I`m riding alone on the trail, searching for her. For some inexplicable reason I just can`t get this woman out of my mind. Dance and I turn a corner and up ahead and I see her. She`s still sunbathing, still nude, exactly like the last time I saw her. The reflection of the bright sun resonates from her well oiled body. She looks up, smiles and waves to me, first as in Hello, then a hand gesture telling me to come closer. I approach her on horseback, and when I`m about ten feet away, I start feeling dizzy. My mind enters some kind of hypnotic trance as I find myself looking at this beautiful creature. She`s a well proportioned, young brunette, with the most perfect body I have ever seen. And that smile, on her lovely face, melts any inhibitions I might have. I try not to stare, but just can`t resist her power. She says, "Hi, my name is Debbie. Why don`t you get off that big horse and sit down for a chat."
I get off Dance, hook up his reins to the saddle, and walk towards her. "I haven`t been able to stop thinking of you, since yesterday," I say. Deb says, "I know, would you like a beer?" I answer, "Sure," and WHAACKKKKKKKKKKKKKK.............a tree limb has just knocked me off my horse, I do a double somersault backwards, and land in the deep sand. "Dad, are you OK? Didn`t you see that branch?" says Jennifer. Maria is there, also, just wondering what the heck happened here.
I notice that the visor on my helmet is now hanging to the side, I pull on it and off it comes. Man, I must have been in some kind of trance or something. Not a safe thing to do out here. I tell Jen and Maria I`m OK, get back on Dance Line, and off we go, hoping they forget about my faux pas eventually. Maria asks me, "Would you like me to ride in front?" "Sure thing," I tell her, knowing she`s lost confidence in my ability to lead.
This part of the loop definitely seems more remote than the first. This trail is not a series of loops like I`m used to. It`s one long 50 mile loop, with a cut that the 35 milers take. The only people who do it twice are the hundred milers, and from what I hear there are only a few of them riding today. I still don`t understand why the number of riders is so low. The weather is perfect and the trails are well marked. And we`ve run into just a few 4 wheelers, who have all been courteous to us, most of them pulling their vehicles to the side of the trail to get out of our way. Some of the drivers even turned off their engines, making it easier for us to go by. If Dance keeps up this pace, and the nonriders continue to be so polite, I still might have time for my afternoon nap, even though we`re adding an extra ten miles to our normal 25.
Dance is hardly sweating; I`m glad I sponged him thoroughly at the last vet check. Jennifer had won this cool sponge at the Osceola ride for finishing first in juniors. It has a long plastic cord (long enough to hit the ground from atop my giraffe), with metal hooks and a ring attachment, all making it easy to separate and throw into a river, lake, pond, or puddle. She`s letting me carry it today, knowing my horse needs it more than hers. I`m convinced that using a sponge, as often as you can, especially on a tall legged Saddlebred, is one of the keys to this sport. I can`t tell you how many sponges I`ve lost because of a poor knot, to rivers, swamps and hungry gators.
Maria is keeping a good pace, we mostly canter, with her tiny Arab leading the way. Jen keeps talking, telling me I should always be ready and pay attention. "Were you sleeping, Dad?" she asks. I`d like to tell her what happened, but just grunt in the affirmative to her question. I lean down and hug the long neck of my gelded male companion, telling him that I`ll keep my mind alert and block out thinking of my nude sunbather for the rest of our ride.
After a few miles we come up on our last remote vet check. Hardly any riders are here; in fact there are more volunteers and crew members than riders and horses. Jen and I both dismount. I take Dance over to a water trough, he drinks and Jen and I go over to this makeshift vet area that parallels a dirt road. Dance still has alot of energy and he`s a bit hard to control. I kinda yell at him to settle down, but inside I`m amazed at the fire this horse still has in his belly after 26 miles. I love his spirit.
The lady with the stethoscope says he`s 64 and I go up to the female vet. She recognizes me from the Hahira ride, and tells me my horse has really put on some weight since she last saw him. I tell her it`s not the same guy, even though they are cousins and have the same chestnut color and similar markings. As she is doing her checks, Dance moves around constantly. This volunteer, wearing a bright orange cap, comes over and tells me rather sternly, "You need to keep on the side of the horse that the vet is on."
I remember seeing this guy before, at the pre ride briefing. I think he even got up and said a few words on the danger of us losing our trees or, maybe, it was trails. My face flushes with anger, I`m about to lash out at this tree hugger, but I keep it in. I want to offer him the reins, to see how well he thinks he can do with my hyper giraffe, who presently isn`t too keen on being checked for anal tone, but, instead, I keep quiet. I kinda nod my head, knowing that if I speak the words would wound him, and orange cap wanders off, thinking he`s helped me immensely.
I`m grateful to anyone who volunteers at these rides, but instruction is not something I`m looking for, especially from a non rider who is just observing. I have a jumpy horse and I kinda like him that way. Orange cap is lucky Dance didn`t bite him; my horse moonlights as a guard dog, protecting my back yard during the weekdays. You should see him patrol my fence!
The lady vet asks me to trot my horse out and we do so without a hitch. The vet says, "That was lovely, he`s looking good." I think she likes my horse or maybe it`s just my winning smile. Haha. I get out of the way, but hang close by to keep an eye on Jennifer. I want Rebel to know his buddy is still around.
Rebel and Dance seem to need each other at these stops; the bonding that develops between the two horses, during an endurance run, is unbreakable. Because of this I actually walk the road that parallels the trot out area, to make things easier for my 47 inches tall, and still growing, daughter. She gets thru the check fine and we walk away from the vet area. Maria is next in line, with about three other riders behind her.
This last remote vet check seems too empty to me; few riders and not much activity, especially when compared to our last stop. I look for my other bucket, but don`t see it anywhere. I see Allison, taking a break, and Jen and I go sit next to her. Allison, my number one fan, tells me what I did wrong with my bucket placing last night. I definitely did not pay attention at the pre-ride briefing and, evidently, placed my buckets in the wrong location. One of them is at the second vet check, the one the 35 milers never see. Sometimes my stupidity amazes even me.
Allison offers us her hay and some feed for my horses. The two gobble it up and Rebel tries to rub up on Allison to thank her. She gives Jennifer a bottle of Gator Aid, a granola bar, and some other stuff to eat. Allison then says Good-bye, because her hold is over and it`s time to mount her Mustang. If it wasn`t for the kindness of others I don`t think I would make it through a ride. I sure can`t count on my own organizational skills. I know, in a year or two, Jennifer will have this whole thing managed perfectly.
Maria joins us and I tell her Jen and I will start out slow, since we might leave ten minutes or so ahead of her. She nods her head and I notice she looks a bit tired. It`s my guess that Jen`s conversational skill has worn Maira down, but I keep the thought to myself. Maria doesn`t seem to be in the mood for my humor right now.
A very nice gentleman (not orange cap) comes over, tells Jen and me we can leave, and does so by using our first names. What a nice guy. I tell Jen we should try and get the horses to drink again, so we walk over to the water trough. Feeling kinda sore, I`m not in any hurry to mount up. Jen and I just watch our two funny companions splash each other in the face, playing with the water more than drinking it. These two horses have just made our day; man, do I love these guys.
During this time Maria leaves the vet area and I don`t think she noticed us next to the water trough. By the time I realize this Maria is out of sight and I tell Jen we need to get going. Jen gets onto her horse by herself (this never ceases to amaze me) and I put Dance in a ditch, using the higher ridge area as my stool. I feel something pull in my back, as I mount up, wondering how that`s going to feel tonight. I hear a few of the crew people chuckle at seeing me climb aboard and wave to them as Jen and I depart the area. It`s rare that Dance and I don`t get a laugh or two from people watching us.
We start out in a trot but soon hit our gait of choice today, the canter. Maria is nowhere to be seen and I have the feeling she`s moving quickly, thinking we are ahead of her. I mention this to Jen and she suggests we go a little faster to try and catch the woman who is trying to catch us. The trail is much like it`s been all day, loose sand, but plenty wide, with not too many turns. I avoid all deep holes just knowing there is a hidden tree root in there.
During our run Jennifer gets her horse to pass me, she sticks her butt up in the air, turns her head around, points to her hip and says, "This is what I`ve had to look at all day." Haha, I only wish mine was that small. Jen and Rebel keep the lead for a few miles, still no sign of Maria.
After a few spooks from Rebel, Jen decides she doesn`t need to be in the lead anymore and lets me pass her. We finally spot Maria, I yell at her but she doesn`t see or hear me. Maria and her tiny Arab mare are booking down the trail. We increase our speed a little, Dance spots Maria`s horse and is more than willing to play catch up.
We get to a marking with an arrow pointing left and notice Maria missed the turn. I yell for her as loud as I can and get her attention. Big lungs in a little body pay off sometimes. I yell again saying, "Wrong way," and motion for her to come in our direction. We wait for her and Maria says, "I thought you guys were ahead of me. I was really getting frustrated not seeing you at all." Looks like I`m not the only daydreamer in the crowd.
We continue on the final section of this huge loop and catch up to Allison, who is in a trot. She stays with us for a while until we get to another intersection, where the sign for the turn seems incorrect since the arrow points straight up. We stop, I pull out my map and think I find our location. As we are talking, discussing which way to go, I spot a group of men sitting around a table next to a small trailer. I don`t see any vehicles next to their trailer. The men see us, get up and walk our way. On the table I notice an empty bottle of Jim Beam, tons of empty beer cans, and what looks to be a water pipe or bong of some kind (don`t ask how I know these terms). Oh great.
One man in the group yells out to me, "Hey mister, you lost? We know which way to go." The man then starts waving his arms wildly in kind of a circular motion. I have no idea what this guy is up to. He then stops the motion, crosses his chest with his arms and points out in two different directions with both of his hands. At the same time he says, "You go this way," perfectly mimicking the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of OZ." His buddies all laugh, slapping themselves silly and acting like this is the funniest thing they have ever seen. Too much! I`m wondering if they were the ones who messed with the directional arrow.
This gives our group the incentive to hit the trail, even if we`re going the wrong way. I`m sure the men were harmless, but I just can`t imagine a lone female, doing a 100 miler, out here late at night after dark, running into this group. The Far Out Forest Pervert could be hiding behind any of these bushes out here. The fact that I didn`t see a car anywhere is what freaked me out. I`m not a gun nut by any means, but if I were that lone female rider I would definitely consider carrying one after witnessing what the four of us just did.
Jennifer starts asking questions about the men. I try and assure her they were just having fun, but Maria and Allison give looks that indicate otherwise. Allison drops off behind us and it`s just the original three, still cantering along. I`m amazed at how well Dance is doing today. His leg, with the bowed tendon, is holding up and he seems to be having a great time out here. After going a few more miles, around a lake, and down a dirt road with no vehicles, I spot our campground. We`ve come full circle and are back to our temporary home.
Jen and I are the first to enter the vet area and no other rider is around. The head vet (this guy is so cool) comes out to meet us and says, "One of you is in tenth place, the other is in eleventh." I look at Jen and it`s a no brainer. "She`s in tenth, I`m behind her," I say. This smile comes over Jennifer`s face that I`ve never seen before; she`s extremely full of herself and I`m quite proud of my daughter. The vet does his checks and then tells Jennifer she needs to come back with her horse, in less than one hour from now, so he can look at Rebel for Best Conditioned horse. Wow!
The vet also tells her to remove all tack and weigh herself in at the Pavilion. After he finishes looking at my horse I help Jen with the tack and she hits the scales, barely able to carry her saddle and pad. And the man records her at a whopping 89 lbs. Too bad they don`t have an award for lightest rider.
We walk back to our campsite and Jen`s excited. She asks me, "What do we do with Rebel?" "How should I know? I`ve never top tenned," I respond, with a smile. "Dadddddddd." I tell her to brush off her horse, we`ll feed them and clean him up as much as we can. I get out the beet pulp, water it down, add some grain, and feed both horses. I throw them some hay and grab a beer and sit down. My body is aching. I know I`ll hardly be able to get out of bed in the morning.
As Jennifer brushes off her horse she continues talking. "I just can`t wait to tell Samantha and Roxanne that I top tenned. And now I`m going up for BC....yada, yada, yada, yada." Actually, I`m quite enjoying this and wish I had the energy to go get out the video camera that`s in the truck. Jen`s normally a very happy kid, but she has just peaked at total satisfaction. I`m so glad I`m here to see, and hear, it all. Watching and listening to her, I know this memory, will stay with me till the day I die.
I help Jennifer clean up Rebel, letting the horse continue to eat while doing so. We then leave our campsite and go back to the vet area. Again, no one is ahead of us and Jennifer does her thing. At the end of the trot out Jen kinda stops a bit too suddenly; Rebel stops right behind following her lead. His legs dig into the deep sand and the horse goes down, all the way to his front knees. The crowd that had gathered around all goes, "OHHHHHHHHHH," thinking Jen might get hurt or the horse has just injured himself. I kinda chuckle to myself, knowing that neither is the case. The vet, Dr. Cool, seems to know the horse is fine. Rebel gets up and the BC check is complete. I feel that Rebel knew his show was over and he was just taking a Bow for the audience.
That`s it. My story`s done, complete, finished. I will tell you it got so cold that night, after the run, Jennifer and I slept in the truck, with the diesel engine running. Since all our neighbors, Roxanne and Stuck Lady, left I knew we weren`t keeping anyone up. Jen didn`t get BC (weight is a factor), but she did get a lot of neat stuff for top tenning. In closing I`d like to ask all my Southern neighbors to please put this ride on your calendar for next year. We`re down to three endurance rides a year in Florida and I`d hate to lose this one, due to lack of participation. If I can finish on my Saddlebred, I know you guys can too. If you show, beer`s on me. Promise.
And, no, I didn`t go looking for HER the next day. But she was on my mind as I pulled out of ridecamp with my rig. haha.