Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Gauntlet

Not being much of a girly-girl, I never gave a second thought to the approach of wedding season. Maybe I should have. The first half mile of the ride from the livery to the trail head wound through a beautiful mountain meadow, crossed the Saint Vrain River via a short bridge, ran briefly alongside a reception lodge and crossed the road leading into Rocky Mountain National Park. During the pre-season we rode that half a mile multiple times without a problem.

And then wedding season hit. A large white reception tent, big enough to seat two hundred with a dance floor, was erected in the beautiful mountain meadow. The tent had a plethora of vinyl windows looking out on the idyllic scene. It was absolutely exquisite – from a bride’s standpoint. A wedding in a mountain meadow, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and topped with an endless open sky. And how quaint, horses traveling the path beside the tent. Could anything be more perfect?

Our horses disagreed. Our well-trained, smart, easy-going horses. Our horses that were a pleasure to ride had a slightly different opinion of the reception tent. It was big. It was noisy. It breathed. Each time the breeze stirred, the walls would expand and contract a little; a gentle sigh from the white monster. Each time the wind blew, the walls expanded and contracted, angrily huffing and puffing at the horses. Not only did it breathe, but it occasionally breathed smoke when the deejay had the fog machine turned up too high. It had eyes, and if you looked closely in the eyes, you could see things moving. The horses just knew that the reception tent was really a monster in disguise. A very hungry monster who craved well-toned ranch horse flesh in a very poor disguise. And it was going to eat them. We couldn’t possibly expect them to walk calmly by such a beast, could we?

Neither the horses nor the wranglers had much choice, in order to get to the trail head from the livery, we had to pass the monster, and throwing a snot-flinging, snorting, eye-rolling, bucking temper tantrum was not allowed. Once the horses understood that we wouldn’t put up with the temper tantrums, they came up with their own solution: they wouldn’t let the monster out of their sight.

We’d leave the livery and the horses would lock onto the monster as we headed toward it; they knew that each step could be their last. They were dead horses walking. Once we reached the monster, the horses would turn to face it and side-pass the entire length, absolutely sure by now that each step was going to be their last. If they made it past the monster without being eaten, they would again turn to face forward and continue on to the bridge, pretending that the monster never even existed. It was very much like riding in the “Haunted Mansion” ride in Disney World when the cars turn on their own to keep you facing the scariest parts of the ride.

The bridge was its own little amusement park ride, but once the first horse stepped onto the bridge the rest would follow without a problem. Sort of. The issue was convincing the horses that the fly poles being whipped around by the fishermen in the river weren’t really whips and that the fishermen weren’t really horse-eating trolls. Just for fun, on occasion, a bride would want to decorate the “bridal path” to the monster – ahem – tent, and would tie lovely streamers and helium balloons to the bridge to direct people to the festivities. The horses knew the balloons were ghosts that took on a physical form and were tethered to the bridge by the whip-wielding horse-eating trolls. The horses would bunch up, tuck their butts and scurry across like they were being goosed by ghosts; once they got started, there was no stopping the bridge crossing.

In contrast to the horse-eating giant monster and the troll bridge, the reception lodge was relatively painless to pass. The horses knew what a house was and they expected people noises; the lodge was just a really big house with a whole lot of people. Really noisy people, but nothing too worrisome. The only times passing the lodge got interesting were the occasions when a bear had been to visit the dumpster. After the monster, troll bridge, and lodge, getting the horses across the street and through the parking lot to the trail head was a breeze.

“Running the Gauntlet” is what I called the thrill-a-minute half mile between the livery and the trail head. My mental checklist went something like this:
Deep breath – check
Head toward the big white monster – check
Face the big white monster, pray, side-pass its length – check
Turn away from the big white monster – check
Breathe – check
Make sure the guests are still on their horses – check
Head toward the troll bridge – check
Breathe – check
Scurry across the troll bridge – check
Make sure the guests are still on their horses – check
Breathe – check
Pass the lodge – check

The return trip was the checklist in reverse. No matter how many rides I took out, I never once lost my apprehension (okay, maybe fear is a better word) of running the gauntlet.


Allenspark Lodge said...

Sounds like a lot more fun when you talk about it!


GunDiva said...

In retrospect, it doesn't seem as bad as in reality. I swear I thought I was going to have ulcers by the end of the summer.

Allenspark Lodge said...

Hey, I named that tent Moby Dick...and to this day I can't understand how we had ANY horses left in the corral the morning I went over and Moby Dick had self-destructed during the wind storm the previous night - and blown pieces into the corral! In reality, it really was as bad as you remember it; we just had phenomenal horses.