The Fort Valley Rain Dance (Part I)
While I have not viewed the original text, it must include something about; marking 50 or so miles of trail with brightly colored ribbons, inviting all whom are crazy enough to attempt to traverse said trail on horseback, and parking those loonies in a lovely grassy meadow, (like we'd be happy in a gravel parking lot, aye?), then suckering 30 or so chipper volunteers to spend a perfectly good day off work standing in the middle of the woods with only a slight clue what their exact purpose is. Yepper, it happened again! This time I was lucky enough to depart camp without the aid of farm equipment though! Not so sure on those who left Sunday.
Due to the fortunate fact I am employed, I had to ride on Saturday. Just daring the weather gods to fulfill what the weatherman had promised. Two inches of bone soaking, mud creating, Tide commercial inspiring, down pour. Let it be known, Fort Valley was in a mild drought when we arrived, dust poofing up at every foot fall. Touche' ! First omen, arriving Friday afternoon at 3pm, and asking "Who won the 50?" Reply from Mary Coleman, "I don't think they've finished yet". Oh great gobbly gook! It can't be true!!!
Friday dinner, awards, and meeting; was wonderful, informative, humorous, and light hearted. Seems we're all at peace with the weather, and we're dog-gone-it gonna have fun anyway! Wild story told about saddle and rider going over the rump of a horse climbing up Indian Grave, and reports the photographer caught it all! (oh bageez, its not bad enough to fall off in public, but someone had to take pictures of it?!?!) Learned Friday's 30 had a 100% completion rate! Way to go guys! And Tom and Tektonic won the 50! Woohoo! We got to meet the lovely raffle horse, Symetrie. (I'm so jealous Kathy!) OK, so down to business, Sat's 50. 1st loop 18 miles, a few moderate climbs, and quite a bit of gravel roadway by the river. 2nd loop 20 miles, including new *dirt* trail, and the dreaded Indian Grave climb. 3rd loop 12 miles, Martha Ann's loop, all on private property, zig-zagging looping, looks like loads of fun! Two 45 mins holds, parameters of 64. Spirits lifted!
Sprinkling at bedtime. Leaped out of bed a 2am, when *something* shook the trailer. Turned out to be the heavy wind lifting my awning, fixed, gave pony more food, then back to bed. (That 2am gust was topic of several "startling" stories on Sat!) Tacked up in sprinkles, and really warm, not bad, I can do this. Off we go, controlled start, following Henry up the paved road. I'm really impressed how slow, quiet, and well behaved, all these wild arabs are this windy morning! Footing is actually great, just enough rain to knock the dust down and soften the hard packed ground. We stayed in a group up and over Milford. Then down to a nice grassy rolling road that got everyone stretched out. I found a great riding companion going my speed, we chatted it up while watching for the ribbons.
Returned to camp and VC1, and found it to be pretty wet, but everyone still laughing and having fun. I fretted over soundness, my poor pony was slip sliding over those wet rocks, he seemed fine, eager to go, but there wasn't an inch of flat ground to check soundness. No worries, Dr. Nick says he's fine. Removed all soaked clothes, new dry ones on, stuff pony full of food, and back out we go.
Loop 2 was to die for!!!! The trail was so much fun, nice dirt trails, twisting, turning, DIFFERENT, loads of great views. But it was getting noticably muddier. Towards the end of the "new" part we were fetlock deep in mud. Sigh, I never thought I'd be hoping to see those familiar rock trails.
Then the turn for Indian Grave, oh boy. First trip up this monster for the young pony, I'm not sure he's mature enough to handle the task, checked all emergency exits! >wink< Well guys, no sugar coating, it was bad. The rain had begun to flat out pour on us. The lower steeper climb that is mostly dirt, was so slick the horses would slide each step forward they gained. I used the emergency exit and tailed up to the rock. Back on ponyboy, he's still motivated (read Napoleon complex still functioning as usual). I'm the middle horse, following buddy from the first loop, and a new friend caught up with us during this loop. The horse up front is a trooper, leaping two or three times up, then stopping for a breath. This was a huge help to motivate my pony who was really waivering. There was literally a 2" deep waterfall running down "the stairs", the noise was slightly scary, but the water flowing around his hooves and splashing up in his face really freaked him out. He stopped and pondered a time or two, but just with verbal encouragement I was able to convince him not to back up, phew! Just when I thought, I was in trouble, the horse behind me turned around and went to other way! HOW did she do that? There is NO room on this trail to turn around! Off the rock and took the last upward turn back on dirt/rock mix, still a flowing waterfall. All horses started taking turns trying to quit, who could blame them? I start whooping to motivate little man (hey, it works), soon all three of us were whooping up the hill. It worked! Phew!
VC2 revealed battered, muddy, volunteers. Ugh! It seems several had taken turns inadvertatly sliding into the vet check.. no not the horses.. the volunteers! Oops! Still most are giggling, but noticably more wet and less animated. Again, fret over soundness, pony fine, remove all soaked clothes, news dry ones on, pony stuffed full of food, and we drag back out, chanting only 12 miles to go!
Loop 3 was even better. One small climb (I swear I heard the horses threaten to get even), lots of fun wooded zippy trails. All the mud you could ask for! >g< Hey, if that's all we can find to complain about, it was a fabulous! There were 3 spotters left in the woods to point us in the right direction. Those poor soaked souls, how ever did someone talk them into that job!?! His evilness is still trying to rip my arms from the sockets, so I figure fair is fair, he carried my butt up the mountain, he may as well enjoy cantering. A few nice canters thru hay fields, one especially deep river crossing! (This is were riding the pony does not pay off, sure its easy to get on/off, and everyone else gets the spider webs, but I was wet halfway up to my knees!) Some not so appropriate canters we won't discuss in other places, but I'm happy he's pulling and seemingly getting stonger. I couldn't wait for the ride to be over, but Henry's truck could be seen on the horizon, and the finish line seemed to come too soon.
Final vet check, went just as well as the previous. I need to recheck my card, but I think we had all A's for the day!
My crew was kind enough to have everything packed when we got in. His evilness got in a good roll, then into his nice dry trailer, stuffed full of goodies. (We are only a three hour drive, he ate EVERYTHING by the time we got home!) I changed again, officially filling an entire trash bag full of wet clothes! And off while the getting is still good! (aka before the mud gets any deeper!)
Huge thanks to all the wet muddy volunteers, management, and land owners! The weather can never be controlled, but every other detail was carefully planned and carried out to keep us all safe, happy, and on trail! :-)
Congrats to everyone that finished on Saturday, that really was an ENDURANCE ride!
Finally warm and dry,