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Recharging batteries in 'the garden'

November 11, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

"And we got to get ourselves back to the garden," sang Joni Mitchell in her song "Woodstock."

Although I love that song and much of the festival's music, I wasn't there and I'm glad. I don't like crowds, and I'm not particularly fond of portapotties.

I'm not much for roughing it, but a recent Friday in the beautiful Virginia countryside reminded me of just how much I missed my "garden."

I miss the Keedysville farm where I lived for nearly 20 years. I miss the horses and the fragrance thereof, and yes, believe it or not, I even miss the smell of horse manure.

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A few weeks ago I went for a trail ride with three friends at the Marriott Ranch in Hume, Va.

The sights, the smells, the sounds of my day in "the garden" restored me.

We got to the barn where four horses stood saddled, ready - not rearing, thank goodness - to go.

I was happy I didn't have to be challenged by which way the darn bridle goes or trying to stick the bit between those big horse teeth, but I kind of missed the opportunity to brush and rub on my mount. His name was Tony, half quarter horse, half appaloosa. His only bad habit was wanting to eat any greenery - or brownery - on our autumn path.

Three "wranglers" and a wonderful dog accompanied us.

Nathan, our leader, gave us a 30-second riding lesson.

Tony got in line behind Nathan's horse, Custer. And I mean right behind. These guys were the very personification (horsification?) of following in someone's footsteps.

"They know their job," Nathan said.

Beethoven, a sturdy tri-colored mixed-breed dog trotted ahead of us, "looking out for bears," Nathan said.

Trying to scare me, Nathan?

Our canine guide would stop and turn to make sure we were coming, a couple of times encouraging us down a path we didn't take. Tossing his handsome head as if to tell us we didn't know what we'd be missing, he'd rejoin us, however resignedly.

At one point Beethoven stood at attention, staring straight up a tree. The squirrel he had spied ran halfway down before changing his mind and zipping back up.

Nathan told us about another squirrel - one that Beethoven chased, caught, shook and killed. Suitably proud, he brought it back to show it off to that day's riders, a bunch of women who were grossed out and wanted Nathan to make him abandon his trophy. You could tell they were from the city, nails all done and wearing bee-attracting perfume, Nathan said.

I felt honored he didn't consider my friends and me so prissy.

The wooded garden was a party for the senses. The day was cloudy, and the mist turned to drizzle as we rode - mostly in single file - along the trail. The colors of the turning leaves were not dramatic reds and oranges, but a gradual yellow to green and shades of brown.

There were the wonderful and long-missed smells of the horses, the woods, the dirt - the sweet smell of the great outside.

Our ears were treated to the sounds of the horses hooves, the gentle rain on the trees all around, the jingle of Nathan's spurs.

My friend Joan, who teaches in an Alexandria, Va., city high school, said she felt hypnotized. She could feel herself relaxing, feel herself smiling as we rocked along on our horses backs.

Me too.

Nathan provided the on-trail color commentary and more than a few laughs.

"Poor Tony," I lamented when Custer matter-of-factly lifted his tail in my horse's face.

"He's just blowin' kisses," Nathan explained. He talked about his dogs, Tasha and Taco, and about biscuits with "so much butter in them, you don't need butter on them."

We walked most of the ride, but Mary, who rides a lot, and Winnie, who's been to the ranch before, wanted to trot.

Joan and I were game, too, so off we went.

It wasn't pretty. It had been years since I'd ridden - and I never was very good at it.

I bounced. Lord, did I bounce. My helmet wasn't buckled tightly enough, so that bounced too.

No it wasn't pretty, but it was fun.

I'm still smiling.

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