Fact: the space between the backstretch rail and the chain-link fence is just wide enough, with a few exceptions, for one disgruntled human, carrying one exercise saddle and its accessories, to fit between.
Okay, okay, ask.
No, I did NOT fall off.
Let me set the scene. It is a lovely morning. A bit humid, yes, but overall, lovely morning. The sun is shining. The geese are honking. The train is rattling. The 747s are roaring over. The sirens are wailing on Rockaway Boulevard. Et cetera. Aqueduct is not a scene of pastoral bliss, but I like it.
Through this urban cacophony comes a beautiful filly a-galloping. Strictly speaking she should not be galloping. She is going clockwise on the rail, which is a Jog-Only Zone. There are signs. There are rules. But the track is empty, and the filly is happy in her long, easy stride, and leaning down into the eggbutt, and her rider is deeply content to rest her hands on the filly’s withers, settle her weight into her boot heels, and enjoy the ride.
But then there is a new sound, that doesn’t fit the morning symphony. A rhythmic, alien, jingle.
Now most people have some sort of jingling when they ride. Change in their pockets, a curb chain, something. But not this pair. There was no jingling. This was a Jingling-Free Zone.
I, the rider in this account, glance down and see my fleece girth cover is fluttering low under my horse. I can’t understand it. Did it tear? That makes no sense. Whatever happened, I can’t risk it tangling in her legs. I stand up and start the arduous process known as “pulling up.”
We come to an uncertain halt a half dozen strides later, affording me the ability to lean over fully, just in time to watch my girth go dropping to the ground.
There’s nothing quite like dismounting from a fit three-year-old on a racetrack. From a saddle with no girth. As I slither off, the saddle starts to come with me, and the filly, helpful as always, wheels into the rail, slapping my hip hard against the metal.
But, well, if that’s the worst thing to befall me, I’ll take a bruised hip.
Now I survey my position with some dismay. There are no horses near me, which is a plus. I’m near the 3/8ths pole, which means the last turn before the backstretch and the barns. And I’m not sure I can be seen by the trainers, railbirds OR outriders, due to the infield hedges. A plus AND a minus, one might say.
The first option I go with is to try and reattach the girth, but the filly is getting more keyed up by the second and the saddle is quickly deposited on the ground. It lands with a soft thunk and a clatter of stirrups in the sandy track, and I rush to detach the martingale from the girth in case she decides to leave without me.
I’m gazing at her with some chagrin, saddle over one arm, reins in other hand, when a rider gallops by and shouts “put the saddle on the rail!”
Okay. I can do that. What’s the next step in broken-tack-on-racetrack protocol?
To my pleasure, this is when the outrider appears, makes sure I’m okay, then takes my filly and leaves. Leaving me with a saddle to schlep back. But, no dancing cavorting freaking filly. Considerably lighter load, but remember how I was just writing about how tough it was to slog through racetrack footing? Not to mention I am in the path of anyone jogging/cantering/careening out of control on a new two-year-old fresh off the farm.
Which is when I discover the narrow, teeny little path between the rail and the fence.
Walking this pathway gets me many concerned “Are you okay, baby?” shouts as I trudge along, saddle over arm. It’s okay. Nice, really. We’re a family, even if I am named Baby and am a constant recipient of flirtation bordering on the indecent. (Maybe I’m adopted into this family?)
My husband is waiting for me by the time I get to the horsepath, which is fabulous, because as we head back down to the barn, a rider calls out, “Baby I’m going to give you my number. So if you need a massage, you call me!” And later as I take out another horse, says with less confidence: “Was that really your husband?”
The only one on the entire property who didn’t ask after my well-being is a groom in our barn, who asked, laughing, “Did you fall OFF?! HAHAHAHA!!!”
Charming. I stick out my tongue and ride on.
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