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GERA, Part Three

I've had my coffee, munched on a couple Granola bars for breakfast, fed the 
horse a few grams of feed (not too much!!) and am ready to saddle up.  The 
50's kick off at 6:30,  my ride (the measly 25) leaves at 7:00.  Dance Line 
is jumpy, but not as bad as our first ride together.  This time I don't 
intend on him taking off on me and terrorizing these nice Georgia people.

We're saddled up and ready to go.  I don't have the butterflies as much as I 
did on my last ride, but since this is ride number 4 for me I guess I'm 
getting seasoned.  Since I haven't grown any I still have trouble getting on 
my Saddlebred.  I hear Kay, my coffee dealing neighbor,  tell someone, "He 
sure is short for that horse."  I let her know that I heard that, and the 
group of Kay's friends all laugh. I think one of them said Wilt Chaimberlin 
would have been short for that horse.  Haha.   I find a tree stump, get Dance 
to settle down and mount my giraffe.  He rears up just a bit, for show I 
think,  and away we go.  Dance always reminds me of those Thoroughbred race 
horses right before the start of a race, dying to get going and having a 
jockey barely able to control them, as they arch their necks and prance out 
with so much energy it looks kind of scary.  Well, this is what I think we 
look like right before the start of an endurance race.

He prances down this large concrete area, which must have been a former 
helicopter pad where the military bought in the nuclear stuff, and makes a 
loud tapping sound that Sammy Davis Jr. would have envied.  Dance is full of 
life and appropriately named.  We warm up going back and forth, close to the 
start and the vet check area.  He gets a lot of compliments on his appearance 
from the other riders and onlookers.  I'm surprised at how many guess, 
correctly, his breed.  Southerners are familiar with Saddlebreds, although 
you don't normally see them here in the land of ARABIA.  We have definitely 
won the tallest horse award this morning. 

Since he likes to keep moving all the time, I position us at the rear of the 
start.  I end up regretting this decision later, not realizing how the trails 
are laid out.  The clipboard lady does a time check, and we have two minutes 
to go.  The butterflies kick in and I check my pack to make sure I have the 
map and vet check card.  I  have no intention on making a wrong turn this 
run.  Little do I know that wrong turns will not be a problem here.

I've started races with 30 and maybe other 40 riders before, but never with 
this many.  And this is my first controlled start.  And it's now showtime.  
We're off.  But too slow.  We're walking and horses are running into each 
other as one starts to trot, stops and walks and the horse behind gets way 
too close.  And I got a horse with a red ribbon tied to his tail, right in 
front of me.  Just my luck.  The trail is so thin here, there is no way to 
stay clear except to keep back.  Not an easy thing to do on a Saddlebred who 
likes to jump over smaller Arabs.  Dance Line wants to pass them all and I'm 
having problems keeping him back.  We go about a mile and still haven't 
gotten the green light.  I find myself not liking this controlled start at 
all; it's actually more dangerous than it would be if they just let us go.  

All of a sudden a lady ahead of me, on a horse that definitely has some 
quarter in her, starts bucking like crazy.  The horse is just going nuts, 
actually kicking herself in the stomach as she throws her head down and later 
kicks her legs out, just like a bronco in a rodeo.  The riders next to her 
scramble for cover and I hear some of them grumble that this horse is not 
ready for endurance.  The rider holds on, even though this is all happening 
on a very steep incline.  Then someone yells, "BEEEEEEESSSSSSS,  
BEEEESSSSSSS," and people haul butt.  I get stung on my wrist and notice that 
it's actually a Yellow Jacket.  Simultaneously, the controlled part of the 
start ends and we are off loping and running from crazed Yellow Jackets.  It 
is quite a madhouse, every woman (and one man) for herself.   And I'm loving 

The lady on the bronco held on and gets her horse into a normal trot.  She's 
right in front of me now, and I find myself thinking that one thing I've 
noticed in endurance riding: I have yet to see a weak rider.  One way or 
another every rider I've seen in this sport can hang on and usually control 
their horse.  Even the Rookies, myself included, can usually keep their seat, 
and don't normally lose it.  You got to respect the competition, even if some 
of them are unorthodox.  

This is Dance's first exposure to hills, and I hear there is a river to 
cross.  He's never seen a river, so I'm a little concerned.  The footing has 
a lot of those little rocks scattered everywhere, but everyone continues to 
trot.  There is no room to pass, and this bothers Dance cause he wants to 
pass all of them.  There is still a traffic jam here and I'm hoping that, 
soon, we will get a wider trail.

After about two miles, we come up to a gate, make a right hand turn and are 
on a paved road.  The grass shoulder is wide enough to pass and my horse 
wastes little time.  Passing left, right, or just passing I say to all the 
riders as we fly by.  He goes into his lope and I let him.  He loves this 
gait and so do I.  Like a magic carpet ride and this is the only time I enjoy 
flying.  We go and go and go until there isn't anyone left to pass.  I bring 
him back down to an extended trot and we are still hauling.  Most Arabs will 
have to lope to keep up with Dance's long legs here.

I spot my neighbors up ahead, Bernie & Kay, and they are both loping.  They 
aren't on Ridecamp so don't know that you're supposed to go slow.  Long, 
slow, distance is the theory, cause it sure isn't reality at this race.  This 
run seems to be short, fast, and haul ass.   Bernie's horse is a Tennesee 
Walker, looks nothing like my horse, but his lope matches.  I get behind him 
and all of a sudden Bernie isn't loping anymore.  He just kicked it up a 
notch.  We do this for a while, up and down slightly graded hills.  Then we 
hit the woods, and the trail becomes so skinny I have to lock my knees in and 
point my toes down and around Dance's belly.  Sometimes I have to shift my 
weight or take one leg out of a stirrup to miss a tree.  This is a trail that 
I would normally walk, but here everyone is trotting and some are loping.

This woodsy area brings to my attention that my horse is longer than the 
others, and I have trouble negotiating the turns around the trees and staying 
on the trail.  To add to this, Dance is so damn hyper he still wants to pass 
every horse he sees in front of him.  His enthusiasm is contagious, so I let 
him go.  Wham, my knee just hit a tree.  Man, that hurts, slow down Dance, 
slow down.

One word of advise to my fellow rookies.  Wear a damn helmet.  I just crashed 
into three overhead branches and if I didn't have one on I'd be unconscious 
or extremely dizzy (more than usual) by now.  The terrain has become more 
hilly and I'm glad to see the riders ahead of me slowing down to walk down 
the steep inclines.  Trouble with Dance is when he walks he prances, so he 
isn't saving much energy or cooling down at all.  Other than the steep 
inclines, there is no walking here.  I'm getting the feeling that we are all 
going way too fast, but I have to admit I'm loving every minute of it and so 
is my horse.  I'm glad that I have 6 or 7 riders in front of me, cause even 
though I know I could pass them all, my horse would burn himself out if I 
did.  And I also know I need riders in front of me to cross that river.

And then we're there.  The river crossing.  And to get to it you have to go 
down a steep incline with walls of GA clay, kinda like going down a narrow 
road (trail) with mountains alongside you.  Exept these mountains are mounds 
of clay that go over your head and are so close that your leg rubs against 
them as you go lower towards the river.  And it's wide and running. It's 
kinda like the downward beginning of a tunnel, one made of clay,  without the 
roof.  And instead of going under the river, you go into the river.

I get to the bank and Dance freezes.  He just stops, looking at it wondering 
why it's actually moving.  If I were alone here there is no way I'd get my 
horse across this.  But my horse is so into this run, he just exhales loudly 
(I love it when horses do this cause it usually means they're gonna give in 
to your absurd demand), looks up and steps right into the river.  I want to 
sponge here, but I've heard the footing is not good, so I just follow the 
others.  Some of the horses stop in the middle of the river, the water is up 
to their bellies, and they take a drink.  With Dance, the water just passes 
his knees, and he stops to drink also.  I love this horse.

We finish crossing the river and go up a very steep incline.  Again, up thru 
these walls of GA clay.  The hill is so steep that I really have to push 
Dance to get him to the top.  And off we all go, about 7 of us in a group 
here.  And we're all loping and trotting once again.  I glance at my watch 
and see we've been on the trail for over an hour.  I have a feeling we don't 
have much further to camp because of this fast pace we've set for ourselves.  
The weather is still cool to me and the vast number of trees here make sure 
that you never see the sun.  I am really enjoying my ride and just can't 
believe how much I love this sport.

We come to a creek, stop and try to get the horses to drink, and a rider 
comes by and informs us that there is a riderless horse (grey Arab) running 
loose around the woods and asks us to keep an eye out.  We leave the creek 
area and, as usual, start trotting and loping again.  Nobody wants to walk 
and I guess that's going to be the pace set all day.  I pass a few riders but 
don't want to take the lead of the group.  I just know Dance will burn 
himself out and I hate trying to follow the ribbons anyway.

We get to the river again, and this time Dance doesn't hesitate at all.  In 
he goes and he starts drinking.  I reach back to get out my sponge, throw it 
into the river and watch it float away downstream.  The damn clip that I had 
attached to the string had somehow dislodged itself from my sponge pouch and 
away they both go.  Damn, sponging on the fly in a saddle is something I got 
to work on.

We finally reach the vet check area.  I borrow a sponge from someone and soak 
down my horse.  I know his heart rate is going to be up, so I wander over to 
my hay and he eats.  People pass us by and comment on Dance Line.  "He's so 
tall," says one.  "Isn't he beautiful?" says another.  I'm just eating this 
up, like I had anything to do with it.  Well, I do feed him, so I guess I can 
take some of the credit.  

We make it thru the vet check OK.  Some old gal did butt in front of me while 
I was in line, telling me she had a new horse and had to do this quickly.  
This bothered me but I just let it pass cause she looked tough and rugged and 
could probably take me.  We got mostly A's, one B minus for the gut check, 
and when it came to running and trotting with Dance Line, we did alright, but 
I did overdo the turn and ended up heading towards another horse and rider 
head on.  We missed each other and some of the onlookers thought this was 
purty funny.  Hey, if it's entertainment you all want, you should have seen 
my first ride.

I let Dance eat some more and notice we only have a few minutes left until 
we're allowed to leave to begin our second loop.  All of a sudden I hear 
Angie yelling, "Rider down, rider down" and a bunch of the staff, all wearing 
bright yellow T-shirts, pile into a pickup and they take off down the road.  
I hope that person was wearing a helmet.  This sport is not for the faint of 
heart, that's for sure.  I hope the person is alright and that the Award's 
Banquet tonight doesn't turn into some kind of Memorial Service.  

It's time to go so I walk Dance Line to an area kind of away from the other 
horses and get onto a log so I can get back on.  He's moving well, but not as 
anxious as when we first started.  I head out to the second loop, which is 
actually the same place as the first.  The two loops separate after about 7 
miles or so.  And away we go.

I've got Dance walking up the first hill, but he prefers running up hills, so 
I loosen the reins and let him set his own pace.  Up we go, and I spot a 
young teenage girl, with the brightest flaming red hair I've ever seen,  
coming our way.  She's loping and I hope she slows down soon or we're going 
to have a head on.  I'm not crazy about this against the grain portion of the 
trail, but what can you do?  I yell at her cause she hasn't even looked my 
way, what she's looking at I have no idea.  I'm kind of out of touch with the 
"teenage-eze" language, so I try a YOOOOOO.  I've heard my teenager use this 
word for attention and it seems to work with this young redhead.  She slows 
down, and we pass each other in an area where there normally would only be 
room for one horse.  I hate falling of my giraffe, so I will go out of my way 
to avoid the experience.

I'm approaching the Yellow Jacket area, so I whisper in Dance's ear, 
reminding him where we are, and off he flies.  I know the damn things nest in 
the ground, so I study the terrain more than normal as we gallop thru the 
woods.  My head hits another branch, WHACCCKKKKKKKK.  Helmet check, all is 

NOTE:  I'm getting lengthy here, and for this I apologize.  I'll try and 
conclude this thing this week.  Hope it's not too boring.


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