The Longest Ride Part 2

Quick recap…Exactly two weeks ago, Darling Husband, Offspring, three horses, three dogs, and I packed it all into a trailer and headed sixteen hours cross country from Central Texas to East Tennessee.  We stopped off in Knoxville for a wedding and to give the horses a few days break before heading to our final destination.

We left Offspring with his grandparents for the week, borrowed their camper trailer since we have not committed to a living quarter horse trailer yet, but that will be an investment in the very near future after this trip.  The dogs and horses continued onto Belvidere, Tennessee with us for a fun filled four days of trail riding.  The Rendezvous 2020 event raising money for Mustang Heritage Foundation Veterans and Mustangs therapy program started Thursday, and we arrived a little early on Tuesday morning with hopes of getting some extra time on the trails.  Best laid plans of mice and men thanks to hurricanes moving over the area, it poured the rain all day/night Wednesday and half the day Thursday.

We brought three horses with us, and I’ve been asked several times why three horses for two people riding?  There were a few reasons behind the decision, like it would be nice to have a back up.  When push came to shove, I couldn’t decide which of my horses I like better.  I’ve been told Odessa is a solid trail horse, but I’ve never had her on a trail. I’ve worked cattle with her, I show her occasionally, and I ride her down the road to the lake when I need a change of scenery, but I wouldn’t consider any of that trail riding.  Comanche has never seen a trail, but with his first event trial being November 15, I just couldn’t leave him sitting for half the month before we made our Green as Grass debut. 

Koda was Darling Husband’s only option.  She was the mustang he started as part of the very charity event we were attending the trail ride to support.  You don’t get much better promotional value than that.  However, Koda only has about of 120 days of riding training, and this event would be the twelfth ride, Darling Husband had personally put on her.  You can’t say we shy away from an adventure.  Hauling 3 horses farther than they or we have ever hauled before, two show horses with little to no trail experience, one green mustang, one green rider with twelve rides in the past year under his belt, what could go wrong?

As I mentioned there was a torrential down pour for the first day and a half.  Other than barn checks every few hours and potty breaks for the dogs, we didn’t leave the camper.  Sometime after noon on Thursday though the clouds broke, and the sun came out.  Other riders and horses were starting to arrive.  I couldn’t stand it any longer!  I convinced Darling Husband we needed to get the horses out and about.  After a day and a half in her stall, and the wind whizzing around, Darling Husband was hesitant to hit the trail on Koda.  I convinced him that at the very least he should work her in the round pen, and we could ride around in the field by the dining hall if nothing else.

Darling Husband may as well have been flying a kite with as much air time as Koda was getting while he worked her from the ground.  I was beginning to worry he’d back out on riding.  While Koda had more than ample reasons to behave like a baby goat, Odessa had no excuse.  She was breathing fire and crow hopping anytime I wasn’t pushing her forward.  In fact it was impossible to get her to stand still.  I was beginning to question my choice in an eventing horse with the near perfect piaffe Odessa gave me any time I asked her to stop.

At some point Koda touched down, and Darling Husband swung up before he had too much time to think about it. You can do that when you are tall and the horse is low to the ground.  All this happened just as four riders went past us heading for a trail.  We quickly attached ourselves to their group asking if they minded two extras crashing their party.  There is safety and bravery in numbers.  If everyone else is jumping off the bridge, you may as well jump too.  Granted their horses were behaving much better than ours and had years of experience on ours, but I’m a huge believer in fake it until you make it.  Our new friends said they just wanted a quick easy trail ride, and since it was getting close to dark, I assumed that meant we may only be out an hour or so.  I think there is a saying about the word “assume.”

So off we go.  Herd mentality is kicking in with Koda, but Odessa has zero intention of a cease fire, as in fire-breathing dragon.  We’re headed down a huge logging road, we have a leader with a map, and I’m not going to let the Piaffe Queen ruin my time.  Within about ten minutes, we are all standing on a gorgeous scenic overlook.  Not wanting to turn around and end our ride that fast, our new friends decide to shoot off onto a side trail and the real fun begins.  The trail starts off pretty easy, but the farther into the forest we go the more difficult it gets.  The climbs and ascents get steeper, there are some nice mud slides, and then all trails come to a dead end.

We’re about an hour and a half in at this point.  Odessa, the Piaffe Queen, Fire Breathing Dragon, that most usually resembles a hippopotamus is getting tired.  My fat girl was not in shape for technical dressage moves followed by Man From Snowy River stunts.  Koda who until this point has been a model citizen despite what is probably turning into the longest ride of her short life has finally had enough.  For reasons known only to her, she decides that bucking up hill is the best way to end the trail ride and things get ranchy.  Miraculously Darling Husband sticks the first couple of hops, and by that point Koda realizes the fault in her thinking.  Exhausted and blowing she decides walking back may be the path of least resistance after all. 

After several failed attempts to locate a viable trail that doesn’t take us deeper into the mountains, we all decide that turning back is our best hope.  It’s getting dark, and a cold front with a suspicious amount of moisture is moving in on us fast.  About twenty minutes from camp it begins raining accompanied by a sharp temperature dive.  Freezing, I give up the dream of cold beer, in favor of hot coffee.  We leave two exhausted horses to their stalls and hay, and call it a good day.  There will be guided trail rides heading out at 9:00 am the next morning, and I’m psyched until 7:00 am when I get up and realized its 30 degrees, windy, and misting outside.  This Texas girl was not prepared for those temps, and nothing is going to persuade Darling Husband to crawl out of bed for that.

By noon the sun is out and I need to be on a horse since I missed the morning ride.  Darling Husband still thinks the weather is a big no, so I head off to give Comanche a work out in the pasture.  Just so happens a group of people start assembling for another guided ride.  Since Comanche has no trail experience or shoes, I ask what difficulty we can expect.  Trail Boss is like “This will be easy and there’s a sweep rider to bring anyone back if things get too tough.”  Sweep Rider is like “This is my horse’s third trail ride, we’re taking it easy nothing too tough.”  I’m like perfect and tell a few people if they see my husband to tell him I disappeared with a group ride.

So off we go on the same logging road as yesterday, and I’m thinking “Easy peasy just need to keep Comanche from running over the Old Folks in front of me on their perfectly sane trail horses that are sensibly dragging butt.”  Then suddenly Trail Boss veers off the road on what could best be described as a goat path.  I’m instantly thankful to be on Comanche, because I’m not sure Odessa the hippo could squeeze between some of these trees.  Thus begins a steep descent to god knows where.  Occasionally we intersect with an actual road/trail, but for the most part Trail Boss likes to blaze his own trails.  He also has a firm  aversion to anything that resembles flat.

Comanche and I are bringing up the rear followed by Sweep Rider.  The benefit to our position is we get to watch everyone else’s progress, and there isn’t anyone riding up our butt if things get sketchy.  And things get sketchy for some of the riders.  The “trail horse” in front of me goes down to it’s knees several times during climbs on the ride, and at least once I thought horse and rider were going to come rolling down the hill onto us.  The man in front of me runs into some trouble in a mud slide coming down one of the grades and ends up dismounting/walking until we hit bottom.  At some point Trail Boss thanks everyone for not complaining about the difficulty of the trail, because the morning group complained about either his trail choices or his definition of “easy” he wasn’t really sure.

For his part Comanche was a Rockstar.  Once he stopped fighting contact, Comanche realized that I would balance him coming down the grades and keep him out of trouble.  After two straight hours of up, down, up, down mountain goat kind of grades, you would think that Comanche would be tired.  Not so.  On the way back, Trail Boss finally dropped us on an actual road, that had honest to god flat sections.  At this point I decided to pass the Old Folks and their “trail horses.”  I didn’t need them rolling down a hill onto me, and my horse walks about five times faster than either of their horses probably lope. 

As we started picking off riders in the group, I hear hooting, hollering, with a few yee-haws thrown in, just in time to see the heels of a horse in front of us disappear around a turn at a gallop.  This is the moment I will meet a Facebook friend in person for the first time, because she is part of the fun crowd.  Comanche’s entire front end starts popping up and I think, why not? So I let out the reins, and crouch over his neck as he begins to stretch and flatten out.  We’re off like we’re in the derby and he just kicks harder on the up grades as we fly by rider after rider.  I finally pull him back to a jog as we get to the top of the logging road before we need to cross the main highway back to camp.  He’s barely breathing hard and I think that was more from fighting me to bring him back to a civilized pace than the actual galloping.

My new trail rockstar!

The next morning is the Presentation of the Colors by a retired Master Sergeant in full calvary tack and uniform on a curly (that’s a type of mustang for those of you that don’t know) followed by an auction of gentled mustangs in various stages of training, some under saddle already. Darling Husband isn’t feeling well, and is busy fielding questions about the Veterans and Mustangs program. Odessa draws the short straw so she’s up for a trail ride, once I find a group to crash. I really just wanted an excuse to wear my chinks, and they just don’t look good on English tack so Comanche is off the hook.

Our friends from DLR Mustangs brought their green, never been on a trail ride, mustangs all the way from Ohio and have yet to ride them. They warmed them up after the Presentation of the Colors, and by the time the auction was over random people begin falling into a group headed out on the trail. It was great to see DLR Mustangs get their horses out and enjoy them even for a short ride. Part of our group decided their horses had enough, and headed back early. I stuck around to give Odessa a longer ride.

My two horses are completely different rides, and it was never more apparent to me than when I hit the trails with Master Seargeant and Mustang Mom (this pseudonym definitely needs work, but my brain is fried).  They don’t even feel like they are the same species.  When Master Sergeant and Mustang Mom opened their horses up on the trail back to camp, Odessa could barely keep up, and felt like what I imagine a rhinoceros at full gallop would feel like to ride. 

Rendezvous 2020 was an awesome experience. There were some amazing performers each night. I’m a big fan of the Sawyer Family Band, and will need to look them up. I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Kaye, and I’m sure the Girls Next Door were excellent, but our recently returned Offspring demanded to go to bed after their first song. On the parental front we had it much easier than Mustang Mom who ended up on a search and rescue mission when her two teenage daughters got lost on a ride to the waterfalls. It was 11:00 pm before everyone made it back to camp safe and sound, but made for a great story!

As always at these events, we made some great new friends, and I hope this isn’t the last time I see them in person.  Even though I was riding Appaloosas at a mustang event, the mustang community feels like family.  With any luck Johnny Cash will start cooperating with Nacho Mercedes and we’ll have my mustang ready for the 2021 events!

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