If Saturday was one of my worst horse outings, Sunday more than made up for it. Truth is I wanted to bail. Had I not promised Haley, the 14 year old at the barn, that she could come with me, I would have thrown my alarm across the room at 6:30 Sunday morning. As it was though, I couldn't do that to her. Instead I got up and got around.
The plan was to have her horse and gear ready to load at 7:30 am, but at 6:40 am I received a text that she was all ready and would I mind if she went and got Gem for me? After the previous mornings shenanigans I was more than willing for her to tackle the job. Turns out Gem walked right up to her.
|Waffles: What we doing' ? Gem: Eat while you can, they are all crazy!|
|The arena is straight ahead and filled with jumps around 4'|
|The barn was nicer than my house|
|One row of stalls with the other behind the wall to the left|
The trail ran alongside the cross country course and I gawked at the size of the jumps, ditches and obstacles as we made our way along.
|You could never convince me to do this bank complex|
Waffles is a 7 year old Arab/Paint cross who to Haley's knowledge had never seen water, bridges, roads etc...I was a bit apprehensive for them, but it soon became apparent that they were a much bolder and solid team than Gem and I were that morning.
Gem has never been a good leader. In fact, for a long time I was afraid to go out solo based on how awful she was when in front of a group. She isn't the most fun at times, but on Sunday morning she was worse than ever. Every stick, leaf, change in sun light, change in footing texture etc...that she came across made her jump out of her skin. It was ridiculous. Finally I sent Haley ahead and Gem relaxed so I knew she wasn't in pain. I sent her out front again and she was back to being a nut job. What struck me so odd was how well she led when we rode with Sheree the week before and how dominant she had been leading at Biltmore with the unknown riders. 4 miles in and I finally figured it out.
Waffles is out in Gem's herd and is much higher up than Gem. Waffles isn't the alpha but she is not the bottom like Gem. Gem was 100% not comfortable being out in the lead to a mare who was ahead of her in the herd dynamics. She was perfectly happy to go behind or beside. Once I figured that out I just let her be happy in the back.
The trail coursed through some woods and then would pop back out into the open with more views that made my jaw drop.
About 2.5 miles in we came upon a bridge.
This wasn't just any bridge. It was metal with see through support beams. The river was flowing beneath. The footing was asphalt. To make it even worse, someone was working young cattle on the other side and we could hear their calls. Gem was having none of it. I try to not dismount for things, but I did this time to avoid injury and we walked safely across passing a signs that read "Two Way Traffic". We would be coming over this again on the way back.
The trail then made it by the cows and back along fields of hay and corn and then would duck into the woods again. We kept a great pace and I opened Gemmie up to some long canters through here. She was bare on all 4 and moving great.
The gravel road above ended at the half way check mark and a 3 minute hold. They offered up beverages and I asked for water. Gem was sweaty and immediately got down to business:
She chowed down during the entire hold while Waffles looked around confused as to what we were doing standing in a field.
We got counted down and told to continue on our way and had yet to come across any other riders. I had looked at my watch and we had kept up a 7 mph pace through the entire first half and I figured we could actually have a shot at placing this time. HA!!
Leaving the hold we followed a paved road for a short distance when we came across a big hand painted sign reading "SLOW HORSE CROSSING" and saw a pink ribbon on the other side of the road just after the sign. We had been following pink ribbons the entire time and saw none ahead, so we crossed.
This led to a long, steep gravel road and we saw both hoof prints and pink ribbons.
|Going down following pink ribbons we saw on the right|
We went up the hill and dogs came chasing down off the porch. Crap. The owner then came out and I asked if we were going the right way. We were not. I didn't think so. He told us to continue on straight past his house and we would find it.
We did, but that put us into another person's backyard and we could see no ribbons anywhere. We decided to turn around and go back to the base of the gravel hill to where we last made a mistake. Having made it past his dogs again, we saw other pink ribbons off in the field at the bottom of the hill and headed that way. Half way down the owner came back out and yelled out asking if we were on the pace. Once he confirmed that we were not crazy, he told us to head to the river and follow it to the correct trail.
These directions did put us on the correct trail eventually and we were both so happy to no longer be lost. Unfortunately, the trail was at a T and I could see it coming from my right and going left. Not knowing how much trail we cut I told Haley we had to follow the trail backwards until we made it back to our mistake and then turn around. She was not too happy with this because it would most certainly mean not placing, but cheating is cheating even if done unintentionally. We made our way down the trail and came upon a very confused rider. I quickly told her we were going backwards and that she was correct.
Once we got up an extremely steep hill we saw the backyard we had come across when we made it past the dogs earlier. Then we saw the road. We had crossed it too early after the horse crossing sign. Darn. The horse's got turned back around and we made it down the hill and back on track. We had added about 2 miles and lost a solid 30 minutes in getting lost and finding our way back to our mistake.
The rest of the ride went uneventfully. The trail continued along fields and into the woods and we opened the girls up to enjoy the footing and the chilly morning.
At one point we came along a still lake mirroring the endless blue sky above and we let the girls go. We galloped along with the tears stinging my eyes and my breath caught in my throat. Gem dug deep and carried me up a hill that crested to look down on the world.
|The lake in the distance is where we began to gallop|
I dug my heels into Gem to let her know we had to go through and when Waffles baulked a bit, Gem just marched on in. Thankfully no cars went overhead while we were under.
Sadly this meant we only had to cross the bridge again, snake through the woods and be back home. It was ending all too soon even with the added miles.
As we approached the finish, I told Haley to canter on in and we both crossed the finish with a big grin. The photographer was right at the finish and I can't wait to see the pictures. We finished in something just over two hours and just shy of 12 miles.
Wyatt and Dusty met us at the finish and I chatted his ear off while Wyatt and I sat on Gem taking a short ride around the cross country field. One of the RMs was leaning against a fence when he heard me tell about getting lost. He perked up and asked "Oh, so you got lost there too? We got word that a landowner moved some ribbons." I told him where and how we went and he said that the pink ribbons we followed (and some riders before us had too) were just landscaping ribbons and while they were identically hung and identical ribbons, they were not the ones to follow. The ones to follow to the correct turn had been removed.
This stuff happens and was not RMs fault, but what did annoy me was that he then radioed over to the hold to have them fix it. Ok..I get not wanting riders lost or going through someone's yard, but this is a timed event and we were early out on the course. We lost 30 minutes and ended up being 34 minutes too slow. Had we not gotten lost we would have placed. Crap happens and it isn't world ending, but I'm starting to get tired of losing for stupid reasons.
We feasted on hamburgers, beans, coleslaw, hot dogs, chips and cookies and then loaded the girls up and headed home. I was really proud of Gem. Even with only making it 6 miles the day before she had completed a fast 18 miles total in two days and was still ready to go. Unfortunately we will be missing the next Hunter Pace. Dusty picked up a shift at an emergency clinic to help cover some of the extra expenses we have had with Gem's surgery and then Wyatt's and it happens to be that same Sunday. My only complaint about the entire series is how impossible it is to get in touch with anyone in charge. I earned a wildcard by riding in the year end awards pace last spring which in theory earns me a completion in a ride I can't attend. I have emailed and facebook messaged the lady in charge to ask how the process works and have yet to get a response.