Monday, May 18, 2009

A Dream Come True

Literally. Ever since I was very young, whenever we would go camping or backpacking and I would see the tell-tale hoof prints of the horses who had traveled along that trail, I imagined and dreamed of one day being the lucky one camping with her horse. And seeing horses galloping on the beach-ah, so majestic and beautiful. I have been a beach lifeguard and a lifelong sun worshiper. I have had opportunities to ride on a beach with rental horses in Mexico and on the central California coast, but never with my own horse. That is, until last weekend. I joined a group on of fellow horse lovers, and due to the generosity of some folks who offered to haul my big horse, took off a couple days (which I NEVER do!) and went to the Oregon coast to go horse camping! We planned for months (having to reserve space for 40 people and horses) and I almost died when my mare came up lame the night before the trip (could only happen to a vet's horse, right?) She got a stone bruise but a little iodine, bute and lots of adrenalin (and a gigantic epsom salt soak in that ocean!) and she was good to go... but not after I said a hundred prayers and cried myself to sleep. Well, the weather was perfect, she never limped a single step, the people were fun, and, well, the pictures say it all. I got to go camping with and ride MY gorgeous horse on the beach-and made it before I turned 50!

I was originally supposed to go with a fellow horsey friend, but she backed out a couple of weeks ago. I still had to go, of course, but was thinking it wouldn't be as much fun not really knowing anyone. When my other friend, Happy, heard I was going alone, she casually invited herself to come along-and boy am I glad she did! She is totally un-horsey, in fact, she has never even rode a horse in her life. But she was my biggest cheerleader-really understanding what this weekend meant to me and being a true friend in every sense of the word. She helped out planning our meals and shopping before hand for gear and supplies. Happy was a great companion for the long road trip, putting up with my choice of "old man rock" music and just gabbing with me during the drive. Once we arrived at the campground, she helped so much setting up the tent and kitchen stuff and all while I got Raquel all situated. And boy did she take some great pictures! I don't have many of her, darn it, since she was the one behind the camera lens, but I will never forget all she did for me and Raquel during our adventure.

Raquel settled into her camp stall just fine. I had been a bit worried that she would power through the chain gate (we have electric fences at home for just that reason) but putting a constant supply of hay in front of her (and keeping her good and tired from all the beach rides) did the trick. Our organizer had recommended to bring one of those pop up canopies to put over the stall so the horses wouldn't have to stand in the direct sun all day (or pouring rain if that was the case.) The horse camp sites were so much better than the regular sites. We had a lot more privacy, not just parked right on top of each other. It was still early in the season so it wasn't crowded at all, but I bet it can get pretty packed in the middle of summer.

A group of us decided to walk our horses out to the beach on foot that first evening-just to give them a "taste" of the salt air, all the sights and sounds and smells and all. I'm glad we did. Raquel was snorting and prancing and dancing-everything was new and exciting. Happy's pictures sure captured the moment. Later on we joined the bigger group for a potluck supper and get-together. Good food and good company. Happy even found that she knew some of the folks from high school if you can believe that! Such a small world. We were pretty tired from all the excitement of a very full day, so turned in soon after dark.

Friday morning we woke up early-well, I don't think Happy and I slept much, actually. We had left the tent flap open a bit and ended up getting pretty wet and cold from all the dew and condensation. It just felt better to get out of the wet sleeping bags and get some hot coffee into us. And I was just itching for that first ride on the beach! I decided to give Raquel some bute (phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug) for a bit of swelling in the fetlock of the leg with the bruised hoof. That went over well-NOT! She knows just how tall she is, and how short I am! Oh well, she got the meds after a little fight, then off to the beach we went. I went out with a sweet lady named Deb and her older horse, Todd. She wanted to take it slow and easy-just right for our first time. I didn't need a rodeo! We rode over the dunes and out onto the beach and there we were! It was incredible. Raquel continued to dance and prance as she took in all the smells and the sounds of the waves and all. It took awhile, but she eventually splashed through the water when she figured out it wouldn't eat horses. After I felt she had most of the bugs out of her system, we went ahead and took our first run on the beach. What a feeling that was! She never took a lame step, we had the wind in our hair and sun on our faces. Back home Raquel is usually last on trail rides with me legging her on-not on the beach. There she was always wanting to be in the lead, fighting the bit to go, go, go! I think she felt so much more sure of herself there, more balanced where she didn't have to worry about turning every 2 or 3 strides as she does in the arena back home. It filled my heart to see her having so much fun.

My sister Kristine and her partner Kelly had just had their first baby a week before this trip. Since they live in Oregon, I thought I would take the opportunity to go visit since I was so close. I asked my camp neighbors to peek in on Raquel through the day if they could, making sure she had food and water and off we went. Well, it wasn't all that close, what with windy roads, a bad accident on one highway, and Friday afternoon commuter traffic. But I am so glad Happy and I made the trek. Little Aven is just beautiful, and Kristine and Kelly are terrific mommas. The visit was much too short, but I didn't want to leave Raquel alone for too long. I'll get down again soon, I hope.

Happy and I figured out the sleeping/tent situation that night and were much drier and warmer. We both slept better and woke to another glorious day. I rode out again with a bigger group and Happy enjoyed herself sunbathing and just relaxing as she deserved to do. Then we had a great surprise when my husband Michael and Verbal showed up that afternoon! Nobody enjoyed the water and sand as much as my goofy yellow dog.

I got Michael out to the beach and up on Raquel-and he had a great time! He doesn't ride much, but he felt so much more comfortable on her and was soon galloping down the beach like a pro.

You would think that was a full enough day, but no. One of our meetup members, Phil, is very involved with jousting and he brought his authentic suit of armor ( he said it weighs about 100 pounds!) and costume for his horse. Now, isn't a knight in shining armor exactly what dreams are made of?

We had another dry, warm night, time for a quick ride on the beach Sunday morning, then packed up and headed home. It was over much too quickly, but I know Raquel was exhausted even though she would have gone on forever. I'll never forget this trip and all the people who made my dream possible. My terrific staff and our relief doctor took great care of my patients and clients while I was away. Happy was a true friend-what more can I say about that? Michael surprised us by bringing Verbal and joining us for the weekend. And the wonderful meetup group who suggested the trip, made recommendations of what to bring for us newbies at horse camping, and Michelle and John for hauling my big horse all the way down to the Oregon coast. Dreams really do come true.