W e were an interesting mix of Ashkenazic and Sephardic, modern and chassidish, young and… not as young. With the exception of Ilana and myself, none of us were previously acquainted, and we moved in entirely different circles. And here we all were, helmeted, mounted on horseback, and ready to move.

I had begun editing Rabbi Eckstein’s book, It’s Your Move, which outlines an experiential eight-part workshop on the 12 steps. The steps are meant for addicts — a system of tools to recover from addiction and lead a balanced, healthy life — but the workshop is designed to empower non-addicts as well.

Despite my limited experience horseback riding, I was actually the veteran rider of our group, though Ilana had ridden a little when she was young. Rabbi Eckstein rode at the front, and Yoram, the manager of Retorno’s ranch, brought up the rear. Plus there was David, a resident in Retorno’s men’s community, who came along for the ride.

After being given basic riding instructions, we set off. We rode past a wheat field and through a small forest, up a hill that offered a wide, glorious view of the surrounding countryside: corn fields, olive groves, grape orchards, and a shimmering reservoir. It’s a view I will never tire of. Ever.

But this ride was not as relaxing as previous trail rides. Yoram kept issuing instructions from the rear. “Get in line, please,” he said. “Keep distance between your horses.” “Watch out for those wires.” “Stay in line!”

We were in a line, more or less, and as he wasn’t stopping to provide more detail, we had to figure out what he wanted. There was also no way to clarify or commiserate with each other, since we had to stay in line.

The further we went, the more insistent Yoram became, and some of his instructions were contradictory. “You’re pulling too hard on the reins.” “Your reins are too loose, tighten them.”

Worst of all, Yoram doesn’t speak any English, and this workshop was meant to be all in English. Rabbi Eckstein speaks English; why couldn’t they switch places?

Then David started making problems. He left the line “to check out the view.” He moved wherever he wanted, excusing himself with “Didn’t mean to cut you off,” or “My horse doesn’t like yours.” And Yoram said nothing at all! Who invited David, anyway?

On top of my own frustration, I was feeling responsible for the others’ enjoyment — or lack thereof — and worry and guilt started to wend their way into my consciousness.

“Don’t let your horse eat,” Yoram warned. “He’ll stop listening to you.” A pause, then, “Shoshana, I said don’t let your horse eat!”

I was past frustration; I was feeling utterly… I didn’t have a word to describe my feelings. All I knew was that I was going to have a serious talk with Rabbi Eckstein about this “workshop” and his choice of escorts. This was not what I signed up for! (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 540)