And Then It Rained: Fandango 2012, Day 2
Friday night, after the ride meeting, I slathered clay on Acey’s legs and went to bed. The sky was dark with clouds. It rained. Though I slept well, I woke on occasion to note that it was still raining. Near dawn, it quit. And then, just as my alarm sounded, it began again. The rain.
I fed the horses and myself. It rained. I tacked up Consolation. It rained. I joined Karen and Blue for the short walk to the start. It rained. We walked our excited horses for a bit, then mounted up and set off trotting. In the rain.
We climbed up to the flats, where the ground stretched sodden and bleak beneath iron skies. Wind drove heavy raindrops into the horses’ faces. They trotted with their muzzles twisted sideways and ears alternating between forward eagerness and backward annoyance.
Blue seemed more bothered than Consolation, who cheerfully took the lead. She was obviously delighted to be out of her pen. We covered almost the entire first, 25-mile loop at a brisk trot, circling back for a hold in camp, where the rain had miraculously let up.
50 minutes later, having changed into dry clothes and warmed our hands by the camper heater, we were headed back out. In the rain.
It rained as we picked our way — much more slowly now — across a series of “whoop-de-woos.” These washes, crossed perpendicular to the flow, require the horses to ease down very steep hills of a horse’s length or two, then climb immediately back up the other side. It can be tricky at the best of times. In the rain, or more particularly the mud, it was downright challenging.
On one uphill scramble, Blue lost his footing and went briefly to his knees while his hind feet struggled for purchase. He recovered himself admirably while I, coming along behind, quickly redirected Consolation up an alternate path. Still and endlessly, it rained.
Finally, we passed the whoop-de-woo section and were able to trot a little way to the creek. It seemed like we’d been out there forever, but I knew exactly where we were and how long the loop ahead was going to be. At least, I thought I did.
Sure enough, the ribbons led us across the creek and down a stretch of road, then back to trail and a long sand wash. What I hadn’t counted on was the dramatic impact of all that rain. The desert, which dries quickly when given the chance, hadn’t had sufficient relief to absorb the storm. Her soil had turned to deep and greasy mud.
The loop suddenly looked much longer.
Trotting was out of the question, at least for those of us who cared more about our horses’ soundness than our finishing times. The sand wash, though not slick, was much deeper than usual. We walked it, too. And then came the stretch of deep and cloying mud that the horses picked through in boots caked with pounds of clinging clay. Off and on, it rained.
We re-crossed the creek and washed off a little of the clay, but plenty came with us as we splashed — trotting at last — along single track back toward camp. As we passed the old homestead, Blue tore the gaiter off a hind boot and continued without it. We climbed the knife ridge in biting wind.
I was dressed properly and didn’t get cold, but still I was glad to reach the final stretch of two-track before dropping down the slide to camp. We crossed the flat in fits of trotting, pulling up frequently to march through patches slick with mud. We dismounted to walk down the slide, then mounted up again for a triumphant trot along the last mile to the vet.
Consolation earned all A’s and appeared pleased with herself. Despite the adverse conditions, I thought she’d taken on the ride with more enthusiasm than usual. I’m quite sure she appreciated the fit of her new Stonewall. The ride manager said twelve people (so far) had commented that this was the toughest 50 they’d ever done — but Consolation had made it feel pretty manageable. There’s no question our slow, safe pace on the second loop helped.
I cleaned up my horse, plied her with blankets and feed, and even found time for a hot shower before awards. During which, of course, it rained.