This video was taken in the Spring, and at this point it has been so long I'm not entirely sure when. I know it was when we were doing really well in the round pen, and prior to our lessons with Mike Hurst over the Summer. We Still were using a snaffle bit, and a few other things. Jean Luc was in really good shape here. The newer videos, I think, show me the value of round pen work. I do not believe Jean Luc is coming out of this Fall season look as good as he did here in the Spring.
You will see in an upcoming video, I am working with an instructor - Lauren Carver. She mentioned a few worrisome issues with Jean Luc - namely a back problem. He really needs a chiropractor, but living in rural West Virginia doesn't afford that option. There just are not horse chiropractors here.
At the end of this video there is some canter work. He goes into the canter with much more ease in this video than the upcoming one. That said, he's fat from summer grass. I didn't realize how fat until looking back here. Then again, "Winter is coming!" So, I like my horse to have a little weight on him for the season.
All in all, I'm just worried we're not progressing due to physical limitations. In fact, I'm worried we're going backwards. If I am being honest with myself, I believe his head is in the game, but I don't know if Jean Luc's body can take it? That is honestly a terrifying thought. Only time will tell, I guess. Prayers things start to turn around soon.
From the vault of Liz who stole from Amanda I tossed together answers for 10 of 25 questions:
1. Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling?
Why Horses? Why not? Seriously though, when I’m working with horses it is the only sport I’ve ever done that I’ve not consciously thought about as a workout. Instead, I can actually see riding as more a goal oriented thing.
I played tennis and swam for years. Both are sports. Both don’t make me smile nearly as much as I do when I’m working with a horse. I can’t explain why. I thought, maybe because it has something to do with a partnership, but I was always on a relay team or had a tennis partner in both sports?
The only other idea I would have is that I am not really a competitive person, unless it is to compete with myself. I’ve never really been into sports to be “the best.” I am terribly uncoordinated, and usually everyone is better than me – so why try.
2. What was your riding “career” like as a kid?
I showed once. I learned to ride on a 20 something year old, black pony name THUNDER! He was exactly what every little girl needs to learn on – wily, compassionate, and most of all, challenging. I think we may have won a ribbon or something, but I’m not sure.
3. If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?
Cricket. She was the first horse I ever rode. She was a beautiful black line dun. She has a baby out in the world somewhere, and I hear he’s pretty awesome. All I remember is that for a mare, she knew how to take care of people. Other than her, sorry Jean-Luc, I don’t know that I’ve met that horse yet?
4. What disciplines have you participated in?
Train western pleasure, English pleasure, and general trail riding.
5. What disciplines do you want to participate in some day?
I would love to learn and compete in some competitive trail completion and Mounted Orienteering, though.
6. Have you ever bought a horse at auction or from a rescue?
Nope, but I’ve heard some pretty great stories. Most recently, I met a guy that rand one up to $15 at the American Trail Horse competition this year. His wife tells the story best, she was ready to divorce him on the spot – luckily he bowed out.
7. What was your FIRST favorite horse breed – the one you loved most as a kid?
Anything with fluffy feet. I knew nothing (like how difficult those fluffy feet are to take care of). I have always liked fluffy things. I had a mane coon/ bobtail cat mix. My dog is German Shepard Husky Mix, and I am likely the only person that loves when her horse is furry (minus how quickly he heats up).
8. If you could live and ride in any country in the world, where would it be?
West Virginia is BEAUTIFUL! That said, I have it in my head that I want take riding tours through various countries. One I am really looking at is riding Icelandic horses through Iceland and seeing the Northern Lights.
9. Do you have any horse-related regrets?
I love Jean-Luc, but I do wish I’d hired a buyer and just known more in general before I went horse shopping. I believe I lucked out, however, in many ways I overpaid, overlooked the skills I wanted him to know v. me teach. That said, projects are fun!
10. If you could ride with any trainer in the world, ASIDE from your current trainer, who would it be?
Monty Roberts is great, but his wife Pat Roberts is the one I would love to go one on one with. Why? The Horse Radio Network did an amazing interview with her a few years ago. She’s just lived such an amazing life – because of horses!
Check it out here: https://www.horseradionetwork.com/2017/05/22/hitm-05-22-2017-by-omega-alpha-equine-one-on-one-with-pat-roberts-and-a-dozen-celebrities/
It has absolutely been a while since I've had the ability to write anything about by riding. However, that doesn't mean Jean-Luc and I have not had things to work on together! We have had a great end to our summer. From trail rides, practicing new skills, and more, we have really had a great time.
In work-life, I have been really pushed. I am have the best year ever teaching, but I am working very hard for it. I have 3 online classes I'm taking to be considered a fulfilled Special Education Teacher as of December. Needless to say this has made my spare time very limited. Also, I am writing 3000 word assignments every other day! It has made wanting to write for fun difficult. I am proud of where I'm at, though. Despite all the challenges thrown my way, I do feel like we've been rather successful.
In the horsey world I have also taken on a second horse project named Cody. To be clear, he isn't mine. He belongs to a friend that needs a rock solid trail buddy - a job I don't mind working on. He's a beautiful big brown quarter horse with a brain a tummy. This also means he can get himself into trouble because he's smart and lazy. I missed riding something i knew how to ride, though. Picking him up has just been a fun break for Jean-Luc and me!
Since this summer, and working on a few things - namely just being comfortable, I began to feel like Jean-Luc and I had finally hit a wall that I could not work around. You only know what you know, right? Well, things have moved in an interesting direction. Thanks to some friends, I have sought out the help of a trainer new the Canaan Valley area.
I could not be more excited about this (expensive for me) opportunity. I believe it is an investment in our growth, together. That said, this Wednesday is our first lesson and I'd be lying if I didn't say I was nervous. I mean, I don't think I'll be judged ... in a way that makes me feel bad about myself, but I am just nervous in general. I wonder what I've been doing wrong for years? What can she help me with? And most all, I'm nervous because in many ways, I'm not even sure where to start!?
Regardless, I'm looking forward to this next chapter in our lives. What will we learn? Who knows, but I'm thinking it's going to be fun.
Let's face it, owning a horse means that inevitably something will go terribly wrong one day. Yes? The question you have to ask yourself is, "What does my support system look like for when that happens?"
Recently, a woman I board and ride with had that very bad day happen to her. Let's start this like all good friends should when something bad happens and they need to let you know . . . Spoiler Alert - Everything is OKAY.
Last week, I was with the husband when I noticed my BM calling. When the person who owns the place where your critters live calls you, you pick up no hesitation.
"Hey, What's up?" I asked.
"How close are you?" she replied.
At this point, I knew something was up. This woman is a solid rock. To hear her nervous is enough to make me want to grab some canned food and prepare for the Apocalypse.
"I'm not far," I replied. "The husband's truck's down so I'm actually waiting for him to drop it off at the repair place...What's going on?" I asked cautiously.
"So-and-So horse is down," she said.
"Down?" I questioned. This is the oldest horse on the property. Down could mean a multitude of things.
"He's down and can't stand back up. I think he was caught in barbed wire. The vet was my first call, you were my second. How soon can you get out here?"
"Fifteen minutes," I replied. "But wait, have you called-?"
She cut me off. "No! I have not. Let's get things under control and the Vet can call."
"I'm on my way," I said and hung up.
This was bad. This was really bad. What on earth was I going to find when I arrived out there? A bloody mess, that's for sure! No sooner than I hung up the phone did I hurry into the truck repair shop.
"Husband?! Husband, where are you? We need to go!" I shouted. "A horse is down."
There was a line of people all waiting to have work done, but the look on my face must have said it all.
A man at the front of the line looked to my husband, then back to me, then to the owner taking care of him. "You might need to let this feller go," he said. "Looks like they've got somewhere to be?"
I thanked the room, watched my husband turn in his truck keys and together we sped out the door. On the way to the barn, I explained what was going on and apologized for rushing him. He didn't care. I was nervous and honestly thankful he was there to assist with whatever may need assisting. He isn't a horse person by any means, but he is, however, super strong. In situations like these, where you're not sure what you're going to encounter, super strong is always comforting.
As we pulled down into the farm I was further comforted to see the vet was behind me - the experienced, good vet that I know. Not that I have any issues with any of the others, but if I could have picked who I wanted there, she'd have been the one.
I drove to the barn immediately and could see the horses all gathered around our old white man. Yup, he was down.
The vet headed straight for the field. I needed to toss on some muck boots, and my BM hollered to grab a halter - good sign, he's not dead.
I sent the husband with the halter while I quickly shoved some tasty things in a pouch and followed after. In the field, I found my BM and her 20-something-year old niece and two nephews she'd just picked up for a visit.
"Ha! Welcome to West Virginia," I nervously yelled.
I could see it in my BM's face. Nervous jokes were all we had. If we needed them, use them. Just keep calm. After shooing the other horses away from the down fella, I got my first look at what we were dealing with. The only thing I can say is that it looked like this poor guy's back end had gone through a meat shredder.
: : PAUSE::
This property uses a barbed wire fence - something I do not condone. It's dangerous and should never under any circumstances be used as a horse fence. That said, it is the situation that it is and while it could have been entirely preventable had the fence been a horse safe fence - it wasn't. I hope anyone reading this, if they do use barbed wire, never had to witness this and can work towards changing their fence asap. While the focus of this story could continue on in gory detail about injuries, I prefer to discuss the positives.
: : RESUME: :
I wasn't sure this guy was even going to be able to stand up. We all looked at each other with a question in our eyes directed towards him. He was tired, but not out! In less than a minute the vet actually coaxed the poor boy on his feet. She then gave him as manly shots of numbing stuff (sorry couldn't tell you want she really did) as possible.
Now, I am the last person you want on your team when gross blood is flying. Sadly, I am one of those that gets so sick they nearly vomit at the sight of gore - this was no exception.
There I was in the field, the second most experienced horse person out of 6 people. The vet looked at me and told me we had to walk this animal to the barn - no less than half a football field away. She also said he'd likely cut the equivalent of his Achilles tendon (thanks Liz) and that he would likely knuckle over on his back right foot.
"It's gonna look weird," she said. "Try not to let him go too fast so he doesn't do it."
"Okay," I said faintly.
She took off in her truck to prep for surgery and together with the BM and I just looked at each with dilated pupils.
Together, my BM and I scouted the ground and as slowly as possible walked this guy forward. I was in charge of searching the easiest path forward and watching the back feet so that they didn't do the "knuckle over" thing, while BM walked him forward. This was about a 20-minute painful process filled with treats, the good boy calling, stopping, and so much effort not to vomit.
When we finally arrived at the place where the vet had prepped my BM handed me the horse and said, "Here. Your turn."
I'd like to say the words that came out of my mouth were PC, but they weren't so we just won't say them.
I took the horse by the halter and held his head speaking as calming as I could while softly rubbing his neck. Believe it or not, this was by far the better deal. I faced forward while the vet and my BM went to work with these little wooden scrapper blocks and a hose. They had to clean the blood off this grey horse to see what really needed to be done. They went to town cleaning and scrubbing and soaping and cleaning and scrubbing while I did what I could to keep the horse still breath.
This is the part, believe it or not, that I am going to say, "good friends," and where the title of this post comes into play. Only after getting the horse diagnosed and to a point to things were starting to come under control for better or worse did we call our friend / his owner. Knowing the person, she would have lost her mind had she shown up prior to the vet. I WOULD have absolutely lost mine had this been my horse. To me, the most comforting thing that can be done in an out of control situation is regaining control. The fact that we waited to get her there is exactly what I hope someone would do for me if things ever would be in reverse.
I say this because honestly, I'm no vet. What would I do to help? I would panic and cry - just like she did. Only the tears were less because I believe she felt like things were beings taken care of as best as possible - AND THAT'S THE KEY.
That day, I learned just how important it is to have someone come when you call. I can not overstate that message enough. The reciprocity of friendship is having people that will take care of you and yours better than you can yourself AND vice versa. It is a powerful thing to know that when the world caves in, people can be there with or without a plan, but level-headed. Having people you can trust to not only get a job done but get through a traumatic situation is absolutely priceless.
The rest of this story is simple. The horse's owner showed up, and before we knew it he was all buttoned up. He's still getting through the worst of it, but he's going to be okay. While we did not exactly plan it, I believe we followed one heck of an Emergency Action Plan. In future posts, I would like to develop a few for various scenarios.
Here's a great start if you're looking to create your own along with me.
This summer is flying by. It seems like just last week I was so excited for it to begin, now nearly three months have gone by. That isn't to say Jean-Luc and I haven't covered some miles though. Honestly, it means something to me to know that since we've been together we've logged conservatively 200+ miles together - mind-blowing.
The riding club I also ride with is having a "Buns of Steel" competition. The rider with the most hours in the saddle by the end of the club season (in this case it looks like October 2018), wins a prize!
I never thought I would even be a contender, but what's the saying, "never say never?" Since April 28, 2018, the two of us have logged 83 hours together (specifically in the saddle, groundwork doesn't count). I had taken that number twice because it just feels ridiculous. Little hour rides add up, though. Last week we added 25 miles alone!
Today, though I have no pictures for proof, we even had some amazing canter work. It was short, sweet, and in a round pen, but it was the most solid I've felt in the saddle yet. The key to this seemed to be a two-fold.
The other part of this, though is that I felt strong enough to hug his barrel with my legs and roll with the motion. When I sat harder or thought about slowing down, that's exactly what happened! I guess what I'm saying is despite less collection and in the mouth, I had a much better contact in my legs - a good thing.
Trying to piece together what was going right is a little difficult. I really wish I did have a video of this because of how connected I felt. While I can't remember Jean-Luc's head placement, I do know it was the first I actually could have held a dollar bill in between my thigh and the saddle and not lost it - apparently, this is an old trick parent around here use to encourage children to learn the correct way to sit the canter.
Other things I would credit would have to just be the sheer amount of miles I've put in on any horse in the last week. A blog for another time is definitely about going to between two different quarter horses and Jean-Luc's gaited self this past week. The short version, though, is that I was reminded just how differently those horses can be.
Thanks to Liz, I had the opportunity to ride up and down Timberline resort on her rock solid quarter horse Stan, or as we lovingly now refer to him as Stanimal! The one thing I will say is that there truly is a serious difference in speed. I knew this, heck everyone can say that gaited horses just move out much faster. What I did not realize, because I've only been riding my gaited horse for the past year is that his walk is even faster than Stan (and other non-gaited breeds) trot.
Liz knows she has a tendency for being a bit brutal to ride with if you don't know what you're doing. I was nervous to even go ride with her because I'd already done 8 miles on a rail trail with my husband biking alongside earlier the same day we were supposed to ride, but I figured, what the hay! I could hang on long enough.
What I wasn't ready for was the fact that I COULD handle it all. Maybe she's making me feel good about myself, but the fact that her horse was just as smooth at his trot as I'd been working at the walk made my life cake! I really could have gone on forever - something a year ago that would have killed me. We rode less than four miles but that put my total for the day at 12 miles, something I usually only do with the riding club and make a pretty big ordeal out of. To do this like it was nothing made me feel really good.
And can I just say, riding a horse you can post on rather than do the hula on (pacers) is really nice.
I plan to go in detail about some of our other accomplishments soon, but the short list includes
The Durbin Ride is an annual treat for the riding club I'm a part of. Each Summer no less than 20+ horse and riders pair up for 3 days of fun. Typically, the ride starts in Randolph County West Virginia and ends at the annual Durbin Days event in Pocahontas County (approximately 30+ miles if I remember correctly).
This year, due to road work events, our typical route was not passable. The club chose to spend the 3 days in Durbin, enjoying the entire festival and riding out from the Durbin base camp each day. Honestly, I think I might have like it better. Rather than packing things up each evening/ morning, we still got in at least 40 miles (15 hours or more of riding), and had a solid place each night to come back to.
We could not have had better weather for the ride, and my dear Jean-Luc was a doll. We lead the ride a few times (until we were going too quickly downhill for our quarter horse friends). Jean-Luc also spent quite a bit of time in the back or in the middle. He didn't seem to care where he was or what we did, he was just pleased to be walking along with his buddies.
Usually this ride is the easiest ride we do all year, however, I don't know that I would say that this time? I won't say it was hard, but I also wouldn't call it the "easiest" thing the club's done all year. We went straight up some old logging paths, rolled around on a few goat paths, and came down one or two places that felt like The Man from Snowy River - those were questionably funny. At one point I was staring at a horse's bum in front of me, then the next thing I knew, the it was just gone! Down we were going, and all I could do was lean back and let Jean-Luc do his thing.
I love these people. They're just good horse people (excluding the new members that showed up that have more than a lot to learn about good horsemanship, but that's not what I'm choosing to focus on here).
We had a few tumbles this ride, one person in particular took a few more rolls than anyone. By the end of day two, she looked like she'd been in a car accident. The falls weren't really anything to shake a stick at, just life lessons in paying attention really. For example, when someone says there's a stick on your left . . . move to the right, don't look at it. Or when you are going up and down mountains, tighten that saddle!
That said, by the end of day 2 we all were ready for some relaxation. Our muscles may or may not have been sore, regardless, nothing feels as good a chilling in a creek in a lawn chair after several hours in the saddle! Follow that up with the annual low country boil, and it's easy to see that I was one happy girl!
The last day of the ride was super chill. We welcomed a few more friends to the ride, ignored the weather man saying it was going to rain and saddled up for another 2 hours in the saddle. By the end of that I figured I would be done, however, the person I was trailring with had other ideas.
Each year, the end of Durbin Days for the Riding club is summed up with the annual Durbin Days parade. I am not much for parades. I don't know, I just don't like the idea of being on my thousand pound critter in the middle of a few thousand people, fire trucks, random loud noises and more. It feels like a death trap.
Death trap or not, I agreed to participate in this one this year. "What am I thinking?" I said outloud before we saddled up. Before I knew it, I was saddled in our fancy duds, polished Jean-Luc's feet and was ready to walk down the road!
I can honestly say it was a blast! We had to wait a while to get going, but we found a group of people to ride in the parade with that gave Jean-Luc confidence. Then, while walking in the parade, during the inevitable stops that would occur I would pick out a little girl or boy and ask them to come up to me. They (and rightfully their parents) would look at me nervously.
"It's okay," I said. "Hold out your hand."
I would then place a small apple treat in their hand allowing them to feed Jean-Luc a treat while we hanging out quietly in the parade. This trick was AMAZING! Not only were children getting to have their first experiences with a horse, Jean-Luc now LOVES parades.
My little man was one fantastic critter this weekend. I could not have been more proud! We since gone on to do no less than 30 more miles together on summer trail rides with friends. It's been great and I look forward to posting more about that in weeks to come.
The second day of riding at EJ's Stables was here. We'd had one heck of an adventure thus far, but we knew we were in for something, today. We had woken up early to feed and water the boys, then Bitty 2 began another round of her incredible breakfasts.
Around 9 AM there was a knock on our cottage door. It was Mike the Mule Man! He once had a legendary Molly Mule and has since been working to find another just as good - good luck. That said, Mike is also known for getting people into some trouble, or well, at least every story I've ever heard about him, or from him seems to relate to him getting into to some death-defying situations - exactly the kind of person you're looking forward to leading you on a ride, right!? - not so much.
As things started to progress, I was really starting to chicken out on this one. Mike happened to know some others in camp and invited them to come along as well.
"I thought this was a private thing?" I recalled confused.
But that's just how these things go. The Bitties and I weren't too sure about inviting a big group with us, the whole reason we wanted to do this ride had been to keep it private. We even chatted about bailing on this and doing our own thing. It's one thing to ride in a large group, however, we didn't even know these people or their horses?
In the end, the group had about 11 riders, one of which was on a very young buckskin, no helmet, and she admitted this was only his second time under saddle. The rest of the group were astride walking horses. While Jean-Luc is a walking horse, he does a great job of sticking with a quiet quarter horse after only a mile or so. People have often commented how amazed they are that he can hang with the slow crowd or pick it up when he needs to. (Go us! I guess?) That said, riding with walkers can be a pain for others I've learned because they tend to get a group pretty excited.
"Someone's gonna die," I was sure.
My nerves were shot before I ever hopped in the saddle. See, as if it wasn't enough to ride with all these unknowns, we were also riding with a Bitty (Bitty 3) that had to be very careful because her shoulder was recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Though cleared to ride, it wouldn't take much to put her back in the hospital. Luckily Bitty 1 is afraid of nothing - like dangerously unaware sometimes. In the end, it kind of balanced out. I made my peace with the situation. I was also to a point with Jean-Luc where I knew I could trust him. Besides, we decided if things were too terrible, we would just turn back.
The ride started out questionable for the first few miles. We decided to hang pretty far back, and that ended up being a great choice. The trail was very technical, hilly, but honestly not too much. I took the new saddle out as well because it had been pretty comfortable the day before Jean-Luc seemed to like it.
We rode up and up for several miles. It is rare that we all agree to stop while still climbing, but this was quite the climb! We paused a few times going up due to the amount of huffing and puffing coming from everyone.
"If this is the beginning," I thought, "We are in for quite the day."
And we were. The day was amazingly beautiful! Again, we saw parts of West Virginia you just can't easily hike to. I liked that the ride itself was an actual ride, too. Meaning, it wasn't for a beginner. This ride was the kind of thing you truly had to trust your horse and know how to direct him through the best places for him. We went over logs that were as tall as Jean-Luc's knees, around massively fallen grape vines, and through places, I totally called BS as to even being a trail. But alas, Mule Man Mike was never lost, or so he made us believe.
The most intense things that occurred revolved horses that didn't know how to pick up their feet. At one point Bitty 3's horse could have lost a leg on some down aircraft cable (why that was in the woods in the middle of nowhere is beyond me), but thankful, the cable was already snapped and he just dragged it along instead.
Another instance involved the same horse's leg getting stuck in a grapevine wine while two others (not so smart, helmeted lady on the green horse and friend) tried to go around said grapevine and ended up on a vertical mountainside. I still could not tell you how the got stuck like that, but the rest of the group had left them (crappy on them). They were calling for help and did not understand we were going to pass the grapevine, get to a place that was safe, because the trail was so thin you couldn't just hop off, stop, AND THEN come to get them.
So the two are screaming, "How can you leave us! You can't leave us!" Meanwhile, simultaneously yelling at each other. Not-so-smart-lady then proceeds to hop off her green horse and tries to send him to us. Well, smart horse. It decides it would like to go home. Home, in this case, is about 15 miles away through a thick, West Virginia, rainforest-like jungle. Yup. Make better choices.
At the same time this horse was trying to re-find the zip code it called home. The horse in front of me got its leg snagged on the down grapevine. The issue, there's no going up, because it was a sheer cliff face, and there's no going down because there's a downed tree with its roots sticking up to make a wall. You had to ride through it.
This is why it is so important to teach a horse to just stop when something is around its feet. That is exactly what the horse did. his back right leg had a grapevine stuck past his knee. There was no getting off easily.
Thankfully, Mule Man Mike hopped off his Mule Ms. Kitty and promptly saved all the days. Patience is key and just staying calm. It was a literal example of "how-to" and "not-to", and I was the only one smashed in between. Jean-Luc, solid man the entire time. Also, I'm sorry, but if you're making dumb decisions and end up on a cliff face, don't think I'm coming to your rescue in a hurry. My own self-preservation is foremost important. Sorry, not sorry?
We eventually stopped for lunch in a really cool place. It happened to actually be on of the old roads to Cass. I would not have believed it a road, however, had I not seed the sign.
The rest of the ride was fun. I didn't like being stuck with the back with the Not-So-Smart people, but Jean-Luc and I made our peace with it. The two thought we were just going to leave them for dead when I didn't hop off to help, but I simply explained to them that my knee isn't the one you want coming to save you. I don't know that they cared, but nor did I really.
The last 30 minutes of the ride were somewhat miserable for me. Jean-Luc was done, and he isn't the best at not jigging when going down hills. He falls on his front end and it creates a jack-hammer-like motion. It is literally fun for no one. He was tired and it all he had left, which meant it was all I could do but to try and have him shift his weight to the back end. I lost that battle so hard and for whatever reason, 30 minutes of that happened to be enough to break me.
When we hit bottom I really didn't know if I was going to cry or laugh, so I just cussed - a lot. It was pretty out of character for me. While I knew everything was fine, I'd just built up so much (like horses do) that I needed a release.
We arrived at the final river crossing and I told Mule Man Mike, "That was amazing! I'm @#&$* done. Thank you!" He was confused and laughed. Together Jean-Luc and I barreled crossed the river and smiled that our 8 hour day was nearly done.
Again, that was the most challenging and fun ride all year. I am proud that we (mostly me) completed it, and would like to try it again now that I know what I'm in for.
Until then, Jean-Luc and I will keep practicing around the barn, and wherever we can get to.
BEST RIDE OF THE SUMMER - SO FAR!
The morning after we settled into EJ's Stable I was excited to head out on the trail. The night before, because I knew how EJ liked to "wheel & deal", I asked if had any saddles for sale. Heck, last time we were there Bitty 3 bought a nice Tucker. Granted, I wasn't looking for a Tucker, I was looking for a cheapo nylon saddle that I could toss on quickly to train in etc.
Sure enough, EJ had something. And let me tell you, it was not at all what I was looking for, but it totally gets the job done. Inside his garage, he pulled out a 16" Double TT equitation saddle with the tags still on it. Thing is, it was a nylon show saddle . . . so the seat is full (fake) snakeskin, with more rhinestones than you can shake a stick at. However, it met my requirements:
Honestly, there isn't much to say about the ride because for the most part, especially for day one, the boys were super well behaved. We didn't have any issues. The Bitties and I rode the same path we had the first time we'd come to EJ, back in November. It was just a glorious as I remember, only this time we weren't cold.
We crossed the Greenbrier River a few times, rode along the river trail, became lost in wild Rhododendrons and had a great time. There was a random man we found across the river who happened to be camping in the middle of the trail. Jean-Luc nearly took out his entire campsite, but when realized either going through or around, he took down his hammock tent and let us pass. Lesson - don't camp in the middle of a trail.
The first day's ride was a good 3 and a half hours just meandering through the woods. I learned I'm not the biggest fan of riding on rail trails. They're perfect in many ways for horses, however, the people that ride along them have zero brains when it comes to interacting with horses. We encountered several bikers that just didn't know what to do when they saw a horse. While Jean-Luc isn't afraid of a bike, others I was riding with wasn't too fond of them. Some were didn't mind pausing their ride to allow us to pass, while others just barreled along at us. Again, Jean-Luc could care less if a bike was coming at him (good boy!), but Bitty 2 was having a tough time. More her fear rather than her horses. To be honest, I also get not wanting to stop your bike workout for a horse to pass. I was thinking we didn't need to, but for her safety, I was happy to put my hand in the air and ask a rider or two to pause.
Regardless, we met plenty of kind people interested in learning more about horses, and probably chatted longer than necessary when we did stop. I tend to believe most people would like to know more about how to act around a horse, but they've never been given the opportunity, therefore, if someone is going to ask to be educated, I consider it my responsibility to do so.
After the ride, EJ was kind enough to oblige and taking us to a little town called Cass. There we hopped in the river with some floats and soaked our muscles as we lazily tumbled along. It was about 4 miles to get back to the bridge which led to our cottage.
As we floated we were able to get to parts of the country that are still relatively unsettled. The only things you really see from humans are railway remnants from Cass's heyday in the 1920's. The area was once a booming logging industry but has never really recovered from the Great Depression.
Though I took no pictures, I think that is part of what makes the entire experience so special. It allowed me to truly feel what it must have been like to live in the area just as settlers from England, Scotland, and Ireland were coming over. I saw nothing but mountains, fish, birds, and bugs. Together the Bitties and thought about how the Native people must have used the land and river. The area is harsh, and can easily kill you if you don't know what you're doing. I believe people that live in the there today are still much heartier than your average human. They have to be.
The highlight of the float had to be when Bitty 1 shouted to look up. I as I did, I saw it, silently flying between the mountains, above the river - a bald eagle. The sun was setting and everything had a golden glow about it. The eagle soared so gracefully above us, ignored our presence and continued its path along the river. It was the kind of thing that made you forget everything else and just be present. I know I won't forget that for a long time.
Just as it was starting to get cold outside we found the bridge that would lead us back up to the cottage. It had been a long day, and I still had to cook dinner for the Bitties.
While I was cooking, EJ rolled back into camp with this monstrosity. Yes, he even has a pair of 18-year-old Percheron's he gives wagon rides on down the river trail. By this point, we'd met nearly all of EJ's family, and now these guys. While dinner finished up, we watched EJ unharness the pair and realized a few things about him - EJ is one of the most gentle souls you will ever meet. His actions are serious but kind. He does everything with a purpose and takes great pride in all that he has. He's a very hard worker, but somehow incredibly gentle. Seriously, I would like to be more like EJ.
I was relieved Bitties enjoyed the dinner I made (Spinach salad and a teriyaki shrimp dish). They end up making such elaborate food for trail rides I felt I really had to step up my game! Bitty 2's breakfast dishes were simply unreal - and that was breakfast!
It was after 10 PM when finished up, and the bigger ride was yet to come. We all went to bed dreaming of what the next day would bring. Mule handler Mike had promised to show us "parts unknown" in the morning!
In West Virginia, we have a song, lovingly called, "The Rhododendron Song." The lyrics to the first verse are as follows:
I want to wake up in the morning
Where the rhododendrons grow
Where the sun comes a-peeping
Into where I'm a-sleeping
And the songbirds say "Hello"
I want to wander through the wildwood
Where the fragrant breezes blow
And drift back to the mountains
Where the rhododendrons grow
Nearly every child that grew up in or around my hometown learns this song as a song to sing about the state of West Virginia. The older I get the more I appreciate this wildflower. It is hearty, very strong, sticks together, can sometimes be a pain to deal with, yet beautiful - if that doesn't describe a West Virginian, I don't know what would?
All that said, when the Bitty Gang and I rode through Green Brier County last November, (EJ'S STABLES) we knew we had to come back. Riding through blooming Rhododendron would feel like something out of Narnia. So, we booked with EJ before we left.
Before I knew it, the ride was here! I truly packed this summer full of activities (like any good first-year teacher should...Summers are the best perk of teaching), but I felt a little rushed getting ready for this one. I had just finished working a second job, then a summer camp, that led right in to tossing Jean-Luc in the trailer and heading out Pocahontas County (about a 2-hour trailer ride from the barn).
It goes without saying, EJ's is one of my favorite places to ride. The photo above is where we stayed last November. He calls it "The White House." Our ride planner, Bitty 2, informed us that EJ had since moved into The White House, though, and that we would be staying in "The Bunk House".
"Oh my," I was thinking. "The Bunk House . . . sounds like a hostel." We were going to be riding hard. Hostels are great and all, and I don't really care, but I was going to miss having a cushy home for the weekend for sure. Especially after 8 hours in the saddle for several days, however, que sera sera, right?
As we rolled up, EJ and his college-age granddaughter Haley, still putting the wood paneling on the side of a small shack next to his work garage that didn't even exist six months ago.
"Oh, my," Bitty 1 said to me from inside the truck.
"Watch that be where we're staying," I joked with her.
"Yeaaaa," she said. Bitty 1 has more experience in these kinds of things - that's why she's Bitty 1. She knew exactly the situation.
EJ greeted us and told us where to park. In true EJ fashion, he made plenty of jokes, all the while never truly knowing if they were jokes or if was serious. His sense of humor is like that - country, rough, yet jovial. I've met plenty of men like him, just very few out of the state. You never know if they like you or are just tolerating you because that's the polite thing to do. Regardless, I like him.u
While EJ and Haley removed the scaffolding . . . yes, scaffolding from around the building we got our boys settled in the paddocks outside. For a quick trip, it's really nice to have paddocks with some grass as opposed to keeping the guys locked up in stalls all weekend (though he has that option, too).
After the boys were unloaded, EJ encouraged us to go inside The Bunk House.
"Oh my," I thought, "this really is where we're staying."
In true judgmental fashion, I begrudgingly hopped from the truck and took a deep breath. "Here we go."
Yup. I was a jerk. This place was awesome! The entire cottage was decked in wood from floor to ceiling - just like EJ likes it. It was immaculate. The entire place could not have been cleaner. After several hours in the saddle, it was exactly what everyone needed.
We were ready to ride . . . [tbc].
As Spring quickly turned into Summer, Jean-Luc and I have found time to quickly evolve and hone our skills. Though I have had a rather large break in writing, that doesn't mean we've taken a break in riding by any means.
In fact, when I to myself, "Maybe i should blog now?" I then changed the thought to, "Why don't I go ride now instead?" So that's just what I did.
The Buns of Steel competition has me at 39 hours in the saddle since April 10th (sh), but doesn't count time on the ground. The time on the ground and slow work learning to control our legs / move away from pressure would have to be our biggest accomplishments. It's slow going but the class I now dotingly call "Cowboy Class with Mike Hurst" has truly helped build confidence and get me to where I want to be.
Where is that exactly? Well, for the first time since Jean-Luc and I have been together we went on a solo ride several miles away from the barn. It is literally as far as I can go on property without hitting a ton of car, or highway traffic. Sure, he wanted to turn around several times, and sure we haven't done it but once, but I now know that it is possible and WE CAN.
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.
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