-Don't whiz on the electric fence
-Don't eat yellow snow
This weekend, I learned another one quite personally and graphically:
-Don't pee in the palmettos
It all started at the Lake Louisa State Park Trail Obstacle Challenge. This bi-annual event consists of ten items to be negotiated by horse and human. They change from year to year; the current course included (in no particular order):
-A pinwheel of railroad ties to step over
-Poles with tennis balls on top, to be woven through without touching a pole
-A tipping teeter-totter to ride over
-Logs to ride over and a ribbon to tie onto a tree
-Barrels to back up between
-A mattress to ride over
-A giant puddle to ride through
-A rope gate to open, ride through, and close
-Giant timbers forming a "bridge" to ride over
-Hanging pool noodles to ride through
Below are photos of Figment and I negotiating the poles and the tree-tie:
Even though Figgie and I ride through the state park nearly every day, I had no idea how he'd react to the various foreign objects that had suddenly invaded his tranquil territory. Last year, I had planned to ride in the October challenge, but Figgie colicked the morning of the event. For those not familiar with equine illness, that means a massive horsey bellyache. In the worst case scenario, it can be fatal so it's nothing to play around with. Fortunately, a dose of Banamine brought him back around, but it was too late to go on the ride.
But the day before the October event, we had moseyed out on the trails for a sneak preview. You can't ride on the obstacles beforehand, but you can take a look at them. Figment didn't give a hoot about the obstacles themselves; no, my big, brave trail horse had melted down at the white plastic chairs that were placed out for the judges! I had to dismount and lead him gingerly to the Seats of Certain Horsey Doom. I sat in one of the chairs, flailed my arms all over it, and even picked it up. Eventually, he realized that it wasn't ripping me from limb to limb, so perhaps it was also safe for apoplectic Appaloosas to approach.
This year, I hoped he'd remember the benign nature of the chairs so he could concentrate on the real obstacles. Actually, the thing that worried me the most was how he would react to the sudden appearance of dozens of trailers, campers, and tents, as well as a hundred strange horses, in the normally tranquil environs of Lake Louisa. Fortunately, I was riding with the barn owner and her unflappable old mare, Queenie. I was hoping that Queenie's calmness would rub off on my excitable young Appy.
I had bathed Figgie the day before with his special fru-fru shampoo; it's a pink concoction called Pampered Pony or some-such silly moniker. Supposedly it's watermelon scented, but the aroma is no match for those old barnyard standards: Sweaty Horse and Eau de Manure. Still, when I was done, his white rump glowed like a big, hairy beacon of equine good grooming. I brushed his mane and tail into a flaxen shine and crossed my fingers, hoping that he wouldn't roll in the muck the moment I set him loose.
By the next morning he had, indeed, rolled, but thankfully the damage wasn't too God-awful. I arrived at the barn early to brush him out; one of our riding group had checked us in already, so we were slated to start the course at 10:45.
Lake Louisa State Park is right across the street from the boarding barn. Figgie approached non-chalantly, still blissfully unaware of the amazing transformation looming just ahead. Suddenly he stopped dead and his eyes bulged as big as two liquid brown balloons. There were tons of trailers and tents! A verticable covey of campers! Hordes and hordes of humans! And, most exciting of all, a huge herd of horses!
Queenie glanced over at him as if to say, "What's wrong with you?" Feeding off her indifference, Figment decided that perhaps it was safe to do some exploring. His ears were forward and his nostrils were flared as we negotiated the crowd, but fortunately he refrained from flipping into a meltdown.
We met the rest of our group, and at 10:45 we set off on the six-mile course. Figment was a little confused at the way in which the trails had been transformed. Soon, however, he was acting like an old pro. Usually he likes to hang behind, but midway through the course he decided that he didn't mind being the leader. His ears were pricked forward in full equine radar mode as he eagerly scouted out each obstacle.
The only one he refused was the innocuous-seeming rope gate. To human eyes, it was simple: Unlatch the rope from one of the poles, ride between them, and relatch it. But in horsey perception, a thick, orange rope bears way too much resemblance to a commonly-used type of electrified fence tape. Figment couldn't figure out why I wanted to maneuver him so close to the Danger Zone. For 90 seconds (the time limit), I tried in vain to convince him that it was safe, while he was apparently equally devoted to protecting me from a shock.
Oh well, nine out of ten wasn't bad, considering that it was our first-ever try. I was especially pleased that Figgie backed up between the barrels; that was the one obstacle that I was firmly convinced we'd blow. Queenie, the barn owner's horse, did so well that she won third place.
But even though the obstacles went smoothly, I ended up making my own adventure. Halfway through the course, I realized that I had to pee. I mean, I really, really had to pee; there was no way I'd make it through five more obstacles without soaking my saddle. But I didn't relish the thought of bluntly announcing my base bodily need to the rest of the group.
Fortunately, as we approached the next challenge (riding your horse over a mattress), I noticed that there was a horse trough and bottled water just beyond. I figured I could do the obstacle first, then rush over to the rest area, pee in the surrounding screen of palmettos, and be done by the time the rest of the group arrived. We'd all be dismounting anyway to get a bottle of water, so I wouldn't be holding them up. With any luck, they might not even realize that I'd been off tinkling among the trees.
Figgie gingerly bounced across the mattress, and I rushed around the corner to complete my dirty deed. I tied him to a tree, then slipped off to pee in the privacy of the palmetto screen. Unfortunately, I didn't factor in two important items: 1) Saw palmettos got their name for a reason; their leaves are as sharp as a freakin' Ginsu knife; and 2) To a horse, the loud rustle of palmetto leaves translates to vicious wild animal approaching...run!
Apparently, when I disappeared among the loud and all-engulfing shrubbery, Figgie decided that I had been devoured by some stealthy and ravenous creature. The continued rustling convinced him that it was coming for him next. He promptly broke loose and galloped off to the safety of the herd, still gathered at the obstacle.
All eyes were on the palmetto privy as I emerged. So much for a private pee! Now, not only my group knew, but also the judges at the obstacle. I confessed my dirty deed to the group as I reclaimed my horse. Worse yet, the reins had broken, so I had to tie them on precariously to make it through the rest of the ride. After remounting, I noticed that the leaves had sliced my finger as neatly as a knife blade, and it was now dripping with blood. Later in the day, I found a long, gory gash on my leg, too.
The rest of the ride went without incident, other than Figgie keeping a nervous eye on the palmettos that line the trail. My bladder was relieved, but at quite an embarrassing price. I'm already planning to ride in the October trail challenge, but you can rest assured: If I need to tinkle on the trail, it will not be in a palmetto patch!