at the restaurant allowed us plenty of time to visit, relax and even stroll through the water. It was a wonderful way to wind up our superb horseback adventure on Stone Island before the tractor-pulled wagon brought us back to the dock to head back to the ship and our next port.

Web information: www.randishappyhorses.com.

Harry Martin is a contributing editor and moderator of the Mexico and G/L message boards at Cruisemates.com.


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