Finally our start time came. We walked out of camp. John wasn't nearly as cantankerous about leaving camp as he had been at Pine Tree, and I took this to be a good sign.
We were riding alone, and I knew the other riders were two minutes ahead and more would be coming two minutes behind, I just hoped that I could stay alone long enough to get John calm and focused. I kept him at a walk.
Unfortunately, the group of six riders was not walking, and soon caught up to us. We heard them long before we saw them. And composure John had been gaining, quickly went out the window. I rode off trail, continuing straight instead of turning right, so that they could pass me. They yelled to me as they went the correct way to make sure I knew to turn around. We fell in behind them (a good distance back though!) and John calmed down a bit.
Soon, the Lasher's caught up to us. I let them pass, and stayed behind them for awhile, but couldn't get my pace right. I was always having to stop and walk. I decided to try and match their pace, and see if John could just stay behind them. This was very challenging for him, he really wanted to pass them, but he was managing to listen and stay behind.
This tactic was working well for awhile, until Joanna's horse tripped and fell on a rock and she fell off. We stayed with them while she got her breath back (wind was knocked out of her) and then continued on alone. Two other horses had passed us while I waited with the Lashers', and I did let John pass them.
This worked well, for about five minutes. We had been traveling down a dirt road, and were now required to cross a mesh wire bridge. You read that correctly.
The bridge was steel, or some sort of metal and was mesh - the holes were 1/2 or so, but you could see the water in the river below. John said, "No way!" And really, who could blame him.
I knew the two horses we had passed had been on the circuit a lot longer so we waited for them to catch up and then followed them over the bridge. I thanked them and passed them again.
At this point someone else on a Morgan caught up to us and her horse was another horse that "has to lead." This is when things got a bit out of hand. We were playing leap frog for awhile, with neither horse wanting to back down. It was obnoxious. I got frustrated and tried to pass her for once and all, and get a good distance between us. A few minutes later I could hear her horse, pounding up the road behind us.
At this point I decided that John was going to have to figure out that he couldn't pass every single horse and always be in the lead, or we were going to become that other horse and rider. I gritted my teeth, let her pass and then held John back. He was very angry. I found a couple more seasoned horses and tucked him in behind them and made him follow them. After a few minutes, he forgot the horse that had passed him and settled back into work, following the horses in front of us.
The hold was in the middle of a field and was kind of crazy. There wasn't enough water and horses and people were everywhere. I got John pulsed down within minutes of arriving and then went and trotted out for the vet. With all of our requirements met, we tried to stay on the outskirts, out of the fray, until our 20 minutes were up.
Soon after we left the hold, I met up with a Haflinger and mule and their riders. They had been in the group of six that passed me early in the ride. I tucked John in behind them and kept him there for the remainder of the ride. This was a great experience for him - he didn't mind following the Haflinger or the mule, and other horses passed us, but he settled back in to following his friends a lot quicker. He didn't get to lead at all, which was also a great learning experience for him.
We rode back into camp and headed to vet out. John didn't pulse down - he was at 46 instead of 44. This was the first time he hadn't pulsed down all season, so I was a bit disappointed about that. Otherwise, he vetted fairly clean.
After lunch they handed out awards. I think there were 15 horses in the 25 mile ride. John ended up second. I was very proud of him, and more proud of everything he and I learned at this ride.