Hi guys. I'm glad to be back. I'm not leaving or slowing down, I simply didn't realize how complex and overwhelming my life was going to be. Things might be a little wonky for awhile yet, but are definitely on the upswing. I've missed all of you, believe me.
Thanks so much for the Kindle reviews, I'm already popping up all over. Now to get back to regular posting and life will be good again.
Me and Mort- Pacing
It was cold in the mountains at seven in the morning. I shivered in my T-shirt and turned to untie my saddle strings to get at my jean jacket. The sun was bright, but not hot enough to burn off the fog settled heavy and wet on the floors of the surrounding canyons. Horses and riders milled at the starting line and I sat watching them, my jacket forgotten.
The more seasoned competitors bantered back and forth, their voices clear like a layer of ice along a stream bed, making up for us greenies, who clutched our reins and sat our anxious horses in tight lipped silence. Steam rose from necks and flanks, and coiled with the conversation, thinned and disappeared into an impossibly deep blue sky.
I looked up and felt the ache that always swept through me at the beginning of an endless Colorado morning. Mort shook his head and foam speckled my knees. He didn't know what we were doing, but he was ready. He danced in place, light in the front, until I kicked him to the side.
"He's going to exhaust himself before we ever get going," Cindy said. Her saddlebred gelding stood calm and alert, one hip cocked, oblivious to Mort's antics.
"He's fine," I answered. "He has his own style of warming up."
"I wouldn't worry if he wasn't so thin," she answered. "I just don't know if he's going to have the reserves to get through all 50 miles."
I knew he could go 50 miles. We had covered that distance and more before. On weekends Mort and I routinely trotted over 30 miles just to go visit friends in Black Forest. I had never competed in a race over this kind of distance though. Cindy knew a lot more about these rides than I did.
Maybe he wouldn't be strong enough to keep up with her horse. He was certainly a lot fatter than Mort. His back sagged under Cindy's weight, a sharp contrast to Mort's quivering muscles which easily held my saddle a good two inches off his back. I could see the first three ribs on Mort's sides and the ropey muscles on his shoulders and butt stood out in stark relief.
I didn't really know Cindy. I had wanted to get to this race so bad I had simply jumped at the chance for her to be my ride sponsor. I wouldn't be old enough to ride on my own until I was 18. I'd have to keep up as well as I could. I hoped she'd wait for us. I hoped we didn't ruin her ride.
I could tell by her face she did too.
"Let's get this show started!" the man in the pace car hollered and the horses formed into a loose herd behind him as we walked down the road. Mort jigged and grunted and snapped his short little tail. The sharp smell of nervous sweat filled my nose and I could see the road dust already sticking to his neck and the hollows over his eyes.
Cindy glanced over at us and shook her head.
"He'll be fine once we can trot," I told her.
He didn't let me down. After half a mile of nonsense the car sped up and we moved into a steady trot. Mort immediately levelled out and I was able to loosen my reins. Cindy's gelding moved out with us and I watched her horse with enjoyment. I had never really watched a Saddlebred move with a natural headset and gait, and it was a beautiful thing to see.
His trot was elegant and efficient, his ground covering stride was every bit as fast as Mort's, something I had never seen before.
"What's Mort Doing?" Cindy was watching him move with a puzzled look on her face.
"This is his travelling trot, why?"
"Pacing, his left front and hind go forward, then his right."
"This is how he's always goes."
"Quarter horses don't pace. I thought he was a purebred."
"He's registered, I have his papers. What's wrong with pacing anyway?
"It's fine for a horse who's supposed to pace, like a Standardbred, but in a quarter horse it's probably a sign of lameness or something. How long has he moved like that?"
"Like I said, always."
I quit talking and watched the trail ahead of me, lost in my own troubled thoughts.
What if Mort was lame? What if I had been hurting him trotting him like this? Worst of all, what if pacing meant he wasn't really a Quarter Horse after all?
We covered ground at our usual speed and I had trouble maintaining my gloom and doom. I could never stay down when we were exploring and the trail was gorgeous. Mort might not trot right, but he sure felt good. He snorted and played as we went, his head high and his eyes wide. It was impossible to look at the world through the frame of his pricked ears and not feel optimistic.
"Janet!" Cindy called. "You've got to slow down!"
I glanced behind me and saw her way behind us. I reined in and waited as her gelding struggled up the hill we had just lunged up seconds before.
"I told you to take it easy!" she snapped. "We need to have some horse left to get through the ride!"
Why should we slow down? This was supposed to be a race dammit. Mort was breathing easily and ready to rock. Her gelding was blowing and sweat soaked. So was she.
Somewhere, in the back of my dim little brain, a light bulb began to glimmer.
I kept it slow and we walked most of the way into our first vet check. Mort and I sailed through, his deep and steady P/R brought a smile to the vet's face.
"He's ready to go on right now, good for you!"
Not a word about being too thin, or in poor shape.
We ended up waiting an hour. Cindy's gelding was having a tough time. I watched as she stripped off his saddle and led him into the stream. She stood next to her gelding, up to her knees in the water, gently sponging him off.
It seemed like a great idea, so I stripped off Mort's saddle and hopped up on his back. We waded into the stream and he began to paw great sheets of water behind and over us.
"King Tumba terrorizes tiny toddling tots!" I told him, sliding into our old game with him as my war elephant and me as his simple mahout.
He suddenly dropped in the water and I shrieked as I rolled off him and into the icy brink. Laughing, I scrambled up and waited for him to decide to get on his feet. Mort groaned and stretched out on his side. I threw my leg over and balanced on him. The freezing water cascaded around my makeshift horse dam and soaked us both through.
He finally heaved himself up and I clung to his mane, pushing off with one foot to shift to the middle of his back.
"What are you, eight?" Cindy snapped."How are you going to ride soaked to the skin?"
"It's getting hot, we'll dry off." I mumbled and rode over to let him graze in the sun. This could turn out to be a long day.
Cindy's gelding finally passed his P/R, just minutes before he was pulled. We went on our way at a much slower pace. I didn't dare mention how uncomfortable my damp clothes were. I was wearing corduroys instead of jeans and they were rubbing at my knees as they dried out.
We rode in silence until the lunch stop. As we came into the camp there was another exhausted horse standing in a stream with her owner. The mare stood quietly, her head hanging just above the water. Her lip hung low enough to cause the faintest ripple.
Cindy pulled her gelding after her P/R check.
"I'm sorry Janet, I don't want him to end up like that mare."
"I understand." But I didn't, not even a little.
I understood I was screwed. I couldn't finish the ride without an adult.