Saturday, August 30, 2014


"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
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.

This is the opening to the singletrack trail that leads around the side of the mountain. It gets kind of steep and the trail was originally built with logs set in the trail that acted like steps going down. When it washed out last summer it was replaced with the mountain equivalent of flag stones. It was the only time I hand walked the entire ride. It had started to rain harder and I was worried Ashke's boots would slip on the rock. As soon as we crossed that 50 feet of trail, I mounted up again.

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.

Ashke really wasn't sure about the things down below us, like bikes and horses and houses.

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.



  1. I identified with this post in so many ways. When I ride solo, I struggle with thoughts about all the bad things that could happen. Not thoughts about dying, it's actually *never* about dying, it's about things that are far worse: becoming broken in such a way that you are trapped in your body, or in a manner that prevents you from working and end up losing everything. I don't write about it in my posts, but it is something that is always there. It's something that isn't there when we're young but creeps more into the forefront the older we get it seems. I'm not sure if it's related to the fact that as adults we are so much more aware of how important a fully functional body is in our ability to continue enjoying life as we do, or if it's something that is simply related to maturity...or both.

    It is hard to take that kind of fear and stare it down, to put it in its place, especially when riding a nervous horse on a trail on the edge of a steep mountain, alone (and yes, I would have been quite nervous about that drop in those photos! I was nervous about the cliff drop-offs and the canal on the C&O and the trail was 3x as wide as the one you rode yesterday!) And I admire you tremendously for going out there and doing it, because I know how hard it is and it is even harder when you have been in physical pain up until recently.

    It gets better though. The more you go out there and ride alone, the easier it is, the more confident you become in your ability, the more you come to trust your horse, and the more the horse relaxes. Though I find that if I don't go out on the trails by myself for a while, the fear creeps back into the forefront and I have to start all over again.

    One of my favorite quotes and one that I need to constantly remind myself is this: "A life lived in fear is a life half lived." It's from the movie Strictly Ballroom.

    I'm sorry about Squeaker, but it sounds like he is going to be in a great home. I hope you continue to get regular updates on him! And I know it will be good to have peace in your home again among your fur-kids.

    Congrats to T on completing his first cross-country race! It is awesome that he's starting to enjoy it and make friends! Exactly what you and J had been hoping! :)

    1. I realized during my after ride processing that we riders have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to our horses have a rotational fall, or violent spook, or any of the other hijinks horses come up with to separate themselves from us or a situation. We spend so much time learning how to stay on, that I don't know how to come off safely. Or come off not safely. My body and mind tell me I should stay ON the horse.

      This is compounded by the fact that lifting my leg up and swinging it over the cantle of the saddle is difficult at the best of times, but made more so when I am tired. I can not mount from the right due to chronic weakness in my hip and my inability to lift my right leg up, out and to swing it over. One of the first thing Ashke had to learn was that my dragging my leg and foot over his rump when I dismounted was not a thing to spook at. One of the best things I taught him was to "stand" which is my verbal cue that I am going to mount. He is really good about being still. Anyway, I figure I would have a very hard time getting off him if something went wrong.

      I also purchased a Road ID. I would recommend it to anyone that rides or runs alone. It has my name and the city in which I live, plus J's name and number, my mom's name and number, N's name and number and the policy number of my health insurance plan. I figure that was I would be treated immediately and then could contact someone to let them know I was hurt.

      My biggest fear is being killed and not being there for my son. Growing up without a parent is one of the hardest things that can happen to a kid, even one approaching adulthood. It changes so much in our perspective on life that it can change us forever. I like who he is growing to be and don't want to miss out on him.

  2. Great post! I feel like a lot of riders feel this way and never voice it. Also, amazing, rugged trail. Wow.

  3. Love the ear cocked back at you.

    1. Actually, he was cocking his ear down the hill at whatever was bothering him.

  4. Riding outside of the arena is definitely not for the faint of heart. It's a barn rule (my barn, my rules lol) that one of us always rides with a phone attached to our body, and often if I go out alone, I wear my XC crash vest. And that's just for a little short ride in the greenbelt behind our house, on what I would consider to be excellent, practically bomb-proof trail horses! But you just never know what will happen, and we have to be prepared the best we can.

    Despite being a somewhat scary ride, I'm glad you did it together. That is some impressively technical trail!

  5. So freaking thrilled to hear about T and XC! Huzzah.

    And wow. What a ride. I have the same issues with Q out on her own re: focus. The worst was at the OD when the trail was SO technical and she was all, "MONSTER?! OVER THERE?! THERE?!" And I was all, "Please, PLEASE watch your footing. Please? Because I'm watching it and it's pretty scary."

    Q has taught me to trust her a lot on rough terrain though. The majority of our rides through rough terrain have been spectacular and she has been solid throughout. My experiences in the Smokies placed a LOT of doubt in my mind that hadn't been there before; it is incredibly difficult trying to reach the place of comfort I was once at after experiencing things there. I love that you noted how you released your breath to help release some fear and help Ashke keep calm and not lose his shit. I definitely do that a lot and I'm sure others do too, but like Dom noted, few of us ever note it!