Saturday morning I pulled into the driveway of the farm where the fundraising endurance ride was to take place with as much giddy anticipation as a 5 year old on Christmas Eve! I'd honestly waited my entire life to do something like this and realizing what was about to happen made my whole body spark with excitement! I couldn't wait! I drove past the rugged old barn and down into the hay field that was dotted with duelies, trailers and every color horse imaginable and found my place in amongst the other trucks and parked. The sun was shining brightly in the beautiful September sky and the air was crisp, the makings for a perfect day. I knew at that moment in time I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I breathed it in; horse, sun, pine, sweet grass, and crisp fall air; yes this would be a day to remember.
My friend Elaine and her boyfriend pulled in with her duelie diesel truck, trailer and our trusty steeds for the day and I didn't covet even a minute! We unloaded the horses, a big black Appendix Quarter horse named Zeus, his slick black coat shining in the sun was a beautiful contrast against the greens of the hay field, towering white pines and serene blue sky. Next was Lady, a dainty Paso Fino Appaloosa cross with a peppy little gait that said she could go all day. She is creamy white in color, seemingly a baby standing next to Zeus, but she is not, and don't let her little stature fool you, she held her own. Then there was what was to be my mount for the day, a gentle giant named Harry. Harry stands 16 hands high at the withers and those Thoroughbred legs of his looked three miles long, they came in very handy later in the day, let me tell you! Harry looks very similar to Garlic, with the exception of the much longer legs and a white patch on his forehead. We groomed the horses, tacked them up, signed our lives away with all the necessary paperwork, mounted up and hit the trail. I felt like I had a mile wide smile across my face and I'm sure I did, I knew I was in for a treat.
Elaine told me that Harry was a former racehorse, I raised an eyebrow and she went on to say that he'd been off the racetrack for 27 years, so not to worry. Later she informed me that while he was the fastest horse on the track, he'd fly out of the starting gate get ahead of everybody, then plant all four feet on the track and wait for everybody to catch up to him, not the ideal makings of a racehorse, so he was taken off the track. As we headed out Elaine told me that Harry was happy to poke along at a walk but would go into a trot with much encouragement, hmm, much like Garlic. Due to his age, he'd be inclined to want to trot or jog up the hills as it was easier for him, no problem with that here! We crossed the street and got to the starting line, checked in and set out. Mind you there were riders there who ran through the entire course, hoping to make the best time and earn the most points, we were not of that group. We were going to take our time and enjoy the ride and the day off our farms. We could go at any pace we desired. I'm not one who likes to charge down a trail with steep hills, bridges, water obstacles, split rails, and hairpin turns that I've never been on, on a horse I've never ridden, at a breakneck speed, call me crazy!
At the first or second hill Elaine's horse who insisted on being in the lead hopped up the incline with that peppy little gait, I asked Harry to trot, he obliged with gusto! He started to gallop and we were up the hill in about three strides! Another advantage to those long legs. At the top of the hill Elaine looked at us heading up the hill and said Harry never goes that fast for anybody except her and was happy he did for me. I grinned. Yea!
At some point during the ride while galloping up a hill my foot came out of the stirrup and Elaine who was in front of me slowed and started to circle back to her boyfriend whose horse was way more content to bring up the rear. I was quickly behind her and cued Harry to start slowing down and to the right. He moved like lightening, unfortunately I was a little off center having had only one foot in the stirrup. Being off center made the saddle shift off to the side as well. Well that was all it took for me to realize I was quickly headed to the ground and the ground was not where I wanted to be. My thoughts were "Oh great, this is going to hurt! I don't want to smack my head. Oh this is going to hurt! Please don't step on my legs. Legs! I've got to get my legs under me!" I was able to swing my right leg over the back of the horse who was slowing down but not stopped, grab the horn and cantle with all I was worth, (Thank God for upper body strength from farming!) tell him whoa and get my feet on the ground. I was standing and Harry was trotting around me in a circle. We were fine! Later Elaine called it a "cantering dismount." I took a breath, walked over to a log to use as a mounting block, did I mention I have short legs and Harry's are VERY long?! and hopped back on and finished the course.
There were miles and miles of well kept horse and rider friendly trails that were well marked and with some very beautiful scenery, parts of the trail were wide enough to gallop two abreast, talk about exhilarating! We galloped through some wide open fields, up over hills with the tails of the horses streaming out behind us, I was living my dream, then we'd slow our horses to a walk and catch our own breath and giggle and squeal at what a rush that was, well, at least I did. I was out there riding this huge magnificent horse whose gallop is like a rocking chair with the wind caressing my face, whipping past my ears and blowing my hair with not a care in the world and I was alive!!!!
Words cannot accurately describe what a rush that is, no pill could ever produce that amount of intoxication. Utterly exhilarating, mind erasing, and soul satisfying are words that are appropriate to the description of the ride, but in my mind only barely scratch the surface of accuracy of what that ride was like.
We finished the course, untacked and cooled off the horses, made sure they ad food and water and headed into the barn for a potluck lunch offered by the Pony Club whom this fundraiser was for. We had our lunch tickets out and tried to hand them to the lady standing at the door with a box. She asked us what our team name was and looked up our time and handed us a ribbon! Elaine and I looked at each other, neither one of us expected a ribbon, but it was like icing on the cake. We probably looked like two little girls, best friends from the Pony Club books, standing there mouths open, eyes dancing, happy as can be! We were told that about half of the teams that enter don't even finish and since we did. we earned a ribbon! We looked at the leader board and saw that one team had completed the course in 80 minutes! Talk about crazy! The 'optimal' time was about 107/108 minutes and our time was 124 minutes. I had no idea we were being timed, I thought they were just checking us off when we came through the 'check points' to make sure we hadn't had an accident and gotten thrown off or something. Lunch was delicious, of course, I think anything you don't have to make yourself tastes better anyway, but maybe that's just me. After lunch we loaded up and left, I rode behind Elaine back to her house so I can only speak for myself, but I had the biggest grin on my face and was on a high like no other. It was certainly a day to remember; a day spent with friends, on horseback, in the sunshine, fresh air and pine trees, covered in sweat and 'horse' and overflowing with joy; it is a day I'll never forget.