Today, I'm taking part in Elana Johnson's Never Surrender Blog Fest, which is meant to celebrate the release of her sophomore novel, Surrender. Below is one of my experiences.
I discovered the sport of endurance in 1999, went out and bought a horse that was way too energetic for me - but hey, she was gorgeous! I spent 2000 teaching her to walk. Just one loop around the arena at a walk, that's all I wanted before I'd feel safe enough to venture onto a trail. I attended a 15 mile fun ride and - amazingly - was hooked on the sport. Pay no mind to the blisters and that I fought that horse the entire 15 miles. I built muscles for controlling my beautiful bay mare, Venesza, got her in shape and off we went.
After the events of September 11, 2001 we entered a ride called the Outlaw Trail. Five days in the grueling country of south central Utah, where the outlaws hid from the Pinkertons. The history, the terrain, getting away from cell phones, televisions - that was enough for this to be an incredible adventure.
I never intended to ride all 5 days. I'd never done anything like this - and my husband, my navigator, my McGyver had to stay home working. The first day, I held on to the reins with a death grip. We climbed straight up a cliff. Really, we did. Cuz the fire-breathing dragon I rode decided to take a short-cut. I don't know how many places I closed my eyes and just prayed. We finished the day with my horse still full of energy so everyone told me I should ride the second day, so that she would learn to conserve her energy.
I did. We completed, yet again blasting to the finish line. I hadn't planned riding the third day at all. It was the hardest, longest trail, going down to lower, hotter elevations. But everyone said I had to. By this time, there were only four people still riding. I made them promise not to leave me because I knew I'd get lost. One person pulled, concerned that her horse just wasn't feeling right - endurance might sound grueling for the horse, but they love it and endurance people take exceptional care of their horses. We ride for buckets - not money - the horse is everything.
That day I got to ride over the same slick rock that many famous outlaws must have traversed. The end of the course was a several mile climb up a plateau. The horses were tired and hungry - this is the desert. The right thing to do was get off and lead the horses to save their energy. We did, snatching the rare blades of grass and holding them for the horses to nuzzle from our hands while we walked, never stopping. Now anyone who knows me, knows that I don't walk up hills. That's what horses are for! But that day, for my horse, I walked and walked and walked. Once up top, she burst into a trot and raced into camp once again.
I had to go out the next day - it was a moral imperative. My legs were sore, I had blood blisters under my toenails, my back ached, who knows what else, those things are impossible to remember after a few days. But my ailments did not encourage balanced riding on my part, so my horse ended up with a sore back by the end of the day.
I was satisfied. I'd ridden more miles than planned, learned so much about my horse and seen some of the most beautiful country imaginable. But no, the supportive ride managers helped me massage my horse's back and convinced me that she'd be ready to go the next day. They were right. How could I stop now? My horse still danced around, she wanted to go. I decided that no matter what, I would take care of her back and off we went. It was a glorious day. Just three of us riding amazing horses through aspen, flower covered meadows, rocky hills and streams so clear I wanted to jump in and drink and swim.
My horse finished with no soreness. My muscles probably ached, I rode so properly, heels down, balanced and didn't pound her back no matter how little was left in my muscles. I love that horse. I love that ride. I love what I learned then and since about enduring. Never Surrender!
Now go check out Elana's blog http://elanajohnson.blogspot.com/ She's amazing, some of the best advice I've read on query letters and then go buy her books!