― Frank Herbert, Dune
Fear is a funny thing. It can still thought and breath and your wits. Courage is not a lack of fear, courage is feeling the fear and moving forward anyway. Finding courage when you are by yourself is difficult enough, but when you add a 1100 lb animal into the mix, it can become very volatile very fast.
Today started very early for me. I was up at 4:45 to get the Boy ready for his first cross-country race. He wasn't running at all three weeks ago and today he completed his first 5k without walking any of it. Pure persistence on his part. He was greeted at the finish line (last runner to cross from the varsity race) by a Senior running mate who congratulated him and walked him back to the group. We are very happy with the encouragement and team focus of this group and T finally has friends that seem to think he is worth hanging out with.
We got home from the meet about two and J was feeling too bad to go for a ride with me. We had to rehome Squeaker, due to interspecies attempts at disassemblage (Squeaker and Lily did not get along and teaching Lily that she could grab a cat by the back of the neck and shake them would not have been conducive to her continuing to live non-violently with our other animals.) J is feeling very sad about the need for us to find a new home. He was such a great cat. He went to a home where he will live in the garage and horse barn on a couple of acres. He's a good hunter and there are both mice and
birds for him to hunt. The woman who is taking him loves cats and will give him lots of affection and attention. He should do well there.
So, J was depressed and sad and not feeling good. It didn't seem fair to make her come out with me. I was having a lot of Ashke withdrawal, since I had not been out to see him since Monday. I bailed on taking Squeaker to his new home and headed for the barn instead.
First thing, Ashke got his feet done this morning by Dan Craig, DAEP. I think we have a winner. Ashke's feet looked really good this evening and well-shaped. The boots went on pretty good, although at the end of the ride I pulled the inserts out, since I don't think he needs them and they were putting a lot of pressure on the frog.
Anyway, I got saddled up and we headed out.
It's been a couple of weeks since we rode up the Mesa and he was feeling it today. We cantered the uphills and trotted the not-so-steep downhills. We had to stop to breathe (him) three times up the fire road to the top of the mesa. It was late afternoon and true to form for this summer, there were clouds and the threat of rain in the air.
As you can see from Ashke's ears, he wasn't sure about the ride. Everytime he came to a cross road he recognized, he tried to turn back. It's been a year since he and I rode out a lone, and this was the first time we rode this trail this summer. In fact, it was the first time since the jacket and the rattlesnake. I hadn't planned on doing the loop when we started out, since I had heard part of the trail was washed out due to the flooding last year, but I asked a very nice bike rider who stopped to let us trot past if the far trail was open and he said yes. (We only crossed four bike riders all ride.) I decided then to ride over and check it out. If it was muddy or it felt too scarey then I would turn around and ride back. Either way it would extend my ride. My goal is 40 miles in three days.
Ashke had "I'm not sure about this" ears for the majority of the ride. We went all the way across the Mesa and started down the ravine. It had started sprinkling but it felt good. When I looked at the app after the ride, it defined the weather as moderate rain with a humidity of 19%. Good ole Colorado. The sprinkles cooled me and Ashke off, but didn't really have any other effect. As we started down the defile on the far side of the plateau, it began to rain harder. It made me scared.
When I get scared I sing, especially if I am alone because Ashke doesn't care and there are no humans whose ears will bleed. I sang "Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day." It worked for a little while and the rain tapered off. There was no lightning. Lightning would have been a deal breaker and I would have gotten off the Mesa asap.
I've discovered that riding this trail is a hell of a lot scarier than hand walking it. Especially since my idiot horse walks the trail with his head turned sideways, looking uphill. I had to keep some contact with the downhill rein to keep him focused on the trail. Uphill has heavy bushes and tall shale cliffs, so I can understand why he wants to keep an eye on them, but having him walk on the outside edge of the trail overhanging a steep drop with his head pointed uphill wasn't doing my heart any favors. I am getting older you know.
We did not trot any of this trail. I know it probably isn't that steep or that serious to all you endurance riders, but to me it was terrifying. This is my fourth ride on this trail and I knew what to expect, but it still got to me. I checked my app at one time and we were walking at a 2.6 mph pace. Remember this for later. Also, it started to really rain and I was feeling uncomfortable with the amount of moisture that was hitting the trail. I whispered a prayer to the wind, letting it carry my request to the Creator. I have too many needs waiting for me at home for either of us to get hurt. The rain stopped a few moments later. The trail was dry and as safe as it could have been for the rest of the ride.
Ashke snorted most of the ride. Some of the time is was happy to be moving at a canter snorts, but mostly it was OMG-we-are-about-to-die snorts. He spooks at the same things ALL THE TIME. Rocks and bushes. There were a lot of rocks and bushes on the trail. And by spook I mean more like a flinch that makes me flinch. He's gone sideways a couple of times we were galloping on trail, but we weren't galloping. At least not here.
This trail has three main sections. The first section is all downhill and has a significant drop off to the right. The second section is where the mountain curves in on itself, and the drop off is non-existent. There are lots of trees and big rocks and shoulder high brambles. There is a also a shale slide that looks like a small cliff suddenly became a mountain of hand sized chips. The third section is where the mountain curves out again and the drop off returns.
Just past the shale slide, Ashke came to a sudden and complete halt. His head was up and his nostrils flared. He was staring uphill at the brambles and cliffs. I could feel the tension flash through his body and when I stroked his neck the muscles under my hand were rock hard. I have no idea what he smelled. I wondered at the time if he had gotten a whiff of big cat (mountain lion) or of something else. (In retrospect, it could have been moose. We have one that has been wandering the mountain for a couple of months.) It scared me, but I knew if I allowed myself to feel it, Ashke was primed to lose his shit.
I scanned the area again, breathing deep to release the fear. I couldn't compound what was happening with Ashke, because he felt ready to explode. I stroked and patted him, telling him what a good boy he was, which is our signal that he is safe to move ahead. When he finally moved forward, he tried to trot down the trail, obviously wanting to put distance between us and whatever had spooked him.
I started thinking about what would happen if Ashke really spooked or slipped or jumped sideways. I'm pretty sure whatever happened I would not get out of the way on time, or out of the saddle in time. My poor body doesn't have those kind of reflexes. In fact, my stupid body would try to stay in the saddle regardless if we were walking down the trail or rolling sideways down the mountain. Can I tell you that worrying about that while you are on the side of a steep mountain where you might or might not have scented something that could possibly eat you is counter intuitive.
We continued on.
This is the section of trail from last summer that had the rattlesnake and where I left said snake covered with my jacket. Alas, my jacket was not there. Neither was the rattlesnake. This trail is a lot scarier than it might look.
More scary trail. But I rode it.
Once we got back onto the canal we trotted and cantered the rest of the way home. He pretty much kept an ear cocked sideways for the majority of the ride. We made it safely back to TMR without issue.
I am wiped and very sore tonight. I guess we will see if I make my goal.