I stood off to the side and stayed out of the way while Cindy fretted over her gelding.
I wanted to be consumed with concern over the Saddlebred, but my thoughts weren't much under control.
SHE was supposed to know what was going on. SHE was supposed to have the mega-trail horse. Mort might be skinny but it wasn't MY horse standing in the creek with his eyes shut, his lower lip sagging and his respiration out of control. MY horse was chewing on my hair and looking at me with that, "C,mon. let's go see what's around the corner!" look in his eyes.
I turned my back so Cindy couldn't see my face. My eyes burned and my teeth squeaked with the effort it took to hide my anger. I didn't want to hurt her anymore than the day already had.
We ate lunch in silence, both sunk deep in our respective gloom. After lunch I saw Cindy go check her horse and then speak briefly with the veterinarian. He gestured to a group of riders sitting together on a log, deep in an animated conversation punctuated with occasional outbursts of laughter.
Cindy headed over and was soon deep in conversation with a deeply tanned woman in a baseball cap. The woman looked over at me and then scrutinized Mort. She got up, stretched and then sauntered over to the vet. He flipped through his clipboard and showed her one of the pages. They both turned and stared at my horse again. My stomach flipped and I put a protective hand on Mort's neck.
It was bad enough I was done with the ride, but now somebody was going to yell at me, I just knew it.
By the time the woman walked up to me I was stiff with righteous anger. Endurance races stunk. It wasn't my fault Cindy's stupid horse couldn't hang. Now I was going to get chewed out for something. Somehow her horse going belly up was my fault.
"Are you Janet?" The woman asked me.
Her voice was kind and even, so I risked a quick look and peered up through my bangs at her. Her face was brown and white squint lines streamed from the corners of her friendly brown eyes. She looked pretty old, maybe not as old as my mom, but at least 40. I gave her a quick nod.
"I hear your sponsor had to pull from the ride," she said. "If you want, you can come along with me. You and your horse look pretty fit, and the vet said he has a heart beat as slow as an elephant's."
"Is that a good thing?" I asked her.
"What, riding with me or a heart like an elephant?"
"Both I guess."
"If all these horses had a heart rate like yours we wouldn't need vet checks. As far as riding with me, well, you'll just have to find out. I'm about to head out, so if your break is up why don't you saddle up and come on over."
I saddled up Mort and noticed my hands were shaking. Was it excitement? Maybe. This lady was riding with a small group of riders that seemed to know their stuff. I was going to look like such an idiot. Mort was skinnier than any of their horses. He would easily be the rowdiest. I was going to start hearing all kinds of comments about how bad he was, I was sure. But I really, really wanted to finish the ride.
I decided to put on my "polite for the nuns" school face and ride it out. If they didn't decide I was completely useless maybe I could hang until the end of the ride.
Mort thumped me a good one with his head and jolted me awake. I was standing there daydreaming and my new sponsor and her friends were all mounted and staring at me in a friendly/impatient/puzzled kind of way. My face flamed red and I swung into the saddle and trotted over to them.
"I'm Jenny," the woman who had taken me on said and leaned over to shake my hand.
Each of the ladies introduced themselves. They were relaxed and goofing with each other. Their horses ranged from Arabs to Quarter Horses to varying mixes between the two breeds. They didn't seem to be in much of a hurry but they sure were having a good time. I didn't understand how they could be so relaxed. this was a race wasn't it? Maybe it was because they were so old.
I fell in with this odd assortment of riders and caught on pretty darn quick they had been riding together for years. Feeling very much the outsider I steered my jiggy horse to the outside and resigned myself to a long, slow afternoon.