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].
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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