Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The "First" Ride - Carol Delisi

The “First” Ride

Carol Delisi, Sheridan, MT

The Helena Pioneer Cabin Endurance Ride was my 3rd endurance ride (well – a couple failed attempts before that – but those are entirely different stories). This ride was special though since this was my first ride with my new horse and it was just the two of us hauling to the ride. I’d ridden 180 miles so far in 2008 – and even rode 80 of those miles with this horse, but at the time of those miles, I hadn’t bought her yet. Now we were a team and on our own. Thankfully, we weren’t really by ourselves, as I would discover.

I’ve loved horses all my life. I didn’t own a horse until I was 35 years old, when my husband bought me a little QH Paint colt. Since then I’ve owned just 2 other horses before I bought this beautiful Arabian mare named Samrah. I believe I’ve found the horse I dreamed of since I was a little girl. She’s tough, fast and beautiful. She makes friends easily, but gets cranky once in awhile, which I appreciate, having those episodes myself. She can be very sweet and she has these big expressive eyes that show her appreciation for a carrot or a rub on the shoulder.

We arrived at ride camp fairly early in the afternoon, after a long, bumpy ride on a road I was worried was taking us to the middle of nowhere. And then when we got there I was thankful we were in the middle of nowhere with the houses of the city far away. As soon as I got there, someone I knew greeted me and helped me decide where and how to park in the nice, big open grassy field. I was worried about Samrah missing her buddies and being all alone at the trailer, but a stuffed-full hay bag and her hi-tie took care of that. She could see other horses and she was happy enough after calling out a couple times to let everyone know she was there.

After getting her settled, I set up my tent and got my camp organized. The people parked in front of me were outside their trailer, relaxing, so I thought I should introduce myself. They invited me to sit and chat and I enjoyed getting to know them and sharing some time. I was more than a little worried about riding by myself and asked about riding together and was pleased at an enthusiastic response. We agreed we’d start out together and be flexible, if necessary. I got an invite to share dinner with them and one of their daughters who showed up with her kids. I felt very at home and any anxiety I had was fading away.

The anxiety came back during the night when I heard the wind pick up enough that a couple times I thought the tent might lift off the ground. The tent fly was flapping and I heard items in other people’s camps blowing in the wind. I kept looking out my tent window to make sure I could see Samrah’s silhouette in the moonlight. Every time I looked she was calmly sleeping or munching her hay. Her calmness helped me get a few winks of sleep.

The next morning was dark, cold and windy. The mid-September day felt rather wintry, even though the forecast earlier in the week had been sunny and warm fall weather. Samrah was a little hyped up but was kind enough to stand still for saddling up. I concentrated on keeping my breathing regular, even though my heart was starting to pound with excitement and worry at the windy weather.

My partner’s horse was what I feared Samrah would be like: dancing around at the end of the reins, like a kite in the wind. I decided the only way I’d feel comfortable was to mount up, so I did and was pleased that I stayed in the saddle and only had to deal with some jigging. My partner decided to walk her horse the first mile or so, and even with gusty wind her horse was calm enough now so she could mount up. We set out at a ground-covering trot and caught up with two people I knew. The four of us ended up staying together the rest of the ride – through the rain, brief hail and several wrong turns. We saw the sun come out in the afternoon, promising a beautiful day the next day. We rode through sage and open grass, past huge boulders and through quiet forests. We rode past elk, bighorn, bear – not real ones – but 3-D targets for bow hunters. We made a couple wide circuits as the horses tried to figure out if they were real and would eat Arabians. We came in last and happy to finish. I was so proud of my mare – she was steady and sane throughout, with only a couple hissy fits at vet checks when her new buddy wasn’t right next to her. Our finish was truly a “win” for both of us.

And even though, for the first time, we traveled “alone” to a ride, we were never really alone. On the second day, when we rode a 25 mile, we found two new companions, and enjoyed the sunny, calm, beautiful blue-skied weather.

I wanted to get an early start to get home the following morning so I told a friend of mine who talked about traveling together for part of the way that I couldn’t because I wanted to leave early. I got everything packed up and then pulled away out of ride camp. Before I did though, I decided to take one more look around the rig, just to make sure everything was okay. Something must’ve told me that I needed to find the flat tire on my trailer. I tried to find the tire iron in the truck and couldn’t, so ran to get help from my friend who was one of the few still in ride camp. She calmly and quickly helped me change the flat tire and then offered to drive with me to a stop to make sure the lug nuts were tightened. My first ride “alone” with my new lovely horse was anything but, and I was very glad for the companionship and friendship we enjoyed.

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