It was pitch black outside and a cold 40 degrees. My truck's headlights were the only thing illuminating the barnyard and I was shocked that I got the trailer hooked up in one go. This gave me some extra time to get Gem and I looked at my watch as I reached into the truck door to grab the flashlight that lives there. It was 5:10 am. I needed to leave the barn by 6 am to get to the ride on time.
My hand reached out and searched for the flashlight that I knew was always there. Except this time it wasn't. Dusty had last used it for his run at Biltmore. He is notorious for never putting things back where they belong and then later getting angry when he can't find something. I got annoyed, but the trailer was already hooked up and I had a flashlight on my cell phone, so I went out to get Gem.
I walked the perimeter of the pasture calling out for her and using the wimpy light from my cell phone flash. One lap around and I began to understand why you can't find a lost horse in the wilderness at night. I then headed into the center and found her herd mates. No Gem. That is when I heard it. A soft pounding of hooves just to my right. I shined my light, but it was useless. I called out to her and she squealed in delight in response. More hoof beats. She was circling around me squealing and farting in glee.
My shoes were soaked through from the wet grass, I was chilled to the bone and I knew that had I had a real flashlight I could spot her and follow her with the light. I lost it.
Tears of anger stung my eyes and I cursed Dusty's lack of putting things away, my damn mare for being bad (Yes, she was being bad. No, she didn't know I had a time limit, where we were going or that I had paid money for this ride, but she did know we were going somewhere given my appearance before dawn and she did know to not run away from me like that), and the fact that now I was late. I tried to call Dusty to get him to bring me the flashlight and save a bit of time, but he didn't answer.
I stormed out of the pasture, ran to the truck and drove the whole thing home. Once in front of the house I slammed through the front door, threw open the bedroom door and, close to foaming at the mouth, told Dusty that if he didn't get his ass out of bed right that moment nobody was going anywhere. He crawled out of bed and I let it all out. I was furious that he couldn't just put the damn flashlight back in the truck. That he couldn't take his phone to bed in case I needed to reach him.
Wyatt was roused from his sleep, poor kid, and we all went bac to the barn. Dusty called the RM and asked if it was ok if we came a little late. Ride start was at 8 and vetting was at 7. At this point we would be lucky to arrive by 7:30.
I went back out to the pasture, this time with a flashlight, and spotted Gem immediately. She took off, but I was able to stand still and spot her with it watching the glint off her eye. She circled around me, bucking, galloping, farting, and squealing. I cursed her name.
Eventually, after another 30 minutes, she walked right over to me blowing hard and arching her neck. I slipped her halter on and walked her out of the pasture. She loaded up and we were finally off.
Thankfully, everyone needed to vet in that morning and I managed to sneak her in at the back of the line, vet her through with all As and tack her up before the start. I put her front boots on her and left the hinds bare. Clemson is our old stomping grounds and she could easily do it all bare if not for the crack growing out of the front right. I changed into dry socks and shoes which improved my mood ten fold and got ready to ride.
|I think this is now one of my favorite Gemmie pictures.|
|The runners trying to keep warm as the ride start approached|
At 8 am the 30 and 15 mile Ride and Tie participants were off and then at 8:05 am they let me go. We would be doing the green 6.5 mile loop to the red 9 mile loop and back to camp.
Last spring Gem and I waited 5 minutes to start and then never saw another horse or runner again. This time, as we left the road and entered the woods about 1/4 mile from the start, we not only passed some runners, but also saw their horses waiting for them tied to some trees. It was really neat seeing the horses looking back for their runner. I could tell those horses who knew their job as they were all napping with a foot cocked and looked back. Those who weren't so aware were starting to get antsy and fidgeting against the tree.
We passed the horses and Gem got confused. She tried to stop, but I told her she would see them again and urged her on. About 1/4 mile later and we got passed by the front runners. There was one man-man team who was being extremely competitive and they came charging up behind us. I pulled over and let them pass which would end up being a routine for the morning.
Gem was not going to be left behind. She charged along that trail keeping up and ignoring my attempts to slow her down. We were going along alternating trotting and cantering and then they pulled over to tie. Gem was again confused as I told her she needed to keep moving. I got her to move out, but then she decided she couldn't possible move out on those trails. I mean, come on. There were roots, rocks, tree stumps, dips and climbs.
Of course as soon as another ride and tie horse came up to us and we pulled off, she would charge headlong after them at break neck speed. It got old.
To clarify, I am not afraid to go fast over those trails. I don't mind Gem feeling good and moving out, but she must do it in a safe and sane manner. When she locks onto the horse in front of her, she only looks at their butt and ignores all else. Rocks? Roots? Small dips in the trail? She sees none of it and will trip, stumble and slip her way around with no room for thought. That is dangerous.
At one point, about 3.5 miles in, we were once again chasing down another horse when I saw a dip in the trail. A tree root had created a drop about 18"-2 feet in height and in the past we have always navigated this at a controlled trot or walk. This time she was in full canter and took it like a cross country down bank. I laughed and asked her out loud if she was now an eventing horse. At this point I said screw it. You want to careen around like a mad man? Fine. But when that horse pulls over for a break, you will not be allowed to slow down at all. You want to be an idiot? You can be an idiot for all 15 miles.
We travelled like this and would chat it up with the riders who caught us. I really enjoyed talking with one woman who was both an excellent rider and runner and was on a horse who knew his job and performed it beautifully. They were an inspiration to watch. Gem and I cantered along side of them down the gravel access road quite a ways until she pulled over to tie.
After the gravel road, we dove back into the woods and were moving along fast, but now more in control. I was finally able to unclench my jaw and let the reins out slightly to ease the burning in my shoulders and neck. That is when I felt it. A slight wobble on her front left. I looked down and her boot had flipped up over her hoof just like the front right had back at Biltmore at a fast pace.
I pulled over and got off. She was steaming and started to paw as runners came and passed us. I think everyone, both on the ground and mounted, asked if I needed help. I didn't want to slow anyone down from their ride and passed, but was so thankful they asked. One guy nearly insisted that he help, but at that point I knew there was no help and told him to enjoy his run!
The boot would not come off. The cables would not stretch enough to allow the shell to slide back over her hoof and into place. I tried to spin it around and get it off the back of her leg, but nope. The captivator would not budge. I pulled, pushed and twisted to no avail. We were screwed.
It was a good thing that I knew this trail so well because we were 5.5 miles into the ride and would have been in for a long hike had I not known I could continue on green back to camp only 1.5 miles away. We were nearly a the junction of the green and red loop. I called Dusty and asked if he could meet me at the road where green and red split and see if he could get the thing off. He agreed and I started hiking forwards to meet him as he came backwards.
He met as at the road and I held Wyatt as he tried to pry the boot off using a hoof pick. It didn't work. We would need to go back to camp. I suggested wire cutters and a strong fire to melt the damn things to a puddle of red plastic. I propped Wyatt up on her back and we walked back out of the woods. Wyatt was stoked to be riding in the woods for the first time and giggled the entire was back.
Once back to camp, I marched over and told them I was pulling. Dusty thought I should go back out barefoot, reconnect to where green and red split and finish the ride. Maybe I should have, but I was done. All the frustration from the morning, her behavior under saddle and now this came bubbling to the surface and I was just done. I felt terrible because that meant Dusty wouldn't get his run and Gem now had her first ever pull, but I had zero left in me to go back out and start again.
In the end, we ended up having to unscrew the captivator to take the cables out and get the boot off. Gem was covered in dry sweat, but was otherwise unfazed. We vetted out and the ride vet shook his head saying that she didn't look like she had worked at all that morning.
I tried to get Dusty to go out and run his loop anyway, but he declined. He too was in a less than enthusiastic mood and we agreed to just call it quits and count our losses. We packed up and headed home.
Of course once home we realized that we had left one of Wyatt's toys behind and then couldn't find his shoes either. And the next day I would find that my red mohair girth was MIA too. Saturday should have just never happened.
What did I learn? Some days just aren't meant to be. Renegades don't work for Gem in a competitive setting. Pulling when both you and your horse are doing well really sucks.
Oh and Wyatt looks really snazzy in my shades.