OK. First of all, we (my horse, Dance Line and I) didn`t kill the Preacher. You religious types have really been on me about that one. He is fine. Right before we were about to hit him he looked up at us like a deer frozen from the glare of headlights and then the Preacher man fainted; dead away. Dance Line jumped right over him; beautifully, I might add. The clipboard lady, now there`s a different story. I wish I could tell you she`s fine, but I can`t lie (you believe that, right?). The good news is they tell me she should be out of intensive care any day now. The bad news is she has an attorney who wants to meet with me and Dance. Right away, in fact he keeps sending me invitations to a hearing party, which I figure is a hanging party, so we don`t go. Evidently she was a little braver than the Preacher and just stood her ground, knowing that most horses will jump out of the way to avoid striking a human. Unfortunately, she never met a horse trained by me before. Her bravery has her in traction right now.
Anyway, we`re off. On the trail. And I mean we are really off. Dance Line is still in a full gallop keeping the same pace he had when we were terrorizing our fellow campers. I`m sure he`ll start that trot anytime now, the one we practiced on for hundreds of hours over a 9 month period of time; he`s just a little excited. So many riders. Must be at least 50 all jammed up here on this skinny trail. We are all going like we are in the Kentucky Derby; way too fast for a long distance race, and damn.... DANGER ..... ...DANGER...an Arabian horse and rider up in front of us both decided to just stop and then the horse turns her body 90 degrees so that she`s blocking the entire trail and.....NO, Dance Line, no, we don`t want to jump over this silly Arab......WOW. What the heck did he do there?
OK. We`re still going, I`m not quite sure how we missed that Arab back there. Some of the riders and their horses did not. BAAAAM, KAAABLAAAM, SMAAAACCKKKK. Screams, cries for help. Cursing. Language I hadn`t heard since my military service days. I`m sure they`re all OK. I should go back and help but there is no way I can turn this horse around now. I just don`t understand what has gotten into Dance Line. He`s never been like this, barely able to control himself; kinda like Mike Tyson at a beauty pageant. This is not the same horse I took on the trails to try and get into shape for our first ride together. I try and pull him back into atleast a reasonable canter but he won`t have any of it. He just stretches out his neck, which for him is like ten feet (did I mention I believe Saddlebreds were bred with Giraffes?), and pulls the reins forward, letting me know he is not to be denied. This horse is on fire and I`m not about to try and put him out. This is more fun than camping. And if you camp next to me, it`s just as safe.
So up ahead of us is a couple of riders, looks like a husband and wife kinda thing. Riding side by side. Romance on the trail. They must not realize how close Dance and I are and how fast we are approaching. And both of their horses have those red ribbons tied to their tails. I just love the Christmas time of year. Now you think they might want to move over for me and Dance Line. I mean I`ve read the endurance handbook and I`m asking politely to pass here. "Passing left," I say. Hmmmmmmmm. The female rider just gives me a dirty look and keeps on trucking. OK. "Passing right," I say, hoping the male is a bit friendlier. He ignores me totally. Are these people from France or something? GRRRRRR. Well, there`s only one place left. Through the middle Dance Line and I travel without any warning.
I try and assure the Siamese couple that this is a temporary split, I`m happily married and not allowed to participate in threesomes. But this is endurance racing and there is just no stopping my horse today. As Dance Line and I snuggle between the two lovebirds, I suddenly remember what I read in the handbook about those red ribbons on a horse`s tail. Turns out it`s not a "Tis the Season" decoration at all. RED stands for kicker and just as I remember this the two horses simultaneously (and this is one of those "happened in slow motion" kinda events) turn their rear ends (I`m talking horses here, not hubby and wifey) and start attacking me and Dance Line. One of the horses actually trots backwards just so she can get in a really good kick. Well, my buddy Dance Line moves laterally so quickly that the backwards trotting horse misses him completely. It was a thing of beauty (to me) cause it caused the two red-tailed horses to collide and down goes wifey. She`s OK, but hubby seems a little upset. Again with the cursing. Good thing the Preacher man isn`t here on the trail listening to such language. When we all get back to camp I`m sure everyone will all have a big laugh about the fact that I forgot red ribbon tied to the tail means kicker. Ha Ha.
I`m just amazed at my horse. We`ve covered over three miles already and he`s still hauling. I`ve finally got him into a reasonable lope but he won`t consider trotting yet. He spots a Painted mare up ahead. We`ve already passed nine riders (all female by the way) and I think we`re in sixth or seventh place. So we get behind the Paint and Dance Line finally slows down a bit. I own a painted mare back home and Dance Line is terribly in love with her. Turns out the Paint`s rider is one of the few males out here on the trail, besides me, hubby and a couple others I spotted in camp. He seems to be a good rider and the pace is not too fast, so we stay behind. Plus I think Dance is reminded of his love back home. "Wanna pass?" the rider asks. He`s obviously not from France. No thanks, I reply. Dance Line has sweated up pretty good and I want to try and cool him down some.
I notice that the male rider is wearing jeans, something I gave up a long time ago when I started training for this sport. I know I look a bit funny in riding tights but, hey, I`m not out here trying to make the cover of GQ, so who cares? Jeans create riding sores and once you get them you can`t get rid of them if you ride constantly like I do. I start thinking maybe this guy is a rookie, like me, a fellow comrade on the trail of danger, even though he rides pretty well. Then I notice his pants creep up a bit on his right leg and, I swear, he`s wearing, Noooo........, it can`t be. But it is. He`s wearing some kind of fishnet pantyhose thing under his jeans. Haven`t seen a guy in pantyhose since that Joe Nameth commercial (yes, I am that old). My, oh my, is this a unique sport or what? How bout those Jaquars? I ask him, just checking to see if he`s into football. You see, I`m a little concerned about being alone here in the woods, out in the middle of nowhere, with a large guy who wears pantyhose. Turns out he is into football (whew!), has season tickets to the Dolphins, so, hey, I`m not too worried about the pantyhose. But I am kinda curious what size he wears. And what size would fit me?
So we are riding alongside Pantyhose Joe and his Paint and just loping away like there is no tomorrow. Joe says to me, "I know this sounds weird but I swear I smell beer," and I kinda chuckle. I start telling him about my night of camping and he starts laughing so hard, especially when I tell him about my fire and my neighbor with the 9mm handgun strapped to her waist. By the time I get to the part about Dance Line taking off and me ripping up 9mm`s tent he is just beside himself. He tells me to stop, he can`t take loping and laughing so much at the same time, so I stop and don`t tell him about the Preacher and the clipboard lady. Joe thinks I`m making the whole thing up, nobody could have a night like that. This kinda hurts me a bit, but I let it pass cause he seems like a nice enough guy, pantyhose and all, and did laugh a lot at my story, even if he doesn`t believe me. I think that if I tried to tell Joe my life story he just might die from laughter, right out here on the trail in the middle of nowhere.
So we get kinda quiet (actually I just shut-up) and enjoy the ride. I am so into this that I reach down and touch Dance Line`s mane to make sure everything`s real. I am enjoying the scenery, the tall pine trees, the underbrush (palmettos mostly). Where I normally ride, near my house in another part of Florida, the forest is all burnt from last summer`s fires. Not a tree was spared for thousands and thousands of acres. But here, it`s so different, the trees go up unscathed over a hundred feet into the air. Back home they look like black missiles and some areas are so bleak looking it reminds me of a nuclear holocaust. My forest back home will never look like this one, atleast not in my lifetime.
Fifteen miles can take forever but I know we are covering ground quickly and I feel like I don`t want it to ever end. I`m going on some kind of adrenaline high and so is Dance Line. I finally slow him to a trot, Joe`s Paint still lopes, the eternal loper. Joe figures we`ve gone halfway, maybe more. He says his wife and a few of her friends are in the lead. All of them are riding Arabs, naturally. He and I are in 4th and 5th place. I spot hubby and wifey (remember the couple I split up?) behind us. They are doing better than I expected. Wifey appears a lot dirtier than the last time I saw her. Her eye glasses are grass stained and twisted, her helmet has a clump of dirt hanging right over the visor, her beige riding pants are covered with sand and dirt, and her left leg seems to be hanging from the side of the saddle abnormally, like it`s twisted or deformed. The look on her face and on hubby`s has about the same expression I expect to see on 9mm when she sees what I did to her tent so I ask Joe if he minds picking up the pace a bit. I hear the French have quite a temper.
So on we go. Winding thru the trails. Turns out we`re following the yellow trail and so we see little yellow ribbons tied to the trees every half mile or so. And where there`s an intersection of trails some nice person has drawn a yellow arrow pointing us in the right direction. This ride is awesome to me even if it is my first one and I don`t have another one to compare it to. I start singing Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the ole oak tree......., but stop when Joe looks at me as if I`m spoiling his moment of reflective loping. It can put you in a trance, riding so far can be hypnotic after a while. The weather is just perfect, nice and cool for the horses and not as cold as it was last nite when I set my trailer ablaze.
We reach a spot where some ride helpers have put out water for the horses, one in a big metal tub and the other in a plastic one. A few men are standing nearby. I stop and try to get Dance Line to drink. He normally drinks quite a bit but hasn`t touched a drop since we started the race. He won`t drink; this disturbs me. He`s still too excited, somehow he knows we aren`t finished yet. Joe lets me borrow his sponge and I proceed to put it in the metal container to soak it. "Not that one," yells one of the men, "Use the plastic one." OK, I say. Plastic is for sponges, metal for drinking. I remember that now, one of the many things covered at the rider`s meeting and so far I`ve violated almost every rule they mentioned.
Joe wants to take off; I`m worried about Dance Line not drinking so I hand him his sponge and say I`m gonna stay a bit longer. But no matter what I do, the horse just won`t drink. A few minutes later I spot hubby and wifey coming our way. And the looks on their faces have that "gonna kill somebody" expression on them as soon as they spot me and Dance Line. I figure it`s time to get back on my horse and go, since I don`t speak French and Dance Line won`t drink anyway. Now to just find a dip in the trail so I can get back on my giraffe. Here`s one, now stay still long neck, stay still. Can`t tell you how many times his head has collided with mine cause of that darn neck. And we`re up and going. We start out in a lope and I can tell Dance is looking for Joe and his Paint. But they are out of sight; Joe and his horse are obviously serious competitors. I back Dance into a trot cause I`m concerned about his lack of drinking water. I am glad that I sponged him off cause he seems to have cooled down a bit.
One of the men at the water hole said we only have 5 miles to go to the vet check. I get excited. Might actually finish this first 15 miles in the top five. I`m still pumped and so is Dance. We start loping again. Following the trail, all alone, is a bit of a pain. I liked it better when I was riding with Joe in the lead. Damn, where is that yellow ribbon? I spot it up ahead. Wasn`t it supposed to be on my right? It`s on my left for some reason. But hey, I remember this area and I continue trucking. Dance Line and I are flying now. He`s so awesome, I wish I could clone this horse. But we`re going against the grain, we are on part of the trail where we go in on the same trail others leave the ride camp/vet check area and, hey there, WHOA......here comes a young girl flying like me but in the opposite direction. DANGER, danger, collision avoidance activated.....man, stop Dance, stop.....I pull back hard on the reins, the girl pulls back, and the two horses are face to face, both heavily breathing into the others nostrils. How they missed hitting each other I`ll never know. The young lady and I exchange words (I`ve made another friend). Again with the cursing. I must speak to her parents after the ride. Dance and I walk into ride camp. I see the vet check area and it looks like heaven to me. We proceed slowly cause I don`t want to break any more rules, atleast not with all these people watching. I`m wondering why they would set up the trails like this, it just seems so dangerous, people and horses headed right at each other, especially with the trail being so thin (not wide) at the beginning/end with no room for passing at all. I must speak to ride management about this danger.
Dane Line and I enter the camp area where the vet checks are held. This is going to be our first vet check in the ride, besides the precheck they made the day before the ride started. I spot clipboard lady, actually it`s a different lady, and this one seems to be wearing a football helmet for some reason. She looks at me and yells, "Why are you coming in that way?" I ask if she`s talking to me and she says, "Yes, you are coming in from the wrong direction." I look around and don`t see Joe or anyone else from the 25. Oh my.
So another lady joins us (I`ve noticed that women control just about everything here), she`s the one who told us not to trot our horses into camp, and the two ladies and I all have a Powwow. Seems as though I have violated another rule. They explain to me, and I swear one of them called me "wrong- way," that I made a wrong turn a mile back and did not follow the trail correctly. "Didn`t you realize you were coming in the same way you started and that this is dangerous?", the no-trotting-allowed lady inquires of me. Off in the distance I spot the Preacher man and he`s pointing at me and Dance Line, yelling to someone nearby, and I swear I hear him cursing. He also says something with the word "police" attached and I realize it might be safer for me back on the trail. I ask no-trot if I can go back out and try and correct my mistake. She says yes and we`re off. Back in the saddle again.
TO BE CONTINUED
NEXT: PART III CONCLUSION (FINALLY) THE END OF THE TRAIL