Monday, September 28, 2015

Team Bradley

Yesterday my daughter and I rode in the Biltmore Hunter Pace. A hunter pace is a sort of glorified trail ride--somewhere, there's an optimum time, and the team of two or three riders (or four or five: yesterday they didn't seem to care) that comes closest gets a ribbon. The ribbons are so meaningless that the results aren't even calculated until the day after the pace; the ribbons are awarded by mail.

Biltmore House, in Asheville, is that gorgeous mansion/tourist destination. In the time I've lived in the south it's grown exponentially, with all sorts of outdoor activities, food, and now a second hotel under construction. Tourists can take carriage rides and nose-to-tail trail rides from a big beautiful carriage barn. Most tourists, however, miss the small signs that say "BEC." That would be the Biltmore Equestrian Center, a real, non-touristy, non-pretentious facility somewhat hidden on the grounds. BEC has a boarding barn and a lesson program. Since the estate has always maintained over 100 miles of riding trails, BEC also offers public access to them: for $25, you can bring in your own horse and ride at will. You can also rent a small paddock to keep your horse overnight, and you can camp in your trailer yourself if you like.

This sounds like a great deal: the catch is that to actually drive onto the grounds with your horse, you have to buy a day ticket as though you're going to tour the house. That's $65, which brings the cost of your trail ride to $90. Ouch. Now, you can buy an annual grounds pass, or an annual equestrian pass, if you're going to be there often. However, the hunter pace was a handy way around that. It cost $40 and included a very tasty lunch.

My daughter and I had never done one of these hunter paces before (there's a whole fall series near here) and so we misunderstood the directions. When it said it went from 9 am until 2 pm, we thought everyone had to start at 9 am. Actually, riders could start anytime between 9 and 2; they could have lunch first if they liked. So when we pulled up on the grounds at 8:30 am, we were the very first (of over 100) to arrive.

It was fantastic. Our horses are hunting-fit and they love adventure. Since we didn't know the mythical optimum time, and didn't really care about getting a ribbon, we just rode as the trail and our horses dictated--galloping through the long flat bits, walking up and down the steep rocky bits. We saw turkeys and deer. We jumped whatever jumps we could. We had a perfectly good time.

The best part, though, came early. Very early. As usual, we walked ourselves backward through the schedule: ready to ride at 9, so pulling in by 8:15, so leaving in the trailer at 6:30, so at the barn at 6-- "Ugh," said my daughter. "Wake up at 5." I countered that if we were really together we could sleep until 5:15, because, you know, that extra quarter-hour makes a difference. So we got up, got dressed. I made scrambled eggs, the breakfast of early-morning rides; she filled our water bottles (one for drinking, one for cleaning tack on the drive) and found the travel coffee mugs. On our walk to the barn in the early-morning darkness she called to her horse, and by the time we reached the barn the herd was waiting by the doors.

I started feeding while my daughter filled hay nets for the trip. I brought the horses in. She pulled the fly sheet off her horse, found the shipping boots. We loaded our tack, opened up the trailer. Loaded the horses. We did everything without talking, without needing to talk. As we climbed into the truck my daughter checked the time. 6:29. We high-fived and hit the road.

Next year at this time she'll be gone. I'll miss the teamwork we've learned. When I said so she reminded me that I have lots and lots of eventing friends--she named them, and she's right. She suggested friends who'd be glad to go to next year's Biltmore pace with me. I agreed. I told her again how much she was going to enjoy college, four years of freedom to learn whatever she pleased. I didn't get caught, as I sometimes do, worrying about the future. I just enjoyed the morning.