Note: if you've arrived at this page from the Ride Schedule, this is not our normal ride story. Rather than describing the ride from the perspective of a rider, this is the Georgetown Ride from the perspective of the Ride Manager - a point of view worth considering, if we want them to continue putting on rides!

Confessions of a First Time Ride Manager

by Laura Harvey

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I can't even say what prompted me to volunteer, but I suspect it was guilt. It hadn't escaped my attention that the rides I enjoyed so much took a lot of work - and so far, I'd done little except reap the benefits. I knew the story of the Little Red Hen; time to suck it up and share the work. But. . . I didn't know anything about managing a ride. I didn't even know NATRC existed four years ago. I rode in Novice. Surely such things were better left in more experienced hands?

Well, if I could move to Japan for a year simply because it seemed like a good idea, surely I could manage a ride when I had experienced, resourceful mentors to guide me. All ride managers were first-timers once; they got it done. Why shouldn't I?

For months all seemed well. I had a previous year's entry form to use as a model. The ride's previous manager, Helen Steenman, agreed to be trail master. I shamelessly stole Betty Young to be my secretary. I secured my judges, volunteers, P&R captains, point and safety riders, and food chair. Helen already had all the awards from the previous year, when the ride had been cancelled at the last minute. The sanction paper-work , insurance, and CDFA drug registration was painless.

I even had a good deal of success rounding up donations for a raffle. From attending previous rides and talking with other ride chairs, I learned that holding a raffle often made the difference between breaking even and ending up in the red. Unfortunately, this meant I had to request donations, possibly my most loathed activity. I'm not a salesperson. I hate asking for things - money, signatures, donations. . . I'm not very good at it, and it always requires a serious mental pep-talk. However, as there was no one else, I put on my best smile and "hey, horse folk! Let's help other horse folk!" attitude. To my surprise, almost everyone I talked to was not only receptive, but I usually left with a donation.

By June, almost everything was in place and I was petrified. This was too easy. Ride managers always looked harried - even panicked - at rides; where was the harry and the panic?

And then, my careful plans started to unravel. My horsemanship judge couldn't make the ride. My meal chairperson fell seriously ill. We only had half the ribbons we needed for awards. As I worked out the "master plan" (who is supposed to be where, when, and how they get there), I realized my judges would need a jet plane to get to chosen observation points on the trail. The Robbers Fire started burning the neighboring county to the ground. My trail master missed picking up the water troughs because her tenant dropped a tree on the trailer he rented, took an axe to her water tanks, and assaulted her husband. The submersible pump I'd planned to use to draft water from a nearby stream to fill the horse troughs wasn't available.

Ah, Harry and Panic. We meet at last.

We played musical Chairs. The Rules Interpreter became the horsemanship judge. The P&R Captain became the Rules Interpreter. Two unsuspecting husbands became the P&R Captain and Water Master. My meal chairperson rose from the dead. More award ribbons arrived. Home Depot rented me a submersible pump. Scores of intrepid fire-fighters put out the forest fire.

Friday morning dawned beautiful and clear. My dad and I started ferrying things to the ride site. My rock god of a secretary, Betty Young, arrived. Signs were posted, tables set out, rider packets readied, vet-in site chosen and raked clear of pine needles. We were ready.

I was hair-pulling, heart-seizing, terrified. I obsessed over details. When would the water troughs arrive? When would my Water Master arrive? How long would it take us to draft water from the stream? Was there enough water on the trail? What if I got us lost? What if someone needed me in camp while I was gone? What if -

What if I poured out my coffee and drank water instead? I fetched myself a bottled water and sat down in my camp chair to socialize for a few minutes and pull myself together.

Then the calls started. Two riders cancelled, and so did the two volunteers coming with them. My safety riders cancelled; both of their horses had come up lame. Two riders were caught in terrible traffic and wouldn't arrive until very late. Several volunteers simply never showed up.

By Friday night, my P&R crew consisted of two people. I didn't have any crossing guards for the busy Wentworth Springs Road crossing. I threw myself on the mercy of my point riders and asked them to ride safety instead (and hoped no one had messed with the flagging). I begged Neil Webber and my dad to be crossing guards. A new rider's husband and son volunteered.

To my surprise, everyone else seemed largely unaware of my barely concealed state of terror. At the potluck, everyone even seemed to be having a good time.

On Saturday morning, I piled the horsemanship judge, his secretary, and the Rules Interpreter into my car and led the caravan to the first observation point, then waved the P&R crew on with specific directions.

My job during the ride itself was to drive the horsemanship judge from point to point. To my surprise, being out on the trail was the most relaxing part of the ride. Suddenly, time slowed to normal speed. I had time to sit down. I finished scarfing down my breakfast. I set out my chair and chatted. I readied my camera and waited for the first horses and riders.

By the second obstacle/observation, I felt reasonably calm. The distance between riders stretched out, so we had to scramble to get to the third obstacle/observation ahead of the first riders, but we made it. I had just sat back with a cold bottle of tea when my cell rang.

"We have two lost riders," Josette, one of my safety riders, said. "What do you want us to do?"

She was asking me? I didn't know. Shouldn't she ask the ride manager? Wait, I am the ride manager. *&^%#! I tried to think. This was not covered in the Ride Management manual. What would a ride manager do?

"Uh, stay in camp for right now and let your horses rest," I said. "I'll call Helen and the Forest Service. If the riders don't shown up by the time you finish lunch, start back-tracking on the trail to see if you can find them."

I hung up and called Helen, who called the Forest Service, who called me. We reconnoitered and the search began. In the meantime, I waited while the horses came through the last obstacle and tried not to think of all the things that could befall a horse and rider on the trail. What if one of them was seriously injured? If so, how long would it take us to find them? What portions of the trail were the least accessible to emergency vehicles? How long would it even take emergency vehicles to get to us? Was there a helipad in the area? Could-

Music blasted from my pocket. I fumbled my cell phone open to hear the riders had just arrived in camp - lost and hungry, but safe and sound. I resolved to buy both of them a compass.

The last of the riders completed the third observation, and we loaded up. After dropping off the judge, his secretary, and the Rules Interpreter, I bustled off to retrieve road signs. By the time I got back, most of the horses had timed in, check-back was getting under way, and our camp cook was firing up his stove. I unpacked the raffle and award loot.

The rest of the ride passed in a bit of a haze, albeit a relieved/happy one. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves, dinner was delicious, and it appeared I hadn't forgotten anything so crucial the ride would be wrecked forever. I even uttered the words: "Next year. . . "

During the ride, one of the other ride managers characterized ride managing in words I will never forget. I won't repeat them for fear of scaring off any future potential ride managers. In essence, managing is unpleasant. It is hair-tearing, nerve-wracking, heart-palpitating madness. Yet, still we do it. Even more amazing, some of us do it repeatedly. It leaves me wondering if managing a ride isn't a little like child-birth: intense, painful insanity, followed by sheer, giddy relief at having survived the ordeal, followed by a kind of hazy forgetfulness. Sure, it was hell, but somehow that doesn't seem quite so important.

That's where I've wound up: in a kind of hazy forgetfulness. Surely managing wasn't all that bad. So, I'm thinking of making Georgetown a two-day ride next year. I'm even thinking of putting on a second, brand new ride, possibly in late April. I'm thinking. . . Well, I'm thinking, please, somebody slap me.