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July 21, 2012: Competitive Trail Ride: Saturday, all day

I did not sleep at all Friday night. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw 57 horses, barreling down a nearby gravel road at top speed. So, I instead kept my eyes open and listened to the sound of the rain and wind. Although awake, 6 a.m. came a bit too soon. Pete made breakfast and I did morning chores. After, we groomed, tacked up, and mounted our horses. Raudi was, as she was two years before, excited about the goings on. I looked over at Tinni, who with leg cocked, appeared to be half-asleep, and wished that I was instead riding him.


Emily and Tinni

I mounted Raudi and fell in behind Pete, who was attempting to settle uncharacteristically fidgety Siggi. Raudi followed the pair, alternating trotting, tolting, pacing, and cantering. Abject terror are the words that best describe how I then felt. She was going to bolt, and I knew it. And so was Siggi, the horse who seldom cantered. Pete began doing serpentines, and I did the same, keeping Raudi’s head on Siggi’s butt. This annoyed Raudi, who wanted to keep pace with the big horses. It was time to bail. I tried to articulate this, but because my throat was dry, the words were not forthcoming. Rather, I instead sat tight.

We eventually turned off the road, taking a left on another, and then turned right, onto winding, log-strewn trail. Raudi slowed, and I took a deep breath, slowing her down either further. It helped that the trail was both winding and log strewn, for she now had to give some serious thought as to where she was putting her feet. I told her that we had a long weekend ahead of us; however, the worst was over. In response, she snorted and flicked her ears back and forth.

The rest of the morning is now a blur, in which a few salient details come to mind. The terrain was varied – here and there hayfields, dotted with white plastic covered rain bales. Here and there creek crossings, with steep, slippery drop offs. Here and there the open riders, moving fast and confidently, crossed our path. Here and there, were judges, some visible, some hiding. Here and there, horses lined up for the first pulse and respiration stop, and for the first obstacle test. It turned out that Raudi’s heart rate and pulse were high – not surprising, given that she was a bit excitable. However, we are given permission to go on. The obstacle test involves mounting and backing three steps. We do this perfectly, which ups my confidence level. And, I think, why not? We’ve been practicing this for four years, nearly every day.

We move on, the route taking us back to camp, where we have 45 minutes to eat and tend to our horses. Ahead, in the afternoon, a swollen river crossing (the Little Susitna) and a rather strenuous uphill and downhill section on a slippery trail. Some express concern, but not Pete nor I. We are practiced at going up and down slippery tails; in fact, we have been doing it all summer. As it turns out, our horses do well, in part because they’ve been shod. I note in passing that those horses that are wearing boots and who are barefooted seem to be having a harder time of it.

Raudi, still excited, is hard to rate on the uphill stretch, and in a few places she insists on throwing in a canter or two. Rather than fight her, I let her go. We pay the price at the second P and R stop. Her pulse is high, so she’s pulled, meaning that her pulse will be retaken in another ten minutes. I groan, for I immediately know what the implications of this are. Pete, who will elect to wait, will lose ten minutes of time, meaning that he’ll need to finish in advance of me. I already know that Raudi isn’t going to like being separated from her buddy. No time to think about this, for we have a slick downhill, and several creek crossings as well as another river crossing ahead of us. We also have an obstacle that includes a river plunge in which we are to come back up on the far side of a gate.

We do all this just fine. However, there is finally a moment of reckoning. It comes when we come to the final two mile marker. There is a sign which reads “Maintain Forward Motion.” As I understand it, we are to keep going and not stop. This means no circling, or stopping. It’s here that Pete and Siggi take off, saying that otherwise, they’ll be disqualified. I’m aghast, for I’d figured that no matter what, we’d stick together. This apparently isn’t so. Raudi whinnies for her buddy, who trots off, seemingly without a care in the world.

The next two miles are the more tiring and stressful than the first two. I dig deep into my tool box in order to keep Raudi in check. I sink my butt into my seat, work the reins, take deep breaths, and finally, go to the ultimate default, which is to start singing. She doesn’t settle, not completely, but she does enough for me to keep her from racing off. The two mile battle of wills comes to an end when we arrive back at camp, and she sees Tinni, quietly eating out of his hay bag. We say hello to him, and then return to the check in area. Pete, who is all smiles, meets up with us and says that in the end, Siggi picked up the pace. I want to, but I can’t be mad at him. I’m pleased that the pair have done so well. And I’m pleased that Raudi and I have done so well. And I’m later pleased when the veterinary judge says that both came through the day sound—this, after riding on slippery trails in the rain all day. But the best news of the day is yet to come.

That evening, at the awards ceremony, Emily and Tinni find themselves the recipients of two blue ribbons, Emily getting one for horsemanship, and Tinni getting one for being best conditioned horse. I cover my face when I hear the news because I don’t want anyone to see the tears. I had been concerned about his doing this event because this, my number one riding horse, is now 23 years old. The fact the pair did so well obviously attested to the fact that 15 year old Emily had done well by him this summer.

Next: 226. 07/22/12: Sunday, all Day