I don’t make it back to my birth state very often. After I graduated college, I gave life in the wild, wonderful state of West by God Virginia a whopping year before I made my exodus and never looked back. I spent ten years in the volunteer state, Tennessee, before making my way to heaven on earth, Texas. My husband thinks we live in hell during the summer, because really you couldn’t get much hotter unless you were living on the sun. I go back to WV once every two years or so, to visit family and occasionally I’m lucky enough to fit some visits in with friends. Having made the trip to WV once this year already, I wasn’t planning on going east of the Mississippi again for at least another year, but alas a family emergency forced the trip.
Sadly, the timing of this trip was one week after Breyerfest, and one week before the biggest event of the year for my hometown, the Tri-county Fair. I was truly bummed. I’ve wanted to go to Breyerfest for years, but it always seems to be in conflict with other adventures or obligations. Secondly, I was feeling a little nostalgic on this trip. I would have loved to attend the Tri-County Fair Horse Show, the first show I ever competed in, at the age of two in lead line and the first show I ever piloted a horse by myself, at the age of five, taking the western pleasure championship that year in a full blown walk, trot, canter class. Yes, I owe that early success entirely to a sainted palomino pony, that actually listened to the announcer for her gait cues. Who knew I had peaked and it was all down hill from there?! Because Darling Husband and I have been passing each other all summer, barely doing more than passing Offspring back and forth due to the general craziness of farm life, my day job, and his hauling jobs neither Breyerfest or the TCF rated high enough for me to extend my trip in either direction. There will be other opportunities.
One opportunity I did not pass up though was the chance to visit a friend from my 4-H days. I avidly follow her on Facebook. She suffers from the same mental disorder I do, total infatuation with equine of the pony variety. I’m not sure we share the same goal of a six hitch pony team, but she is further along in the process than me with an already trained pony team pair. I have one friend on Facebook, a self-pronounced PonyPrincess. If she is a PonyPrincess, my friend from the hills of WV is the reigning Pony Queen. I had planned to meet the Pony Queen and her ponies during my visit. I thought a drive might be a possibility, but wasn’t sure if Pony Queen could fit that into her schedule. Not only did she fit a drive in, it was a four horse affair with two single drivers and the team cart, pure WV hospitality!
Now if you aren’t from WV, you may have no idea what a “holler” is. Your imagination probably can’t do the concept justice either. I’ll try to explain this as best I can, but unfortunately if you haven’t spent extensive time exploring the lesser traveled roads of Appalachia in either eastern KY, TN, or WV, which most civilized people do not thanks to the cult classic movie Deliverance, this retelling will only be a watered down version of the true experience. To get to Pony Queen’s residence, I pull off of a four lane highway onto two, then quickly onto a paved road without lines. Eventually the pavement will run out, and now its just dirt country road for miles. I follow a road that to most people is more of a cattle path than actual road, and then end up on what most city folk consider a “hiking trail”, but I’ll be driving straight up that. Finally I arrive at Pony Queen’s. Keep in mind at one point I thought four wheel drive would be required to make it up to her driveway. We are deep in the hills of WV sandwiched between mountains and not a single bar of cell service within twenty minutes of our location.
Four ponies stood harnessed and tied, almost ready to go when I got there. I was worse than useless at helping with the team hitch. It was literally the first time I had ever seen a team hitch with a two wheel cart. The harness set-up and breeching were completely foreign to me. As final adjustments were being made, it occurred to me that we may be driving down the road I wasn’t so sure my truck could handle. Pony Queen gave me quick instructions on the workings of her team, and then Offspring and I were alone in the cart with our decisions. Not really alone, but it was unnerving to think I would be trusting two horses I had never handled to haul Offspring and I up/down what amounted to 12% grade all the while dodging large rocks and ruts in the road way. I was informed one pony in the team was great at sitting into the breeching, thus braking the cart, the other pony not so much. To say I was outside of my comfort zone would be an understatement.
Off we went Pony Queen and her little fire cracker of a pony leading the way, Offspring and I with the team in the middle, and one of Pony Queen’s friends bringing up the rear. Down, down, down we went, and then turned sharply left to face an equally steep up hill grade. The little team chugged up the hill apparently unfazed and not aware there was any other form of driving. When the road finally leveled out and looked out over a field leading into the woods, I was informed we would try a little off-roading. I’m not opposed to off road trails, but I’m well aware of the size of the rocks jutting out of the floor of the average WV forest. All of us were in easy entry carts with axels that provided little ground clearance. As we headed across the meadow and then started down another steep incline, Pony Queen yells that we need to sit firmly in the center of our cart seat, or the cart would tip over in the creek bed, stream for you city people. Then straight up another hill from that stream. We stopped at the top of this hill, finally having found the road again, and gave the ponies a breather.
Back down the steep incline we went, past Pony Queen’s driveway to hit what West Virginia natives consider a “flat” road. The interpretation of flat is a bit subjective in this state. Anyway, this is the point where Offspring and I had the opportunity to view some of the prettiest landscape North American has to offer, and I’m very jealous I do not get to enjoy it in the fall when the leaves would be in full autumn colors. Also, coming from a severe drought in TX, the greenery was enough to bring a tear to the eye. Pony Queen’s team were angelic and took excellent care of us the entire route through many tops and bottoms during the drive. Pony Queen’s two single driving ponies were complete saints even if one did seem to possess a sense of humor.
I’m so glad, I took the opportunity to visit Pony Queen. Parts of the drive were utterly terrifying, but, I was not about to admit that to two people who consider it a routine training route. Surviving the experience will make me much bolder in my own training, having realized even my best pony is still a cream puff compared to the little engines that hauled us through the heart of Appalachia. It gave me a new respect for what mini’s/ponies are capable of doing. All of our ponies had gas in the tank when we returned from the drive. They rolled and frolicked up and down the hill in their enclosure after we bathed and turned them loose. I can’t express my gratitude to the Pony Queen enough for trusting me with her darlings, considering my nonexistent mountain driving experience. I left WV eager to return to my own herd and finish training my newest single drivers in preparation for their team training. John Denver was correct. WV is almost heaven, but Texas, the GHLHF home of my ponies still snags that title in my heart!