It suffices to say that half the reason I have actually not written about this ride is that it was simply uneventful. I mean that in a good way. Between the days of July 13 and July 16, 2017, Jean-Luc Ponycard and I joined as many as 26 other horses and riders for a three-day trek across some of West Virginia's most undisturbed backcountry.
I genuinely have experienced nothing like that ride. At times I would catch myself breathless as I stared off into the sheer beauty and utter expanse of mother nature. Deep hues of green splashed across rolling hills and gently met blue skies. Wildflowers scattered the old railroad trails in every color imaginable. Red bee balm, lavender, mountain thistle, and bright orange tiger-lilies danced up and down the riverbanks.
If you are starting to think this sounds like something out of an early American tall-tale, you would be right. At one point our ride even included a team giant Percherons named Doc and Duke. Together they plotted along mountain trails made for steam engines reminding everyone what "horse power" really could do. Behind them, they hauled a Conestoga wagon with a family of four inside. Impressive doesn't even begin to cover it.
Before meeting Dolly at the barn Thursday morning, I listened to the Myths & Legends Podcast Episode 75 - Pecos Bill: Rider on the Storm. I think it helped bring about my the mood I was in - hungry for adventure. (I highly recommend adding this podcast to your weekly feed, if you aren't listening already).
I arrived at the barn early because both Dolly and I agreed it might better to arrive at the meet up tacked up. This turned out to be smart thinking since the place we unloaded had little to no room for actually getting ready. Honestly, it was a little dangerous considering how close to the high way we were, but everyone managed just fine.
Thursday morning was kind of wild. In total, five women were meeting, loading, and leaving from my BM's place. Needless to say, it was a little chaotic. I understand I need to get used to it, but I hate to be rushed when working with my horse. It usually puts me into a panic attack. However, this entire trip was a fantastic lesson in "buck up buttercup." I quickly understood that when riding with 25+ different people, the first lesson is: You are responsible for you and your horse. You are also responsible for sticking with the group. If you are unable to keep up - too bad. So, keep up.
That may sound harsh, however, I did not see it that way. If anything, it was a great to learn expectations. I haven't ridden much with individuals I don't really know. When riding with one or two other individuals, stopping or slowing down isn't much of an issue. This ride was a well-oiled machine, and I didn't want to be the cog that caused that machine to come crashing down.
Thankfully, I was not. In fact, my BM even told others that Jean-Luc was very well behaved! Though we did not ride together every day, I did take a note from her to not ride too fast. She mentioned how one of the only things a person could do to annoy this riding club is to ride out ahead and force everyone on a QH to trot the entire time. Thus, Jean-Luc and I stayed in the middle or at the end for nearly the entire ride (an impressive feat for a Tennessee Walker).
There's one gentleman I have had the pleasure of riding with twice now, and his horse's name is also "Red". He's the guy in the purple shirt as you go through this album, and though his advice isn't always sound, he is a joy to me. You see, he's 71 years old, and only a few years ago suffered what should have been a fatal car accident. His horse Red acted as both his inspiration physical therapy. Each time I ride with him I can't help but smile. To be completely honest, I also can't understand half of what he says (the accident left him sounding a little like Boomhauer from King of the Hill), but that's merely a part of his charm. Several times I found myself getting a little nervous, and he may never know how much his nonchalant attitude and story telling helped keep me sane.
Jean-Luc actually did a really great job the first and last day keeping a relatively slow pace. Sadly, the day we were in the saddle longest (day 2), he really wanted to step out. In retrospect, maybe should have just let him go? The terrain Day 1 was almost entirely uphill, so no wonder he was a little slower. Still, I enjoyed his chill speed so much the first day that I was desperate to get it back Day 2. On Day 2 we had a very flat ride along the West Fork Trail.
By Day 2 I realized, Jean-Luc is a tough fella. I can't honestly say when he has ever completed that many miles in such a short amount of time. According to his previous owner, he never went on overnights. I could tell that he still had more to give by the end of each day!
All in all, this was the trip of a lifetime for me. Since I was a little girl I have dreamed of riding and camping with my horse like the great cowboys and gals of the 1800s. I have always been enamored with the men and women who, like my dear mentor, Mr. Perry used to say, "...settled this land with dogged determination." I still find it hard to comprehend months and months on the trail. What kept those early settlers going? What expectations did they have for their, "better" life?
Similarly to the individuals of old (or prior to the 90s), I did not have access to phone, tv, or any form of modern connectivity. Early on Day 1, I remember sitting down, sipping on my adult beverage with the president of the riding club. Like everyone else on the ride, he too has a persona he maintains outside of horses.
"I love this," he told me. "Here you can just be you. You know?"
Yes. Though it took a day or so to really sink in, I know exactly what he means. Out on the trail, the only one you really have to answer to and for is your horse. "The Trail" cares little for reputation or clout. Experience and preparation are the skills you cling to. More than that though, the trail is about building and testing relationships. Can you get your horse to trust you? What new people will you meet? What new lenses will your eyes see through?
Again, this trip was the trip of a lifetime, and the best part is that it was only my first! There are SO MANY MORE to come.
I'd like to say a special shout out to everyone that helped me along the way, and those that prepared me both before and after this ride. The community is what ensures rides like this continue, and welcomes newbies such as myself to the sport. The fact that the horse community continues to be one of kindness and acceptance is so important, and I pray I am able to pass that along in some way some day.
My name is Chelsey.
Generator's Cuevo Gold, or as he's known around this barn, "Jean-Luc Ponycard", was foaled in 2004 from Generator's Hurricane & Cheyenne's Little Bit.