The Trail Ride -or- The Day I Almost Killed One of My Best Friends

Yesterday, my friends, I went on a trail ride that will live on in infamy as the single greatest cluster to have occurred at our fine equestrian center.

It began more than a month ago, when Mr. Jones came by the barn. He was asking if he and his friends could park here. They were all going to “car pool” down to an Atlanta Falcons game, the “car” was a gigantic luxury coach bus they’d rented, and it needed room to turn around. We said sure they could do that, and Mr. Jones added that his son, his wife and three kids were coming for Thanksgiving and they wanted to ride horses on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. We said that’d be great.

The Falcons game arrives, and again Mr. Jones mentions the ride. They wanted a ride for four, but Ginger has been out with an abcess. They amended the ride to three adults and two kids for a pony ride. He says, “make the reservation for after lunch.” Then gets on the bus and leaves. Well, “after lunch” really isn’t too specific, and we’d already booked one ride in the early afternoon. I begin a game of phone tag with Mr. Jones that goes on forever, and he’s clearly annoyed by it. Which, in turn, annoys me. Finally, we connect and I book him for noon.

Now, a month goes by. Our schedule becomes so complicated with families booking, canceling, re-booking, changing their schedule, on and on, you’d need a flow chart to follow it. And also, three days ago, Butter’s arthritis flared up to the point she was put on stall rest.

Now, we have a black book in the office where rides are scheduled, and a giant erase board calendar on the wall outside. Somewhere in all that hullabaloo, that Jones family disappeared.

On Saturday we started very early. I had two pony rides, given two one hour lessons, ran to get lunch, because we had the Whitakers at noon, and when I came back – there were Joneses. There for the 11:30 ride. (11:30??? I have no idea where that came from.)

OHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO….. Says I. In that deep, distorted-by-slow-motion sort of way.

Melissa and I go into frantic mode.

Melissa

Melissa, aboard Gigi, leads a trail ride. This one did not involve a near death experience.

There was much confusion and chaos, but ultimately we ended up with the little girl on Lady, the brother on Scout, the dad (a complete novice) – on Gigi – our new horse who had never been ridden EVER by anyone other than a very experienced rider, and the mom on Ginger.  Please do not call PETA on us. Melissa and I debated it long and hard, and Ginger had not been limping, she was six weeks out from her abcess, and so we put a boot on her and off we went.

Melissa and I are on foot.

I lead the way, with Lady behind me, and I have to set a wicked pace so the horses don’t get too jammed up – they need to be properly strung out. Plus, I had adrenaline on my side. Right as we’re leaving the arena, me in the front and Melissa in the back with the dad and Gigi, Melissa says, “can you do this by yourself?”

I practically yell, “NO. I need you with me.” Melissa laughs, “I’m not sure I am going to make it.”

I start cursing Melissa in my mind. What the hell is she doing? Trying to abandon me with these four complete novice riders, most of whom have never even sat on a horse before. I was angry. And so I walked faster. Now, I am short, but when I want to walk fast, I can hustle. So we’re flying along this trail, it’s an hour long, a lot of hills. And I mean HILLS.

We get halfway around. Now, we did this trail THE DAY PRIOR. What is in our way? A gigantic tree that has fallen across the trail during the night. It was semi-rotted, but truly a massive tree. At least 14 inches in diameter. We couldn’t walk over it because of the limbs and because that trail is like a gulley – the tree had fallen, hit the other side, broke in the middle and sat there making a V shape. I told Melissa to stay with the riders, that I was going to move it. I go over there and try to move it. There is no way. But I think, maybe I can break off enough limbs that they can walk over. So I am struggling with this, and Melissa says, gruffly, “you can’t move it so stop trying.”

 Nobody tells me I can’t move a downed tree. It is what I do.

I grab a limb and haul one end off, but I can’t let it go or it’ll roll back into the way. So everybody has to pass me while I am holding it in place. The mom was seriously freaked out. 

We continue on, and as Melissa led the group past the tree, she wound up in front and now I was back with the dad and Gigi. And he starts going on and on about how wonderful she is. He’d only ever ridden his sister’s Appaloosas, he said, and they’d thrown him twice. Gigi was a “babydoll” he said. Which made me smile. 

He also said he knew his dad was furious about the reservation problem but that he’d talk to him. 

We’re getting kind of close to the end, and kind of close to the end is one gigantic mother of a hill that goes straight up forever and forever. Melissa stops and says, “you’ll have to take the lead.” I’m thinking she needs a break from setting the pace, so I take over and march up the hill. Now, once you get to the top of this hill a bad thing happens – it keeps climbing. Not nearly as steep, but you don’t get a break. So I am climbing and climbing, head down, just doing it. This goes on forever. We finally reconnect with the main trail. The dad says, “I guess we lost somebody.”

What? I say.

“Yeah, Melissa’s not there anymore. I guess she got tired.”

Everything inside me freezes – MELISSA IS SEVERELY DIABETIC.

“Can you do this by yourself? I don’t think I can make it.”

Code words from a diabetic trying to tell her friend that her insulin pump isn’t working. What does her friend yell back?

“NO. I need you to come with me.”

I THEN REMEBER I DON’T HAVE MY CELL PHONE.

I tell the family Melissa is a diabetic and the father offers me Gigi. I say that’s okay, and I run as fast and as hard as I can back down the trail. There is no Melissa within 200 yards. I come back, and tell the dad that yes, I will take his horse. I would have rather had Lady, but I couldn’t take the horse from the little girl, Ginger was hurt, Scout had a little boy on him – only Gigi makes sense. But Gigi is young, green, and extremely herdbound. EXTREMELY herdbound. She’s only been taught one thing – walk on a trail.

The dad offers me his helmet and I decline – I remembered he was wearing a large, and that’s too big for me, and I can’t take a helmet off of anybody else. I don’t adjust the long, long stirrups, because I am figuring I am going to find Melissa and put her up on Gigi and she has such long legs.

I dramatically tell the dad, “I need you to lead your family back to the barn!” It was very Last of the Mohicans.

And off Gigi and I go, and bless her heart, she gives me no problem. Except she’s definitely freaking out on the inside, wondering what’s going on, feeling my tension, but I just keep telling her what a brave mare she is, and she believes me. We run back to where we last saw Melissa – there’s no Melissa. I cannot figure out where she could have gone. I run up the big long steep hill, and at the top of that hill is Petey the Mule’s pasture. He belongs to a neighbor. We race to the top of the hill, and Petey appears, spooking Gigi, who rears and wheels.

Now, you could say I fell off, but I think it is more accurate to say I made an emergency dismount.  I landed on my feet in any case, and took this as a sign that I needed to go ahead and shorten the stirrups.

I get back on and decide to head to the gatehouse. As the crow flies it’s not far away, and I figure if Melissa realized she was in trouble, she may have gone there. In any case, I can ask for help. Between Gigi and I and the gatehouse is woods, Petey’s pasture, and manicured landscaping that lines the drive to the gatehouse.

Unbelievably Gigi is incredibly brave and generous about wading through woods, snaking along Petey’s pasture, and putting a good number of hoofprints into the landscaped hillside.

We then go trotting right down the middle of Cleo Chapman Highway, as I am hoping the guard will see us and come out. That part was actually kind of cool. Our gatehouse is very grand, and I thought that this must of have been what it was like coming up to a big estate before there were cars.

Anyway, fantasyland aside, the stupid guard sees us, but won’t come out. So Gigi and I have to go through the gate like a car. I tell him what’s going on and circle while he’s making calls. Gigi doesn’t mind the traffic too much, but not getting anywhere, just circling, is making her antsy.

Finally the guard finds Melissa – she’d regained consciousness and cut straight through the woods towards the Equestrian Center, and because she had her cell phone, was able to call Hugh the maintenance man for help, and he had come and gotten her. She was okay.

So, there is nothing for it but to hoof it down Cleo Chapman Highway. We have ten minutes before our next ride, and Gigi and are I needed.

We trot along the side of the road for about a ½ a mile. Everybody who passes us waves, like oh look! Isn’t it nice to see a girl out for a ride on her white horse! And I wave back like, yeah! The last hour and a half have been fantastic!

Gigi and I arrived on time, and after a brief break, where Melissa and I strangely spent about ten minutes laughing hysterically, we took out an incredibly uneventful ride with the Whitakers, who had kindly allowed their ride to be bumped back to one.

 The end.

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