Gus—— a perfect cross country ride on his 14th birthday

Gus jumping fence #4 of the Preliminary X-C course
There are not enough words to describe this past weekend.  I showed up with my two horses on Friday expecting to have a  leisurely ride on both, a few baths, and some course walks.  What I got instead was a two hour long battle with Gus, a short and miraculously quiet ride on rhyland, and a discouraging evening.  Gus came to his bath that night with a hot, swollen hamstring.  At first he was trotting up fine, but as the evening progressed, he became nearly 3-legged lame.

It may have been one of the most discouraging moments in my riding career.  All of the time, money, effort, lessons, and work that had gone into getting him to that moment went down the drain.  After cold hosing him several times, Erica and I left for the night.  I cried my way home from Twin Towers, talked to my mom on the phone for moral support, and went straight to bed when I got home.  There was no way in the world I would be riding Gus unless God decided to perform a miracle.

The next morning I arrived at the barn at 7:30am.  My dressage ride time was 8:30.   If I had planned on riding that morning, I would have been there at 6am.  Little did I know……

I met Erica at the wash area.  She was cold hosing Gus’s leg.  I asked her how he was doing and she proceeded to tell me that she had already trotted him up sound in front of a friend.  WHAT??? I asked.  He was half braided, and he had been spot bathed.  I asked her to trot him up for me after I inspected his leg (which was less swollen and less hot).  He trotted out completely sound.   I guess I had a dressage test to ride.  It was now 7:45.

Erica rushed the rest of the braiding.  I ran like an idiot to my trailer to get dressed and get my tack.  I managed to get on my horse exactly 15 minutes before my test started.  No problem…..except for the fact that I couldn’t remember my test!  I hadn’t even bothered looking at it since I knew I wouldn’t be riding Gus.  And, although I had the whistle blown on me once for forgetting where I was going during my test, I ended up with a score of 35 (65%)…….not too shabby considering the way the morning began.  It tied me for 11th place after dressage.  It didn’t really matter—–I knew that there was no way I would get a vet to clear me for the jumping phases…….oh me of little faith.

After the dressage phase, I called on the show vet to come inspect Gus’s leg.  I was supposed to ride stadium at 10:20, and Dr. Nenni was nowhere to be found.  It was about 9:45 when he arrived at my stall to inspect Gus’s leg.  Much to my surprise, he told me that I could ride.  WHAT!!!?????  You have got to be kidding me!!!  I hadn’t really even walked the prelim stadium course.  I ran like an idiot—which sort of seemed like it was becoming the norm—–to the stadium to walk my course twice while Erica put Gus’s jumping tack on.

I got on Gus about 20 minutes before my ride.  He warmed up sound, but was WAY too excited.  After walking some fences and doing some torture circling, he was calm.   And then we got attacked by a bird……yeah, a bird.  It was a red winged black bird to be exact.  Gus may have cantered just a little too close to a nest.  At first the bird was just chasing us….then he was trying to land on Gus’s butt…..then he was flapping about my head and pecking at my helmet…….I screamed like a little girl, and glanced up just in time to avoid a head on collision with another grey horse.   Okay, now we’re ready for a great stadium round.

Somehow, by the time we entered the arena we were together.  I nodded at the judge as she signalled for me to start my course.  I took a deep breath and threw up one last prayer for Gus to stay sound and jump well.  We went double clear.  Unreal.

So I took Gus back to his stall.  The vet told me that if he felt Okay in the stadium, that I should prepare to ride x-c on Sunday.  Prepare I did.  I was going to ride, and this time I had faith.

I walked my prelim course twice and wheeled the distance to find my half way mark.  I had lost sleep on more than one occasion over a few of the combinations on this course.  I analyzed it as best I could, and went back to cold hose Gus one more time before I went home to bed.

Sunday was here.  Wade’s 5th birthday and Gus’s 14th birthday.  It was about to be a fantastic day……I just didn’t know it yet.

Gus warmed up for x-c with Dr. Nenni watching.  He made me do some tight turns, and watched Gus react to different fences.  He was pushing off well, and although he took down a few rails in the warm-up, I knew he was ready for this.

I said my usual prayer in the start box….thanking God for the day, for the ability to be riding this great horse on a day when I didn’t think it possible, and for Gus to jump with wings as eagles.  I asked God for safety for both of us, and that we would return having had a wonderful time.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1……Have a great ride!

It was in that moment that I felt completely at peace, and for the next 4 minutes and 45 seconds, I was flying.  If you have never ridden a horse at 520 Meters per minute, you are missing out.  It is a thrill like no other.  Gus never took a wrong step.  He jumped every fence out of stride.  The only times I slowed him down were when I headed into a tight turn or a combination.   As we crossed the finish line I was screaming and “woo hooing” like an idiot.  The smile that was plastered on my face would remain for hours (and days, if you want to know the truth). 

God’s timing is perfect.  I don’t understand it, and I never will.  Things happen when you least expect it, just when you think hope is gone. 

Gus ended up in fourth place on his dressage score of 35.  There were only 4 horse and rider combinations that went double clear in the cross country phase.   My prizes included a pretty 4 th place ribbon, a water bottle, and some dog treats.  —–none of which  hold a candle to the memories I will take away from the weekend.   Happy Birthday, Gus!

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