Monday, March 1, 2010

Twenty Mule Team Ride Story Part 2

We called out our numbers as we walked the horses through the gate out of the fairgrounds. Thirty horses started out. We were toward the back of the herd. It was just barely raining now. I had put on every layer of clothing I brought, a tank top, a long-sleeved shirt, a polar fleece jacket, a corduroy vest and a down coat, not water-proof. I wore a neckerchief and a head band that covered my ears. That turned out to be the best piece of gear I had, my ears were toasty all day. I wore spandex breeches and pantyhose and thick socks. Before we left I told Robin we needed to put our rider cards in a ziplock bag before we put them into the saddle bags. She got the baggies out and put her card in it. I got busy saddling my horse. After that, I looked for the baggies but didn't see them, so I just left my rider card in my saddlebag; it was time to go.

The start was about like I expected, the horses were feeding off eachother's energy and were excited. Overall, it was a pretty relaxed start, only one horse in front of us was bucking sideways down the trail, and my horse was just doing her power walk. She'd try to trot sometimes, but I could always bring her down, and soon we let nearly everyone pass. She only bolted forward and took off once when another horse came up on us suddenly. It really made me laugh that she 'spooked' at another horse, but when you think about it, in a herd, when the horse in the back comes up fast, it is because it's being chased and that triggers the horses in front to run faster. No one wants to be last in the herd because they get eaten.

At this point, the weather was perfect, just a light drizzle and the desert smelled like chapparel. When I was a young child, six maybe, my grandmother came to visit us from New Mexico. She had me go out and pick a bunch of chapparel growing next door. Then she made an infusion that she used medicinally. It was my first experience with herbal remedies, which later would become part of my midwifery studies. Rain is so precious when you live in desert, and the smell of chapparel always seems fresh and clean and good to me. It reminded me, too, of my 30th birthday, when my husband and I did a trail ride together. It was a very happy day for me, and now I told Robin I couldn't think of anything better than this.

We picked up the pace and played leap frog with a couple of other newbies. Cali tried to dodge the puddles, but it was all puddles. Throughout the ride, we tried to figure out where our sweet spot was located. She did best, in my opinion, when we were in front of Robin and her horse Maggie. I would get tired and they'd pass us. When we tried to ride abreast, Cali would try to bite Maggie and push her behind again. If they were in front, Cali would get right up on Maggie's tail, I couldn't see what was coming up. It was often very slippery and Cali was constantly jumping the ruts to find the driest spot. We need to work on maintaining a steady pace over any and all terrain; the constant changing was exhausting. I lost my balance over and over. If I slowed her down to rest and Maggie got more than 15 feet ahead, Cali would lope to catch up. Many times we would get into a nice steady pace at a trot or canter, and I would be flooded with endorphins. That was wonderful. I reached into my saddlebag to get a protein bar and noticed it was covered with little bits of soaking-wet green paper, my rider card.

It was raining harder now, then soon we climbed a hill where we headed into fog. Robin said, "We're riding in the clouds!!!" I saw a truck up ahead and thought, please be the vet check. Nope it was the photographer. He said we should pick up the pace. I tried to smile for the picture. Just after that, we saw a guy on a mountain bike coming toward us, I was spooked, but my horse was fine. We were getting closer to the first vet check, we past some old mine shafts, and then it was a long gradual down hill grade. I could see the highway, so I knew we were close, but I was having a very hard time. When we were about 17 miles from the start (2 miles to the vet), I lost it. My body was aching with every step, and Robin, my horse and the photographer told me to go faster. I was so embarrassed about my rider card, and about getting emotional. I had a brief cry and some GU energy paste. I felt much better. Then I saw a tortoise, and he said, 'Remember, slow and steady wins the race', and I was happy again as we came into the vet check. When I told them about my ride card, they said it happened to a lot of people, but they didn't need it there anyway. It took a few minutes for Cali to pulse down, then it started raining hard, freezing rain. I had a little trouble mounting because my foot kept slipping. The shock of a cold wet saddle snapped me out of my stupor as we got ready to cross Hwy 395.

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