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July 19, 2014: Lessons Learned: Day #1 on the Trail

After months of hard work, which is time spent conditioning our horses and training them to be obedient trail horses, we were off. All horses left the starting area in groups of two, the open rider group going first, the competitive pleasure rider group going second, and the novice group going third. I was in the competitive pleasure group, but I hung back, and as planned, waited for Pete and Tinni. My reasoning was that Raudi would be less anxious if she was with her buddy Tinni, and that I’d be better off riding with Pete who is adept at staying on course and locating markers.

The novice group included Laurie Knuuta, who has ridden in and organized several Alaska based competitive trail rides. And it included Millie and Fiona Carney. Millie, 16, was riding Yelma, the family Icelandic. And Fiona, 13, was riding Sunny, the family grade mare. I had not seen the two kids in years – I used to ride with their mother, Brandi – they were as I remembered them to be – funny, smart, wise, articulate kids. A joy to be around. We were later joined by another old friend. Cindy, an adult rider was riding in the novice division on Merrylegs, a 13 hand pony. Cindi, who is a very experienced rider, was riding in novice in order to give her friends, two new riders, an assist.

It was a gray, overcast, slightly cool day. I was pleased about this, for as I’d said, if temperatures were high, Raudi’s pulse and respiration would be higher. I rode behind Tinni through varied terrain, along roadside, edges of fields, through backyards. We had two horsemanship/vet checks before the first P&R – we had to go up a steep hill by the roadside, and we had to dip down and back up a ditch. Raudi, giving me an idea of what was to come, rushed through them, earning us minus points. Fiona, behind me, repeatedly yelled “naughty pony!” I put this behind me as we came to a maintain forward motion sign, meaning we were to trot a ways, stopping at the first pulse and respiration stop.

I did what I’d practiced previously – took Raudi’s bit out of her mouth, took her saddle off, sponged her down, fanned her with my dustpan, sang to her. All the while she moved about, not settling. Finally, I reached into my fanny pack and began feeding her hay pellets in the way one puts coins into the slot machines at Vegas. This at least slowed her down. I then breathed a sigh of relief as it was determined that her P&R were such that we could continue. Had they been high, she would have been held. I didn’t want this to happen since then Pete and Tinni would leave without me. However, we did lose points. I gathered my gear together, resaddled her, mounted up, and took off with the others in the pony posse.

Midmorning horsemanship/judging obstacle came in quick order. The novices were to back in a straight line, and the competitive pleasure riders were to back around a tree. I breathed yet another sigh of relief when I heard this, for I presumed that Raudi and I would wow the judge, who judging by her tight lipped expression, now had our number. I lined Raudi up, and prepared to back. Raudi, who had other ideas, plunged forward. “Next,” the horsemanship judge said.

Off we went, me shaking my head in disbelief. Something was amiss here. But what? Raudi was doing amazingly well when we were on the move, going ahead of Tinni or staying behind when asked. She also had considerable energy, but was doing a wonderful job of holding herself in check. Those in our group arrived at camp exactly on time. After resting our horses and eating our lunch we headed out on the afternoon’s ride. It turned out to be as uneventful as the mornings ride – we again had to deal with flatland debris, that is rooty, rutty, slick semi swamp terrain. And we had to climb Bald Mountain, which Raudi clearly enjoyed. Me too, for it wasn’t anything that I hadn’t dealt with before.

Finally, back in camp, we cooled our horses and prepared for the end of the day’s veterinary check. The novice riders, who were doing the one day event, were also required to trot out and lunge their horses. I watched as Pete put Tinni through his paces – the 25 year old horse was feeling good. He moved with considerable animation, and lunged nicely for Pete, who at home had practiced this, at most, twice.

After dinner, we all gathered for the novice awards ceremony and for the next day’s ride overview. I was blown away by the results, and this is putting it mildly. Mille on Yelma won two first places, one for horsemanship/and the second for conditioning in the junior novice division. And Cindy on Merrylegs won the same two first and second places in the lightweight novice division. The heavyweight novice results were next. I and many others cheered as Pete was first presented with two awards. He received a fourth in horsemanship and a second in conditioning. Then it was announced that he and Tinni were the high point novice finishers. My eyes then filled with tears as Pete was presented with a travelling trophy, a third ribbon, and a rump blanket. Pete, attempting to be modest, said to everyone present “it was the horse!”

There was little time to think about this accomplishment since next on the agenda was the route particulars for the next day. It was right about then that it began raining, and raining hard. All I could think was that if this continued, the next day’s already tough course would be slick and slippery. The fact that we’d be crossing the Little Su several times, and going up Bald Mountain were, at least in my mind, also cause for concern. Plus, this time around I would not be riding with Pete or the pony posse. Instead, I’d ride with Frank and Claudia who I didn’t know all that well.

We were, at the ride briefing’s conclusion, told that because it was raining so hard, that if we wished, we could put our horses in our trailers. This is what many including Frank and Claudia did. Pete and I instead elected to blanket Raudi and Tinni, in part because we had no water bucket fasteners inside the trailer. Raudi’s blanket was not as waterproof as Tinni’s, so we secured a blue tarp on top of it. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep as well I would have had our horses had access to a dry shelter.

Next: 198. 7/20/14: Lessons Learned: Yet Another Day on the Trail