Horses were my safest of sanctuaries. Nothing bad would happen.
Riding Toward Danger: My Tinder Date on Horseback
Horses were my safest of sanctuaries. Nothing bad would happen.
The man vaulted over the fence, beckoning me to follow. He even smiled.
The man on the other side of the fence that day was a stranger, yes, but also a horse person, and the latter meant more. It didn’t matter that we met on Tinder. I’d met decent men on Tinder before.
The Tinder man on the other side of the fence was Argentinian. His English was mediocre. My Spanish was terrible. In a Tinder message, he revealed he was a polo player. I revealed I rode horses, too. He invited me to ride one of his polo ponies. I couldn’t resist. We exchanged numbers and he gave me instructions to his farm in North Salem.
His voice, with its heavy accent, sounded human and vulnerable. I remember he hummed a little and laughed nervously before ending the call.
I found my jodhpurs crumpled in my closet. I found my helmet and boots, caked with old dirt, in the garage. I drove a few miles to the farm where the man awaited my arrival, imagining what my friends would say.
You’ve always been the crazy one!
Of course you rode with a polo player you met off Tinder, you strange spontaneous woman.
Of course this would happen to you.
And of course it was true. I took pride in my spontaneity, in my extroversion. I was behaving in character.
The man was waiting outside a yellow farmhouse when I finally trundled up the muddy driveway. He was less attractive than his pictures had suggested. My body did not buzz and I couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or relieved.
He waved. I waved back and got out of the car and followed him over the fence and into the pasture, slipping through fence posts like smoke. I wanted to prove that I still belonged where I’d always belonged. Truthfully, it had been years since I’d given Liam away to other eager teenage riders, years since I’d moved cross-country for college, years since I’d ridden.
My first riding lesson was on my sixth birthday. For years prior, my mother wheeled my stroller to the barn where I watched, mesmerized, as horses whirled around the dusty ring. Six was a milestone I’d eagerly anticipated.
Encircling my hips, his hands were less tender.
I attributed his touch to cultural differences. Hadn’t strangers greeted me with hugs and kisses on each cheek when I’d visited Brazil? Wasn’t this the same thing?
I squirmed out of his embrace and turned to face him. “Are we going to ride?”
He nodded. “Of course. You choose.”
I pointed at the first horse that turned its head in my direction.
“This is Indy,” said the man. He slung a halter over her head and handed me the lead- rope. Indy and I followed the man and his horse toward the gate.
My heart beat fast so I entwined my fingers through Indy’s mane, hoping to stabilize.
So I climbed in. Started chattering about his bridles, running my fingertips over the leather, admiring how organized everything was, trying not to notice as he climbed in behind me and put his hands back on my hips and pushed me against the wall and kissed me. We kissed for a few seconds. I didn’t like it but I thought: it’s just a kiss. He can do that.
“I want to ride now,” I said. “I didn’t come for this.”
He wiggled his eyebrows and kissed me again, like it was some sort of game. Like I was playing hard to get.
It’s possible the man believed Tinder functioned only as a sexual contract: permission to claim me. But despite its reputation for casual sex, I consented to nothing more than meeting face-to-face, to riding his horse. I was capable of making my own decisions, of changing my mind.
I pushed him away until his lips no longer reached mine. “I came because I love horses. I’m sorry, but I didn’t come for this.” I was proud of my firmness, but I apologized for something no one should apologize for.
He pinched my cheeks as if reprimanding a little girl. “Why are you so angry? Don’t be angry. We’ll ride now.”
I took a deep breath. I wouldn’t leave, not when I was already so close. Horses were my safest of sanctuaries. Nothing bad would happen. I would ride a horse today. I refused to admit I could be wrong about him. I refused to admit that perhaps my judgment wasn’t as crystal-clear as I imagined it to be.
The man tacked up both horses. He even gave me a leg-up, cupping his hands beneath my heel. His hands didn’t linger when I jumped. I couldn’t have gotten into the saddle without his help. For a moment, he was invaluable.
I slipped my car keys inside the tight band of my jodhpurs and we settled into our saddles.
As Indy began to walk, I was lulled into bliss. With my fingers on the reins and my thighs clamped around her sides, our bodies communicated directly.
The man and I rode through a field. We didn’t speak. We entered the woods then, on a small winding trail under a canopy of trees. Indy perked her ears, excited, and her muscles coiled beneath me. I collected her energy in my legs and hands and fed it back, but quieter, and she relaxed. A cool breeze rippled the shadows, and I was reminded of my favorite summer days. I felt foolish for having doubted the man, and foolish for having doubted myself.
We’d been riding for less than ten minutes when the man veered off-trail, dismounted, and tied his horse to a tree.
I halted Indy. “What are you doing?”
“Let’s give the horses a break,” he said.
I blinked. “But we’ve only walked. And it hasn’t been very long.”
“Indy needs a break.” His voice was harsher.
I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what he asked. Indy was his horse. He was being generous by letting me ride her.
I dismounted and watched, not quite comprehending, as he took the saddle pad off his horse and put it on the ground, like a blanket. As if we were about to enjoy some sort of romantic picnic.
“Come here.” He sat on the pad, stretching his legs out in front of him.
“I don’t want to sit. I came to ride. And there are probably ticks everywhere.” “Come on,” he said. “You’re being very difficult. Why can’t you just relax?”
I didn’t like the tone of his voice and so I sat, my back straight as a board, while he kissed me. He cupped my breast through my shirt. He moved his hand lower, toward the crotch of my jodhpurs. I swatted his hand away and felt a strange urge to laugh.
“I smell terrible,” I said. “I don’t understand why we can’t just talk. You don’t even know me. I smell so bad. I’m gross. Do you normally let complete strangers ride your horses? I would never let a stranger ride my horse. I’m actually surprised you did.”
I asked more questions to keep him talking. He told me he lived on a farm back in Argentina with over fifty polo ponies. “I brought the best nine horses here to compete,” he said. “The best of the best.”
That’s when I realized how different we were. His horses were things. I was a thing. But I was sure that if we had a real conversation, if I asked the right questions, we’d reach a place of understanding. He’d see me—as a human, as a girl who loved horses, as a woman who was smart and self-respecting and strong. I knew if we allowed ourselves enough time, we’d find something we shared.
His hand was back on my crotch now. As he rubbed me, it felt good. My body betrayed me. I didn’t want it to feel good.
I removed his hand again. “I don’t want to have sex with you. I won’t.”
I stood up. “Because I don’t want to.”
“Sit down. Don’t get angry. Just sit. You look so good.”
I sat, but I was shaking. His statement about my appearance wasn’t a compliment at all. I knew it didn’t matter what I looked like. I was a female and I was there. That was enough.
His hand moved back. His body moved too, over mine, so I could no longer see the horses standing there.
What could I have done? Stolen Indy and galloped away, wild west-style, like some sort of deranged cowgirl? Should I have run? Wouldn’t that have been dramatic? Was I being dramatic?
I tried to roll out from under him.
“You want to. You’re wet. I can feel it through your pants.”
I was disgusted with myself and disgusted by him but mostly with myself. He wasn’t a liar.
“I said I don’t want to.”
He sat up.
I sat up.
Maybe I’d won.
There was a moment of silence and then he pushed me back down and unwrapped a condom. It was the smallest of courtesies, and evidence he’d planned this all along.
I wondered if the horses knew something bad was happening. I wondered if Indy would break free from where she was tied and attack him, like a movie. I wondered if she would kick him in the head, if she would bite him with large yellow teeth, if she would kill him. I wanted him to die.
But neither horse moved. They stood chewing on leaves, tails flicking flies, green slime accumulating around their mouths. Waiting for us to climb back into the saddle whenever it suited us.
I was done, then. I was tired of him, of this. I was tired of repeating myself. It was easier to give in than to risk provoking something more violent. Sex is, sometimes, nothing more than two bodies doing what animals do: quick in, quick out. I closed my eyes and it was no longer so bad. I could’ve been anywhere in the world. Reading a book in bed. Looking out an airplane window as it lifted into the sky, going someplace new. Riding my own horse in an empty field, just Liam and I.
He fumbled at my clothes, pulled and pushed the fabric of my pants aside. He moved within me and made some soft sounds and then it was over.
Without thinking, I sneered. “Is that it?”
I wanted to hurt him, too.
He shrugged and threw the condom behind a tree trunk.
I put my dirty boots back on. I pulled my jodhpurs up from around my ankles. I didn’t look at him. I walked over to Indy and touched her muzzle. She snuffled into my hand and it tickled and I almost cried. I tried to haul myself back into the saddle, but I couldn’t. I was out of shape, inflexible, and stuck.
The man put his hands on me again. With his help, I returned to my favorite place.
We rode back. The man was friendlier now, attempting to make conversation, but I wasn’t listening. The air felt humid and heavy. I wanted to shower. I wanted to leave. It was still such a beautiful day.
When we returned to the trailer, I tossed Indy’s reins in the man’s direction and walked away fast. I didn’t look at him, couldn’t look back at her. Couldn’t thank her for carrying my weight. She was an accessory to something terrible now, this horse. It was a shame.
The man didn’t call my name, didn’t follow me out. Our transaction was complete.
When I reached the yellow farmhouse, two men emerged—presumably a father and son, dressed in polo shirts and khakis. They cocked their heads and looked at me, waiting for some sort of explanation. I realized this wasn’t the Argentinian’s farm. “Hi,” I said. I was bright, breezy, charming. I steadied my voice and imagined a better story. I wanted my story to show them that I wasn’t trespassing, and that they had nothing to fear. The man and I were simply old friends reuniting for a ride.