Our season has run out of rides.
The last was a two-day in the canyonlands beyond Oreana, where about 30 of us Hallowed Weenies braved chill mornings to trot the trails a final time before tucking ourselves in beneath the coming snow.
The first day took us 55 miles under cloudy skies, with just the barest hint of rain on our first loop. I rode with Karen Bumgarner and Thunder, and Laurel and her off-track, roan mare, Buffy. The first loop was reasonably fast and uneventful…except when Thunder’s offside hind plummeted down an unseen hole, throwing him nearly to his knees as he struggled to remain upright. After a few, tense minutes, we judged him sound.
He stayed that way through the endless second loop, which carried us for miles up a wash plagued with gnats. Deep sand and exposed rock prevented trotting, and the obviously thirsty mares refused to drink amid the bugs. We crashed through brush so thick we couldn’t see the trail, depending on ribbons strung from branches to help us find our way. Sometimes, we could scarcely see for squinting and waving our hands to fend off gnats.
At long last, we climbed back to the rim and trotted again, found water, escaped most of the bugs. We wound past the wind caves, whose eerie hollows carved by the elements play like flutes in a stiff breeze. Then it was back up the rocky, sandy wash to the vet check, and back along the morning’s route to camp.
I didn’t sleep my best that night. Though Thunder had finished completely sound, he had a small, unsual area of swelling on his off hind. Karen made the obvious decision: He’s fine now, but he may not be after another 50 miles. Not goin’ tomorrow. Meanwhile, Laurel was going to stick in camp and volunteer becasue Buffy wasn’t ready for multi-days yet. Consolation and I were on our own.
This wasn’t a novel concept. We condition alone most of the time. Consolation’s first several endurance rides were completed solo, or with whatever miscellaneous company we happened to join on the trail. But this year, got into quite a habit of riding with Karen and Thunder or Blue. Consolation and Thunder, in particular, have kindled their own little romance. And while Consolation seemed finally to have discovered her ability to maintain a decent pace, I remembered how draggy she could be on her own…and, on the flip side, how racy. How much of a battle might the morrow be?
These were the thoughts that tumbled through my head all night, as my camper heater clicked on and off and the temperature outside dropped just to freezing. Come morning, I cooked some chicken and peppers and eggs, pulled on several layers of fleece, and stepped out to see what would happen.
…And Consolation was an angel. She left Thunder in camp with little protest and a solitary neigh. She covered the trail with enthusiasm despite putting in a few extra miles, thanks to a wrong turn. We had intermittent company on the first of two loops, but rode the second entirely alone, spotting other riders only twice and at a considerable distance. She ate and drank and jogged back into camp around 4:30 to claim 5th place. And I’d thought we were nearly last! (Not that this particular 5th place was impressive; there were only 16 starts — 12 completions — and the winners finished so far ahead of us that we didn’t bother showing for BC. But still.)
And now, we are home again. Weekends are slow and still. I drink coffee from completion-award mugs and mull over the good times.
I marvel at how far we’ve come. (Remember the days when all my Barbs were too wild to touch? When illness and injury seemed to block Aaruba and me at every turn? When training wasn’t going well and Consolation was NQR and relationships were cracking and money was tight?) And yet, the Halloween ride tipped me over the 1,000 AERC mile mark. Consolation is at 825.
Yes, I marvel at how far we’ve come…and even more at how far I still want to go.
But for now, our dawns bring a wreath of frost for every fencepost, every blade of grass, even the fetlocks of sleeping horses. I hunch my shoulders and watch the cloud of my breath as I trudge out to feed. I am greeted with nickers, eyes dark and bright in wooley faces, the hollow ring of hooves on frozen ground.
This is resting time. Consolation will have a month to eat, relax, and play before returning to enough work to keep her reasonably fit for 2012. I have a couple projects in mind for us — ones we can work on even in winter conditions that sometimes render trotting unwise.
Yes, we have come far, and we have far to go. This year, we found our way to multi-days at last, and we joined in the area’s last ride for the first time. Perhaps, next year, we’ll extend a little more to include the first rides of spring.
But not today. Today, we loosen our cinches and enjoy the hold.