A two-day spring break is the perfect time to go trail riding. Use the first day to enjoy the ride and the second day to recuperate.

Because we live very close to Rock Creek Park, my son Donovan and a friend and I decided to try the Rock Creek Horse Center, which offers a variety of riding sessions at affordable prices.

Dorothy Douglas, wife of the center's owner, met us, took one look at Donovan and asked, "How old is he? Our age requirement is 10."

"Donovan's nine, but," I pointed out, "as you can see, he's rather big for his age, and when I called to check on the hours and the prices, I was told that it would be okay."

After careful observation she asked: "Has the riding instructor seen him? Does he know that he's only nine? Did he say that it's okay?" To all of these, I answered yes. Donovan stood there looking eager as he pondered the idea of riding and the possibility of not being able to do it after mustering all that courage to come in the first place.

The center's owners and staff don't horse around when it comes to safety -- they certainly won my trust. Mrs. Douglas handed me a clipboard holding an affidavit releasing the center from any responsibility for injuries. After signing our lives away, off we ran, anxious, apprehensive, excited and determined.

Our instructor, David, paired us up with appropriate horses. He gave Donovan a tame but strong horse named Merlin. I was assigned Trotsky, a stubborn, fiesty horse. Our friend, Levi, an experienced rider, mounted a lazy horse named Wendy. If I couldn't handle my horse, Levi would be free to help me.

The mood was relaxed -- so much so that trail ride songs seemed in order. Levi began to whistle "Happy Trails."

Then the problems began: My horse got kicked by Merlin for tailgating. Trotsky got pretty excited and I pulled back on the reins, only I didn't do it quite right. Instead of pulling directly back, I pulled back and up. Trotsky was confused and resisted. The scout, Gautama Tschanner, approached and cautioned me not to get excited. "The horse has been kicked, that's all."

The trail was full of obstacles. With the rain of the week before, the mud was at least two inches deep and the trail was very narrow in places.

Donovan rode confidently in front of me, showing excellent command of his horse. Meanwhile, Trotsky had become so unruly that I told the scout I wanted to get off. With a look that said "Lady, it ain't the horse, it's you," he very nicely answered that he would ride up and ask our trail guide. Eugene looked back toward me and said, "You can't get off." "Well," I thought, "that's that!"

As we approached an open grassy area, the ride was almost at its end. In my mind it had gone on forever. Then the worst happened: Eugene announced, determined to give me a heart attack, "We are now going to make the horses trot. Hold the reins real short, because the horses go crazy when they get near this grass and they want to run and eat. To make them trot, just give a couple of kicks behind the girth."

My eyes just about popped out of my head. I had made it up that muddy, treacherous hill; down a steep rocky cliff; along the narrow ledges overhanging moving traffic; and now this madman was telling me to make the horse trot!

No sooner had I started to think that the worst was about to happen, when it happened -- but not to me.

Merlin, my son's horse, was not going to allow me to worry in vain. He took off into the open space away from the trail. Without thinking, I yelled and kicked Trotsky behind the girth to make him run.

Donovan had beaten us all to the rescue. With competence and composure (I should take a lesson from the "baby"), he had pulled back on the reins and calmly directed Merlin back to the trail.

Back at the center, I asked Donovan how he had enjoyed the ride. Excitedly, he asked, "Mom, did you see when my horse ran away from the rest of the horses? Did you see how I handled it? When are we going to come back?"

My response was slow at first, but when I thought of the fun and suspense, I decided. "We'll come back next weekend." HAPPY TRAILS AND OTHERS An hour's trail ride costs $8.50 at Rock Creek Horse Center, Military and Glover roads NW. Take 16th Street to Military Road, left at Glover, follow signs to the stables. 362-0117.