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July 20, 2014: Lessons Learned: Yet Another Day on the Trail

It was one of those days in which there are so many details that you know at its conclusion that you’ll never, ever be able to get all of them onto one page. Such days are good, but this is problematic for writers.

The day began with our gathering, on horseback, for a pre-ride meeting with Katie, the ride manager. Bullhorn in hand, she gave us some particulars about the day’s upcoming ride. She noted that the river was up, so the first of the four Little-Su crossings was going to be tough. She then expressed concern for the ponies, who she said would have to swim some of it. She added that there would be safety riders present, who if need be, would accompany us across the river.

She then cautioned us to start out by pointing our horses upstream; otherwise, we’d end up downstream, in the danger area. Hearing this, my throat went dry for an image of Raudi and me, tumbling about like socks in a washer in the raging waters of the Little-Susitna was what came to mind.

After this announcement, things seemed to happen at warp speed. I’d decided to ride with Frank and Claudia who were also in the competitive pleasure division. So off we went, at a brisk trot, down field, and past the place where four years previously, Raudi had dumped me in a manure pile. How different things were now I thought. I had since competed in another local CTR, two endurance rides in the Lower 48, and done two long treks. I had also crossed my share of rivers on horseback. This is what I was thinking, that is until I saw the Little-Su. There were two words to describe it – loud and formidable. I wondered, was my horse up for this? Raudi seeing the river, in her own way said yes, by chewing on her bit, shaking her head, and stomping her foot.

“There are three Icelandics” Claudia said to the safety, who agreed to give us an assist. Seconds later, we plunged into the water, first Claudia on Katla, next Frank on Giff, and then me on Raudi. I went right, far upstream of Frank, and then, as did the other two, we floated down in the direction of the river bank. All the while, I kept my eyes on the far bank, and did not look down. Otherwise, I’d get dizzy. Once on the far side, Tierra firma, I cheered. The only problem was, my neoprene boots had filled with water. No matter, we had ground to cover.

Off we went, through the swampy area, sliding down embankments, doing several more creek crossings, and two more river crossings. The latter seemed like a piece of cake after the first. The horsemanship judge was at one of these crossings – in passing, I smiled and waved at her. The ride, for a bit, continued to go smoothly. We began the hill climb up Bald Mountain. I remarked to Frank and Claudia that the terrain was decent – single track footing on solid ground. After a bit, things got, shall I say, a bit dicey.

We emerged from the thicket, and saw that there was a group of riders ahead of us, riders who were scrambling up a very steep hill. We three waited a bit so that they might get ahead of us. Then, finally, when they were out of sight, we began following the path they’d taken. We stopped when we came to this group of riders, one of whom included Heather, who’s saddle had slipped. It was at this point that Frank elected to go back downhill a bit, in order to retrieve a lost horse boot.

I had previously mentioned that Raudi had left her brains in camp. A few minutes later, I realized that my brains were keeping her brains company. I looked uphill, pointed Raudi at the very steep slope, and off we went. Raudi, in an attempt to maintain momentum, dug into the ground and hurled herself up the slope, stopping only when we came to a downed tree. I foresaw that we could go under it. However, those on larger horses could not. Also, there were no hoof prints on the far side. I handed Raudi to a rider who’d come up behind me, and walked uptrail in order to make sure that it was the wrong way. The trail grew even steeper. I knew for sure that we’d all have to turn back when I came to a dead end.

I returned to the tree – by now 14 or so riders were stacked up behind Raudi, who was doing circles around the woman holding her. She hurriedly handed her back to me, and as best I could I held onto her, once falling on the slippery trail, and going under Raudi’s legs.

I waited for what seemed like ages for the other riders to make their way down hill. Some walked their horses and others sent them running down the slope. Raudi and I slipped, her pulling the reins out of my hands. From the vantage point of the ground, I watched as she raced, bucking and squealing, back to Claudia and Frank’s horses.

I then rejoined Claudia and Frank, and we continued on, to the second pulse and respiration stop. It took considerable doing to calm Raudi down, but I did it, again taking her bridle and saddle off, and going through the same old song and dance. Her pulse was 60, the cutoff point –any higher and we would have been held, which would have meant that most likely Claudia and Frank would continue on without me. Next came another horsemanship stop. Raudi Raspberried the horsemanship judge by backing into her chair, repeatedly.

The afternoon ride took us along the flats, a swampy, somewhat primeval area which I jokingly said most likely contained flying monkeys, like the ones in the Wizard of Oz. The slippery trail was rutted, and had slick drop-offs into creeks. Raudi was in the lead going to the notorious beaver pond. This was tricky – we all waded through murky knee-deep water and made several turns before clambering up onto a grassy embankment. My heart was now pounding wildly, and in fact did not stop until we came to the edge of a local golf course.

I knew that we had one more chance for Raudi to make good with the horsemanship judge. And I speculated that if she did this, that we’d maybe get the most improved horse award. My high hopes rose higher upon discovering that we were next to be judged on opening and closing a gate. “A piece of cake” I crowed to Heather, who was waiting her turn. She was sitting on Rio, who was standing alert, but quietly. Raudi, seeing the grouping, again began milling around. The waiting area was churned up manure, so I could not even distract her, by having her eat grass. We had about a ten minute wait, in which she grew increasingly more frantic. And so, when it was our turn, we sidled up to the gate, opened it, and burst through. Once on the other side, Raudi bolted forward, and began heading up trail. Had I been wearing a cowboy hat, I would have taken it off, and waving it, said goodbye.

It was a fast ride back to camp – the high point of the day being Raudi’s collected canter along the hayfield. I dismounted after passing the timing area, and slowly walked back to the trailer, where Raudi happily greeted Tinni and Hrimmi, her long lost buddies. The pair looked up at Raudi, then resumed eating. Raudi of course went up to each and gave them a gentle push, as if to say, hey, you should have been there. Me, I gave Pete a hug and then said “you should have been there.”