I spent all last week at a professional conference in Atlanta. My homebound flight landed at 8:30 Thursday evening. I claimed my luggage, drove to the farm, let the dogs out, and collapsed into bed. In approximately .613 seconds, morning arrived. No chance of sleeping in…it was time to pack for Cheap Thrills, No Frills!
I did laundry, measured feed, loaded hay, collected tack, checked in with my farmsitter, spent my life savings on diesel, longed for a nap, threw some nuts and kippered herring in a ziploc, caught Consolation, and tooled down the road to Oreana. Ridecamp wasn’t crowded by any means, but it still buzzed with friends that I was thrilled to see after missing so many rides this spring. I set Consolation up in her little pen with hay and water so she could gussy up her innards for the vet while I registered and set up my own sleeping quarters in the trailer. (By next year, I surely hope to have that camper!)
Around 5:00, we vetted though with all A’s. Consolation looked sleek and full of bounce. She ate happily through the night and, come morning, was frisky enough that I was glad I’d put her hoofboots on the night before so I didn’t have to spend time crouched around her restless feet. As riders congregated for the start, it became clear that Consolation remembered exactly how this race thing works. Not wanting to deal with race-brain, I led her around with a couple other riders who also planned to hold back.
All the same, she was still pitching an uncharacteristic fit when I went to mount. No sooner had I swung my leg over than she took off, apparently aiming for the same variety of run-and-buck that dumped me in January. This time, I was ready. Tighten abs, straighten back, boot ribs, pull head around, and growl. She stopped. Not happily, but she stopped.
I worried I’d have a battle on my hands as we started down the trail, but she actually wasn’t too bad. Instead, it was Karen’s boy Blue that got rattled. Our plan to let the crowd get ahead of us hadn’t worked; apparently, just about everyone else had decided to do the same, so we found ourselves packed between two large groups. Poor Blue, who gets nervous around horses he doesn’t know, took a mile or two to recover.
Consolation, meanwhile, managed to channel most of her nerves into useful energy. We took the lead while Karen and Blue stuck back with Linda and her red mare, with whom Blue is comfortable. We climbed the big hill out of the creek, then Consolation offered a nice, relaxed trot that carried us across the badlands at around 9 mph. The sun rose in a clear sky, and I wished I could shrug out of my fleece vest, but Consolation was cruising along so well that I didn’t want to stop.
Steve Bradly took photos you can see here (Consolation and I are #ONF1078-1080). I’d buy one if it didn’t look like I had my eyes closed. Argh. I was watching Consolation’s ears as she inspected Steve’s Very Scary Motorcycle. Hmm…I kind of like the first shot anyway…
At the first vet check, Consolation floated through with all A’s. She ate and drank only moderately, which is typical for her so early in a ride. A few miles into Loop 2, we crossed yet another creek (all told, the ride had at least 15 crossings), where she tanked up for the road ahead.
It was an interesting loop. Karen and I found ourselves hemmed in by other horses again, and Consolation got racy while Blue worked himself into a frenzy. It didn’t help that his chestnut girlfriend had been pulled and his right front Glove kept popping off. On the bright side, he decided Consolation was safe company after all. Still, between Blue worrying and Consolation wanting to race, we didn’t even try to dig out our cameras at Booby Rock. You can see Merri’s photos here, though. Never was a rock so aptly named.
At the second hold, Consolation once again earned all A’s. She set herself to vacuuming up all the food and water in sight, and I had plenty of horse under me as we headed out for the final 15 miles. Blue seemed to be getting over the loss of his girlfriend. We trotted happily along for 7 miles or so before a large cluster of riders came up from behind and proved Blue still had enough energy to object to the crowd — and Consolation still wanted to race.
She got her chance a couple miles later, when we caught up with yet another group of horses and spotted an opportunity to pass. Having caught their wind on a hillside single-track, Blue and Consolation took advantage of a wide spot and blasted around the group and up a tough hill. I’m not sure Consolation would have climbed so quickly without Blue to tow her, but she clearly had the capacity to take it on. The other horses disappeared to our backs as we scooted along the knife ridge and headed for home.
At about 10 mph, our pace was uncharacteristically fast for both horses, but they were clearly game. Both remained full of air when we dismounted for the steep drop into the canyon, both drank deeply at the creek, and both covered the final stretch at a swinging, happy pace. We came in 11th and 12th out of about 36 riders, and vetted through for Consolation’s first straight-A ride.
Our total ride time was about 6:45, which is right in the ballpark of what Consolation done before. Still, this ride was different. She felt stronger and more confident, fitter and fresher, than ever. I’ m pretty sure she’s good for two days at Pink Flamingo.
I, on the other hand, could do with a nap. 🙂