It was an audacious plan to say the least, travel 1900 miles round trip, spend two weeks away from the farm traveling with three horses, three dogs, and a toddler in tow. As soon as we returned, I would have exactly four days to unpack and prepare Moonshine for what I want to become a yearly tradition for the family or as long as Belton Lake Outdoor Recreational Area (BLORA) ranch continues to host the Nature in Lights trail ride. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the days prior to the BLORA ride, but miraculously we pulled through, and four members of the Gardner family made it to the ride, Darling Husband, Offspring, Dixieland Delight, and me!
It had crossed my mind that the BLORA ride would be happening soon. It was such an awesome experience the previous year, with Dixieland Delight aka Moonshine being a perfect little angel albeit a very green one. For those of you reading that are not local, BLORA is part of Fort Hood and managed by the Army Corp of Engineers. Every year beginning in early November, the 5-7 mile stretch of lakeside campground is decorated with close to 200 different Christmas light displays sponsored by local businesses. The park is open for the public to drive through and look at the Christmas lights. The weekend before the park opens to the public, Fort Hood allows the BLORA ranch to host a trail ride through the BLORA park to view the lights from horse back.
Last year, Darling Husband rode Odessa through the park while, Moonshine, my pony with less than six months of driving experience pulled Offspring and I in a cart. It was a first for BLORA ranch to have a pony and cart participate in the ride. It was the ultimate test of how well I had trained/prepared Moonshine as a driving pony. For one the ride is considerably longer than our average drives. It has several extremely steep grades up and down that I couldn’t quite duplicate anywhere near our property. The ride happens at night. There are hundreds of bright flashing lights, and lots of horses that may be freaking out at the lights or their first exposure to a pony pulling a cart decorated in flashing Christmas lights and garland, wearing loud jingling sleigh bells, antique sleigh bells that have been in my family for close to two centuries.
We arrived home from the Rendezvous 2020 ride at 1:00 am Monday morning. Moonshine had the bare minimum in maintenance drives this fall, and had spent the past two weeks running the back pasture with the donkeys while we were gone. I had four days to trim her hooves, get her used to the sound of sleigh bells again, and a few quick drives under our belt to make sure she remembered what was required of a driving pony. I dug out the Christmas decorations for the cart, checked the lights, and polished a year’s worth of tarnish off of the bells. Darling Husband, on the other hand, was not doing so well. He had started feeling ill at Rendezvous and by Wednesday ended up going to the emergency room for an intestinal issue. Had I not already committed to haul a friend’s horses to the BLORA ride, I may have considered skipping it this year despite my desire to make this an annual family event.
Luckily, Darling Husband was feeling better by Saturday. Not well enough to ride a horse through the lights, but well enough to tag along, and hop on the hay ride BLORA ranch had added to this year’s Nature in Lights ride. Offspring had ridden through the lights in the cart with me last year, but what a year made in his vocabulary and communication skills. I’m pretty sure he didn’t shut up the entire ride. He told me about all of the lights, recited the letters of every word he saw, and demanded the pony go faster, then slow when he got scared.
Moonshine for her part was amazing again. I had not put the time into her driving this fall that I should, but she behaved extremely well. Last year we had the benefit of Odessa riding beside Moonshine. Odessa is comfortable with the cart and sleigh bells. Even though they are not usually pasture mates, Odessa and Moonshine spend enough time together to know each other. This year Moonshine was on her own, and we found ourselves more than a few times sandwiched in between a group of five or six adolescents and the one adult trying to keep them under control when their mounts were less than cooperative. After one of the horses got way too close for comfort as it whirled white eyed around us, and the pre-teen rider was oblivious to the differences in maneuverability between a mounted horse versus one in draft, I made it my mission to get as far in front of that group as possible. We spent the majority of the ride in a gap between the experienced horses not phased by the lights/shadows and the greener horses/riders.
My rock star of a pony handled everything in stride and amazed more than a few people as she charged up the hills at the end of the ride. I had added blue LED lights to the wheels of the cart this year, and some of our friends that were hanging at the back of the pack a few football fields length behind were surprised we were so far in front when they saw a blue streak shoot up one of the steeper inclines in the distance. For those of you wondering, I was not pushing my pony hard, I was balancing keeping her at a nice casual pace in order to view Christmas lights better while at the same time making sure the pre-teen group did not catch up to me again. By the time we were at the first hill, Moonshine was over her Christmas drive experience and anxious to book it home. Also, since she was pulling the cart, the last thing I wanted was for Moonshine to stall and have to fight inertia mid hill to start a stopped cart on a hill side.
Even though Darling Husband was not riding beside us, I was glad that we were able to do this again with Offspring this year. This may be the last year that Offspring and I get to ride in the cart together. We may all be on horse back with Offspring ponying along beside riding Moonshine rather than driving her. I do hope that as he gets older he remembers pony cart rides with sleigh bells. Maybe in a few years Offspring will be able to drive his own little pony, but I suspect he’ll prefer to be a cowboy and ride like Daddy…