So here's the story on the Saturday before last (March 13).
I got up at five in the morning, far too early for any kind of coherent thought. It was still dark when Casi dropped me off at the barn. Halo was out on the grass, which I figured was a good thing since I wound up not having time to longe her. In retrospect, I should have taken a longe line with me to the ride, but alas, I decided to be brave and assume she wouldn't need it.
We got everything loaded up and hit the road a little later than we meant to at about 7:00 am. I'd been helping load Taz, the horse I leased last summer. When we got to the Manor Ghost Town, Halo was a little amped up, but still behaved pretty well for saddling and all the rest. After we tossed all the tack on the girls, Cavelle (my riding buddy for the day) took her trailer down to the rodeo grounds to catch a shuttle back up to the start of the ride. That left me alone with the horses for about half an hour. We were scheduled to ride out at 8:30.
Here are the girls at the hitching rail, making their crabby morning faces.
Halo was in mid-head shake here, but her coat looks nice in the morning sun!
The Ghost Town is allegedly some sort of tourist attraction. I'm not sure what kind of events they usually have there, but it made for a fun old-west style picture. I wish I'd had time to take a few more, but it was more important to keep an eye on Halo and Contessa.
There were about 20 or 30 horses on the ride in addition to several wagons pulled by mules. When everyone started getting hitched up and moving around, Halo's calm demeanor changed completely. She was on high alert and full of beans, not sure what was going on, but determined that she needed to look every direction at once. This is about when I started wishing I had brought my longe line. I did manage to get on her, but the commotion of the mules and wagons and everything else moving toward the road had her way too amped up to pay any attention to me. We bronced our way across the mounting area, and then someone got on the loudspeaker and said something about "keeping four feet on the ground" that I think was definitely directed at us. Crap. After we almost ran into the horse of an innocent bystander, I decided it was too dangerous to ride out on the road with her skittering around. So I got off. And thus began the most painful 3.7 miles of my life.
Leading Halo as I was, we quickly fell to the back of the ride. There was a rig following us, and the trail boss directing traffic from the rear was our only constant companion. She was nice, and asked repeatedly if I was okay. I was fine, but not happy about walking/running. Horses walk a lot faster than people do, so I was constantly having to jog to catch up. And every so often the trail bosses would crack the verbal whip, insisting that we keep up with the pack and not fall too far behind.
Halo leaned on me a lot while I led her, which was not very much fun for me or my arm. She was still hyped up and all too eager to trot to keep up with the pack. By a mile or so in, I was ready to get on, but there was no way. We weren't stopping, and if I'd tried to stop and get on, she would have become upset that the other horses were going on without her, not to mention that I doubt the trail bosses even would have allowed me to stop and fall any further behind.
I walked/ran until I couldn't go on. I walked/ran until I tore colossal blisters in the backs of both my heels. I walked/ran until I was completely out of breath and felt like a nap in the road would be preferable to taking one more step.
Let it be known that riding boots do NOT make good running shoes.
Just before we got to the first rest stop, I finally couldn't keep up any longer. The trail boss found someone to pony Halo, and I hopped in the truck pulling the water supply and outhouses. Ironically, the person who ended up ponying Halo looked about 11 or 12 years old, which worried me a bit at first since Halo had been so naughty earlier. But she and her mount seemed capable and took good care of things.
At the rest stop, I was committed to getting on. I certainly couldn't walk any longer, and I wasn't going to ruin a kid's ride by making her pony my rotten filly the whole way. Plus, riding would be harder work for Halo, which she obviously needed if she was going to be a turkey.
After our water break, I got on for the second time. It's a good thing she is okay letting me on from the ground now, because I didn't have a choice. She was fine when I first got on, but as the caravan departed, she started crowhopping and bucking again. I wasn't having it. She got to keep moving out whether she wanted to or not. We fell back behind some of our friends; they wanted to ride between mule wagons, and THAT was not going to be a good place for a spazzy, green filly who still had plenty of energy. We stayed in the pack of horses behind the last mule wagon, from which country music was blasting loudly.
Unfortunately, they also started up music from the truck following us, so we were surrounded by music on both sides that was completely deafening. The cacophony was awful, and the trail bosses couldn't even hear their walkie talkies. After riding in that state of torture for about half an hour, they finally turned down the music behind us, and it improved a bit. Halo was still full of energy, but there was no more bucking. Phew. I do not want to fall off on the road again.
Here's Halo about halfway through the ride, sweaty, but still plenty energized.
Anyway, we continued on for the rest of the 12 miles, and things steadily improved for me and Halo. She settled more and more into the rhythm of walking and trotting, and didn't show any signs of fatigue or overexertion. Someone's hat blew off in front of her at one point, and though she stopped, she didn't become upset at all. I was proud of her for not being spooky once she got over her initial antics.
We finally made it to the end! Here's Taz and his owner at the end of the ride. I must say, they pull off the cowboy image a lot better than I did. I was the only person there wearing a helmet, and I looked extra geeky with Casi's CamelBak on for my water supply. (I should add that the CamelBak saved me while I was doing all that running. I would not have survived without it).
In this last picture you can see the flags marking the rodeo grounds up ahead. We were instructed to ride in two by two, which we mostly did. However, there was a man on a very ill-mannered head-tossing Appaloosa that kept getting dangerously close to me and Halo as we closed in on the rodeo grounds. I finally told him Halo would kick him (not actually that likely) if he didn't back off, but he seemed oblivious. Fortunately he didn't cause a wreck.
I wish I had some pictures of Cavelle and Contessa, because they stayed with us through most of the ride. Cavelle even rode alongside me while I was suffering through the running portion of my day. I'm glad to have good riding friends now - it's important to feel like you aren't alone, especially when things are going wrong.
I don't know that I will go on this ride again. While I feel that it was great experience for Halo, and I'd like a second chance to remedy her behavior, the noise level was a bit unpleasant at times. Also, many people brought alcohol on the ride. I know a lot of people drink and ride, but for me, alcohol and horses don't mix, especially a green horse like mine. It seems especially dangerous out on the roads. We had the sheriff with us at the back of the caravan, and I was surprised they allowed the drinking/riding. People weren't subtle about it at all - they were carrying beer cans in their hands and dancing around to the music on the backs of their horses. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but it was too easy for me to picture a wreck happening due to drunken antics.
Anyway, the day was definitely not a loss, but could have been a better experience overall. I'm glad I took Halo, and it reminded me that some days are just not going to go as planned. It's all part of the process.