Points. That's what it's all about. Not the points you get for finishing a ride, either. The high ones. And the low ones.
It rained all of Friday and into Saturday morning. We rode out at 8:00 am after a delayed start. Sarah had pulled that morning. She said the trails were going to be slick -- too dangerous for her taste. Stephanie, Michelle, and I rode together. (Midway through the day, we were also joined by Ester.) We called this little group "The Estrogen Brigade," as it consisted totally of females riding mares. Baby Girl led and kept pace, and I navigated. I never thought Baby Girl would ever be a lead horse, but she nailed it like a pro.
It was awfully pretty after the sun came out.
I didn't do my job as well as Baby Girl did hers. I managed to misread some ribbons and cut off a mile of trail right before the second P&R.
I had no idea until Carol and Regina (who had been in front of us before I cut trail) trotted up to the P&R two minutes after my group arrived.
They curtly informed us that we cut trail -- a fact which we were unaware of until it we were shown on the map what we did. After they got us to admit to it, Carol began to raise almighty hell.
Last year, Carol fell from her horse during a ride. Her horse left her behind. She caught the horse a couple miles down the trail, and Carol got on and rode the rest of her mileage. However, NATRC rules state that all forward progress must be made while mounted. Therefore, Carol didn't complete the mileage legally and did not legally finish the ride.
Now, Carol wanted us disqualified. And her hell raising at the P&R wasn't helping my group's case to stay legal. She was going to report us at the end of the day.
Ester said, "If she's going to get us disqualified, why even bother going out for our next loop?"
Because Michelle and I were not letting someone's bitch attitude scare us off the trail, and the rest of the group was along for the ride.
So off we went. I was scared to death of being disqualified, Michelle was mad, Ester was annoyed... And Stephanie was her normal happy self. Because that's Stephanie for ya.
We made it through our first day. Back at camp, the controversy was discussed by the rules interpreter and judges. It was easily decided that the Brigade was safe from disqualification.
But the Brigade was still pissed, and all the (uninvolved) riders were taking sides. Another ride. Another war.
That was Saturday's drama. Which was nothing compared to the near tragedy of Sunday.
The Brigade (minus Stephanie, who was only doing 25 miles) rode out together on Sunday morning behind Carol and Regina. Carol and Regina were dragging, and we kept catching up to them.
Around an hour into the ride, we found Carol stopped on the trail at the foot of a rocky climb that looked like stair steps. "Can we pass?" asked Ester.
Carol was standing between her horse and Regina's horse, holding the reins. She turned and tensely hissed, "No. Someone fell off."
Ester, Michelle, and I sat on our horses for a moment, processing this information. People fall sometimes, but the atmosphere at this fall wasn't normal. I noticed Gary and Marty's horses were standing off to the side of the trail. The reins were over their heads, and the horses weren't moving. Gary and Marty were no where to be seen.
I asked, "How bad is it? What happened?"
Carol told me she wasn't sure, but we just needed to wait a minute. Regina appeared from behind the rocky stair steps and franticly asked if we had any vet wrap.
We gave her what we had. Regina had no time to explain much and scrambled up the rocks and back out of sight. Two minutes later, Regina appeared again and asked for coats, saddle pads, and shirts.
At this point, we finally learned what was happening. Paula needed to stay warm. She was going into shock.
Paula had attempted to take an alternate route around the stair steps. The alternate trail and the stair step trail were divided in the middle by a ditch and a vertical wall of rock. The alternate rose 15 feet above the normal trail.
The exact reason is still not known, but Coco fell off the edge and into the ditch. She fell 15 feet and landed on Paula.
Here's a picture. Does it no justice.
She ended up down there.
Regina handed me a pile of coats and saddle pads to bring to Paula. I scrambled up the rocks and over the hill. I will never forget... Paula was laying on a rock, wrapped in blankets. Her right eye was swollen completely shut, and she looked deathly pale. In fact, she looked dead.
Coco stood a few feet away, shaking. Her knees, shoulder, and right side were torn. Her leg was emitting a steady flow of blood, which pooled around her hoof.
I didn't look for more than 15 seconds, and I'll still never forget.
I stood with the horses while everyone else was with Paula. The horses didn't need much watching. Every one one of them (seven total) stood solemnly. Respectfully. I think they knew something was wrong.
It took two hours to get the EMTs down into the valley. Marty led Paula across the river and up the mountain a ways on her horse Prime. Gary followed. This left Ester, Michelle, Regina, Carol, and I alone in the valley and unsure what to do. We stood next to each other in total silence until the ride manager arrived.
"What do you folks want to do now? About the ride?" the manager asked.
What ride. We forget about the ride.
"I guess we need to get back to camp and see what we can do," Regina finally managed.
Regina had her hands full with Paula's things. Her glasses; her cracked, broken helmet; her water bottles; a bloody rain coat. We all took a few pieces and tied them to our saddles. (I took Paula's helmet and strapped it Baby Girl's breast collar.)
Ester mounted her mare Dana and started climbing the stair steps. Dana attempted to go the wrong way around a tree. Ester tugged the mare over, throwing Dana off balance a little. Dana threw her head, and both Ester's reins ended up on the same side of Dana's neck.
Ester screamed. She had a panic attack. I caught Dana by the bridle and led her down the stair steps again. Ester leapt off and sat on the ground. We all took this as permission to finally cry. We were all so broken and shaken.
We did make it out eventually, but never parted. The entire open division (including Marty and Gary, once they finished getting Paula out) stuck together, in silence again, for the remaining miles.
Our final two miles was through a massive cow pasture. I don't remember who said it first, but someone suggested we ride like a drill team. In a wing formation, with "Sargent Gary" as the point.
We did. And suddenly we were all laughing, delirious with happiness. Just from riding in a triangle.
"You know, this is a response to trauma," Marty said. "The littlest thing just makes you so giddy."
Paula ended up with a broken wrist, a few broken ribs, a back injury, and a broken bone under eye. Coco was stitched up and should recover quickly. It was miraculous that Paula didn't die in that ditch. I love that women so much, and I hope she'll ride again.
You go to rides and hope your horse is amazing. But sometimes, amazing things happen among people too.