Farewell Murray Creek Riders

Annie, Marilyn and Pat Summer 2010Anne and Shadow at Horse HeavenKaren on Pepper next to the abandoned farmhouseDonna Horton riding SocksMarilyn and Donna ridingEmma ready to rideDonna and Pat at Round Top Parkmurray creek riders

By May all the Murray Creek Riders had left Ballentine’s Horse Heaven, except for me. There were numerous reasons that they left; training, internships or new horizons. The barn was quiet as the days grew longer. Then in June came thunderstorms almost daily which resulted in some flooding. After contemplating my situation, I decided it was time to take a break from riding. Hang up my riding boots for awhile and catch up on matters too long forgotten at home.

On June 25th I saddled Pepper up for her last ride, sort of a farewell ride. I headed out alone as overcast skies pulsated with heat and humidity. Pepper and I walked up Sutliff Hill Road towards the park entrance. At the top of the hill, I pulled Pepper over to stand in a field as several pickup trucks roared past on the gravel road. At the junction of Round Top Road we stopped and turned to go back to the barn. As soon as we did, the sky opened up dropping buckets of rain on us. Within seconds, I sat upon Pepper’s back drenched to the bone, not one article of clothing dry. Fortunately, there was no lightning, just a cloud burst. At one point I thought perhaps we could get back sooner by cantering. Rainwater hammered against us as Pepper canter up the road, not a good idea as the rain pelted us even harder. I couldn’t have been any wetter if I had jumped in the river for a swim. So for the last mile we simply walked through the deluge, accepting our fate.

A couple of days later, I took CJ out for our last summer ride. Big puffy clouds dotted the blue sky, the afternoon dripped with heat. Again, I rode up Sutliff Hill Road; the same direction I had taken Pepper a few days before. At the top of the hill a massive Tioga Oil truck making a delivery pulled out of a driveway, so I turned CJ into a field and halted until the truck passed. Before I could get back on the road, a pickup truck hauling a trailer filled with four-wheeler’s rumbled by us filling the air with dust. Finally, CJ and I walked down the long hill to the intersection at Round Top Road. At the stop sign a huge garbage truck turned and headed in our direction. This time I turned the horse around, hurried back up the hill and made a beeline for the barn.

The wind gathered speed and spiraled aloft. Warm air rushed through tree branches and leaves lifted upward. White puffy clouds moved rapidly into higher altitudes and quickly formed into thunderheads as the first rolls of thunder rumbled across open fields. I galloped up the hill hoping to get back to the barn before the storm broke.

Warm updrafts lifted dozens of birds into the air. Five goldfinch alighted on a telephone wire suspended at the side of the gravel road. Their small yellow bodies sparkled against the dark thunderheads. It was unusual to see them all sitting in a row high above the road when usually they preferred the fields and clung to weed stalks or bushes. The birds didn’t stay on the electric line; a strong updraft sent them into flight. They scattered at great speed across the open fields headed towards the creek in the gully. Other birds took advantage of the strong updrafts and in frenzy took flight soaring in different directions ahead of the storm.

I crossed the intersection at Weaver Road and started down the hill. A white car pulled off the road and waited for CJ and I to pass. When I drew near the driver, an elderly lady said, “It’s so nice to see you out riding. It reminds me of when I was young and used to ride horses.”

“I rode when I was young too, then stopped, raised a family. My daughter wanted to ride so we took lessons together. I’ve been riding ever since.”

I didn’t tell her that this would be my last ride for a few months. Lightning struck a hillside not far from where I stood chatting. The wind ripped through the branches sending leaves into flight. Dark clouds rapidly crossed the sky filling in the bright blue patches and merging with cumulus clouds turning them purple and black. Again lightning struck and thunder screamed across the skies.

CJ and I hurried towards the barn. We galloped up the last hill reaching the end of the pasture just as a few raindrops hit us. CJ nervously walked past the flapping tarp covering the storage building across from the barn. We rounded the corner and I jumped off just as another roar of thunder hit the sky. Quickly, I took CJ into his stall as the sky opened up and rain poured down from heaven.

I stood for a while at the barn entrance and watched rainwater pelt the earth. A butterfly wove its way through the raindrops, then caught an updraft, soared aloft and fluttered in midair as if playing in the rain. Birds flew faster than I had ever seen, rocketing towards branches or soaring over the barn, they too didn’t seem to mind the rain. I for one was glad to be dry inside the barn where I unsaddled CJ and brushed him down.

So many memories floated through the barn and trails surrounding Round Top Park. I thought of the good times we shared. Donna named us the Murray Creek Riders; six women in love with horses and riding. The banner heading for my blog shows us on an autumn day in the park. The five riders, Anne, Marilyn, Karen, Donna and I stood on a gravel road as an unknown photographer quickly took our picture with Marilyn’s camera. Time marches on and with it places change, people move and grow older, perhaps that is the bitter sweet essence of life itself.

Although I’m taking a break from riding for a few months, I will continue to write my blog. There are some interesting leads I want to follow up; museums, fairs, horse shows and much more. So for all my faithful readers, not to worry, I still have some good horse stories brewing. Happy trails and ride safe.

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2 Responses to Farewell Murray Creek Riders

  1. Sandy Mack says:

    Major changes at Ballentine’s Horse Heaven. Sorry to hear that some of the “old
    timers” have left, but that does happen and barn life goes on. Hopefully there will
    be some new horses and trail riders to get you back in the saddle come Fall…..
    The insects are terrible in MN-big biting flies during the day-and the mosquitoes
    from hell all night long. A real bumper crop of flying pests as a result of all of the
    rain we have had this year. I don’t ride any more but have one horse here-I call him my “boomerang pony”. I had him out on a free lease for some years and the family wanted to keep him, which was fine by me as he was well cared for and loved. However, changes in their lives caused them to stop keeping horses, so Cooper is home enjoying lots of green pastures. He’s a tough guy-used to living outside- but he quickly figured out that I would bring him into the cool barn if he stands at the gate when the bugs are bothering him. He’s a very easy horse to care for-gets no grain-holds his weight well on grass and hay. He’s a funny guy too and I am really enjoying having him back. Will have to make some longterm plans for him as he’s only 13 and will outlive me-but for now it’s a real pleasure seeing his sweet face every day. My chickens are doing great-they have wonderful personalties and lay lovely eggs for us.
    Life at Finally Farm goes on, we just get older!!

    • Pat Miran says:

      Yes, major changes have taken place at Ballentine’s Horse Heaven. It was sad to see our group of riders part ways, but time has a way of doing that. As the old riders leave new ones will come. I’m enjoying some time off and hope to begin riding again in the Fall. I have to say just the mention of “big biting flies” makes me glad I’m not in the saddle. Sorry to hear you’ve been plagued with biting flies and mosquitoes this summer. Cooper your “boomerang pony” sounds cute. I’ve spoken with several people who no longer ride because of age who turned to a pony and cart as a replacement. I always thought that was a nice idea. Finally Farm must keep you busy between the chickens and the pony. Thanks for your wonderful comment and enjoy the summer.

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