I didn't think this was going to be a two-parter, but it is.
I was a little stumbly at 4 a.m. Enough to wake my mother. She come around the corner and into the kitchen, peering at me drinking milk out of the jug, with my boots tucked under my arm and a Ding Dong in the other hand.
Her hair was a little messed and she was tucked into her soft over-sized robe. As usual she looked coolly beautiful in spite of her tired eyes.
"Where are you going?"
"I have a horse show today, I told you."
"Why do you have to leave so early?"
"It's at a new arena, I want to make sure I get there in time."
"Wait a minute, just exactly where is this arena?"
Even at 4 in the morning my mother was one of the sharper tools in the shed.
"It's out east," I told her, "Karen told me I could get there by following the railroad tracks from her house."
"Is she going? Why aren't you catching a ride with her?"
"She's taking two horses today so I have to ride."
"I'm not sure you should ride to an arena you haven't been to before," Mom said.
Her eyes narrowed and she frowned a little just like she did when she worked on the crossword.
"I'll follow the tracks and if I can't get there before noon I'll come home," I assured her.
I started edging towards the door, hoping to get out before she woke up enough to notice I hadn't finished my Saturday morning chores.
"Make it ten, you haven't done your housework," she told me as I slid into the garage to collect my gear.
I clumped down the road with my jeans still stuck half in my boot tops, loaded down with my saddle, bridle and show pad. The cool gray dawn felt clean and a little damp as I made my way down the street, crawled over the Molines back fence, through the ditch and across the field to the barn.
Mort's welcomed me with a hungry nicker as he waited, his neck stretched so he could get his head over the top rail of his reinforced corral.
I threw his hay and three-way in his feeder and cleaned and filled his water tub. I groomed him as he ate. Of course he had a huge green manure stain on his hip.
"Stop moving, we're in a hurry," I said as he stepped away from my scrubbing fingers.
He snorted and buried his head into his hay, unimpressed with my anxiety.
Finally, finally he was done and I saddled him as he tanked up at the water tub. Mort knew me well enough to drink deep before we started out this early in the day.
"If you ride your horse right after he eats keep him in a walk until he passes his first manure," a sage bit of advise from a horsewoman much wiser than me rang clear in my guilty conscience.
Her words helped me walk him for the first ten minutes until I couldn't take it anymore and released him into his long, rolling trot.
Mort blasted air through his nose several times as he settled into his mile eating gait. The sun was up in earnest and the dew laden prairie grass began to crackle and rise as the dry heat rolled to greet us.
The swish of the grass brushing against his legs and the light blue of the horizon deepening into a bowl high over our heads invited us to roam the day away.
It was exciting to be heading someplace new and the prairie lay open in front of us. Within a few miles we would be out of town and crossing the big ranches.
Mort picked up on my growing anticipation and he gave a huge leap to the left as a prairie hen flew up under his nose.
I laughed and grabbed the horn as he jumped again in fun. He kicked into a lope and began to speed up. I leaned forward and let him go. He leveled out and ran. The morning was too glorious to worry about a sweaty coat at the horse show.
Several hours later I was regretting our early morning run. Mort was walking below the tracks, his coat sweated white and crusty. He moved quickly, anxious to be so far from home without a clue where he was.
I was feeling pretty much the same. We had stayed with the tracks, so I knew we weren't lost, but I sure didn't want to turn around and ride the whole way back.
Mile after mile had rolled under Mort's steady feet. We hadn't passed a soul. I had stopped and let him drink at a cattle tank. While he drank I stripped his saddle and splashed him down with double handfuls of water.
I had looked around us and saw nothing but prairie. The only sounds were the creak of the windmill and the buzzing flies.
The sun was high and hot enough to dry Mort within minutes.
I took another quick glance around and stripped my shirt. I dunked my whole head in the tank and soaked my arms and chest.
I looked into my sweaty cowboy hat and wondered how the cowboys in the olden days ever managed to drink out of them.
"Ugh," I told Mort, "if it's drink out of this or die I guess we're done for."
I saddled him again and soaked my head one more time before we left. I tied my shirt to my saddle strings as Mort trotted off, the breeze against my bare skin made me shiver. I stretched my arms out from my sides and stood high in my stirrups.
Now it was hours later and the only reminder of our our cool reprieve was the sore a drying bra strap had rubbed next to my armpit.
We crested a long rolling hill and I pulled up. Mort cut loose with a long and lonesome whinny. The empty show grounds spread out below us.
We had missed the whole thing.