1. The pony was shaggy, overworked thing, all knobby knees and sagging skin. And even though it was still nursing its tiny foal, they saddled it up and give me the reins. The baby followed us, tying to keep pace with its mother so it could nurse, while the guide, a terse man with thin lips, pulled us along atop his own stead, a horse and not a pony. It was wide-eyed and better fed then its companions – that’s about all I can say about the horse. The pony tried to stop to fed the foal. I didn’t mind, but the man sure did.
2. The elephant ride happened a few years before the pony, at a circus that came to town once a year. At the end of the show, once the lions had been wrangled back into the their cages and the clowns, mercifully, exited the stage, parents lined up with their children, and for a small fee, bought them a seat on the elephant’s back. The “saddle,” such as it was, was more like a playpen, capable of carrying about a dozen evenly-sized kids at a time. We were then taken around the perimeter of big top. We went around and around and around, then stopped and disembarked.
I cannot say the elephant enjoyed giving rides for a living. It also did tricks – balancing on its front legs, sitting only on its hind legs, trunk curled high in the air waving a baton (the secret of tricks: the more antithetical to the nature of the beast the more impressive the trick). Elephants must earn their keep at the circus. As for me, I remember staring intently at its cracked grey skin, at the coarse black hair growing there, sticking out in all directions, something you don’t ever see in cartoons or storybooks depicting elephants. Something I did not know was even possible before that day, but which I’m sure I could have easily looked up in a book.
3. A friend decided to surprise me with a camel ride at the zoo, buying the ticket while I roamed elsewhere, unawares. There was no line and few people out that day. It was nearing the end of summer, the beginning of their off-season. The camel seemed annoyed at having to work on such a light day, but it dutifully carried me along a well-marked path, its keeper guiding it using a halter attached to its head. It was a Bactrian – two humps, not one. My friend took our picture: it is of me giving her the finger as I ride the camel. This was all after the elephant, years and years. I didn’t say anything during the ride, not to the camel and certainly not to its keeper. Our relationship was strictly transactional.
Bactrian camels live up to 50 years in the wild, and between 20-40 years in captivity. So it is likely the camel at the zoo is still alive. Elephants live up to 20 years in captivity, and anywhere between 60-70 years in the wild. There are no more elephants in zoos in Canada and elephants have been banned from circuses (or rather, circuses have been banned from using elephants). I doubt the elephant I rode is dead, and I hope it went somewhere that was more in line with the dignity of elephants. The pony is surely dead.
That any one of these creatures allows us to ride on their backs seems preposterous, perhaps because it is.
It just is.
While on vacation one year we stopped at an unnamed tourist trap offering ostrich rides. Living, breathing ostriches, $20 bucks (American) a ride. Speaking of the preposterous, and not forgetting too the sheer lunacy to be found out there, literally anywhere.