Horse Riding North Dakota’s Badlands

Exploring North Dakota's Badlands on horseback!

By Rogan Kelly

The Native Americans called it the bad lands to walk through. The French came along and shortened it, the bad lands. It was the French way; make the world smaller. No better place is this illustrated than in the portion size of French cuisine.

It was not my first time on a horse, but it was my first time riding. I had been on a horse once before when I was young. They are such beautiful animals, and from a distance they looked gentle to me; safe. Once on one, I was so scared, overwhelmed by the power and size of such an animal. I didn't feel that I belonged on one. I felt as if some kind of permission should have been granted. And I didn't know how to begin to get a horse's permission.

I imagine that for some people riding a horse comes naturally. The way some people can pick up a paint brush and not be overwhelmed by an empty canvas. But a horse might as well have been a woman at a wedding to me. I could admire their beauty, a certain kind of grace that is present in all women. But please don't ask me to dance with one. Or worse, get me to ask a woman to dance. I have been a man who knows how to appreciate and admire beauty and grace, but better from a distance. If asked to take part in that beauty and grace, well I thought it better to be left to other men.

I had come to North Dakota to visit a dear friend, who was stationed in Minot, a place where they had coined the phrase, why not, Minot. Oh, let me count the ways. For one, you could go to Paris twice on what it costs to fly into North Dakota from New Jersey, and you wouldn't have to stop off in Minnesota on your way. I bought a stuffed animal of a moose while I was in the Minnesota airport for a woman I was seeing at the time. I have no understanding as to why I thought that was a good idea. It should be added that North Dakota doesn't have trees. I'm not kidding. I assume they were cut down in an attempt to stay warm some years ago, the cold being another problem there. And I couldn't begin to tell you why no one thought to plant new trees. Who am I to be critical? I bought a stuffed animal of a moose.

I thought the badlands only existed in South Dakota. But it seems that North Dakota suffers from a similar kind of bad public relations that New Jersey suffers from. The Garden State being more of an example of Jersey humor than truth. But anyone who truly has traveled the state knows there's more to it than smoke stacks in Newark and bars in Hoboken. But North Dakota was as cold and void of trees as it was beautiful. And the badlands, in fact, stretch from North Dakota in to South Dakota.

It was my suggestion to go horseback riding. I have no idea where this sudden urge came from, or where I was garnering the courage. I knew how to swim, drive stick, I'd even lived abroad in Egypt, of all places, my horizons had been greatly expanded. Adding an experience of horseback riding was not necessary. I think I was feeling very John Wayne, though I can't explain where that was coming from either.

My friend and I traveled down the state, passing a hundred farms and the occasional missile silo. I was torn as to whether to have my picture taken next to the missile silo or the wild bison, and so I opted for pictures with both. I very pleased with myself when I got the photos developed, though I had to explain to people that it was missile silo I was standing next to.

We arrived at the badlands and a horse ranch that specialized in taking horse tours out among the trails. You could bring your own horse and ride without a tour, but my friend and I weren't that advanced.

I was given a horse, aptly named Thunder. She was an older horse - gray, spotted. I later learned she had a problem with passing gas, which made the steep climbs and steep declines quite interesting. I was given Thunder because of my inexperience as a rider, but riding a horse that bucked a little every time it laid a flatulent made the riding a touch difficult. I share this part for its humor, I suppose. But also to say that it didn't take away from the experience. It didn't add much either. But there was no denying the beauty and wonder of these creatures. Of course, the unicorn is related to the horse. It would not be fitting of another animal. It's a kind of lore that couldn't be described another way.

I began to understand why people fall in love with them so. I understood how one could become passionate about owning and caring for a horse; why someone could be so passionate about riding. I should add that when I couldn't walk or sit the next day, my opinion was momentarily dampened.

Aside from seeing my friend, riding that day was the best part of my trip and I wouldn't trade it for a week in Paris. Well, that might be pushing it. But it was still an amazing experience. Now if I could only learn to dance.