On a hill overlooking Oregon's Willamette Valley, there is a house with a large yard. Beyond the yard is an overgrown walnut orchard. At the edge of the walnut orchard is a yellow barn. And in the yellow barn sleep the memories of my first endurance horses. They whisper among the cobwebs, curl like cats upon the beams, press their hoof prints in long vacant stalls.
They were Arabians, of course. A black-bay mare, elderly and kind, with a stripe and snip and one white hind. Another bay mare, agitated, ever pacing. And a rose-grey gelding, the first I raised and trained from youth, the horse of my heart. Who can tell how many miles we traveled, those Arabians and I, bareback and fleet among the wheat fields and vineyards and woods that made our home?
In those teenage years, I knew nothing of the sport of endurance. I rode for sheer pleasure, alone for hours at a time with the wind cool on my temples and a horse hot between my knees, my fingers tangled tight in reins and manes. I wore sweat pants and t-shirts, paddock boots, never a watch. The shadows kept time as the trails wound on. My only rule was 'home at dusk.'
These days, I surround myself with layers of data. Rides progress from planning chart to stopwatch and stethoscope to spreadsheet. The resulting lists and graphs intrigue me, and I find no sin in this.
But lately, these October days beguile. Shall I ride hills when the trees are aflame with autumn in the valleys? Must we canter when the last rays of an Indian summer could, if only we walked, cloak us in remembered warmth?
And so I slow my horse's pounding feet. I close my eyes, sway upon his back, absorb his breaths as though they were my own. Speed and mileage mean nothing today. These, after all, are the rides logged not on paper, but on our very souls.
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