Wow, it has been over a week since we headed up to Arkansas, for the Arkansas Traveler NATRC ride. No Internet, or even cell service for the most part in camp, so I waited until I got home to blog, and then got busy, and kept forgetting.
My hubby was going to go with me, and ride Flag on the ride.(plus help with the driving) This would be his first NATRC ride in about 20-22 years. I had been in a good routine packing for just myself, and one horse, but now had to make sure I had enough food, supplies, provisions for he and his horse too. We also decided to take the dog along, so I had to prep the back seat for an 80 pound Catahoula. Tuesday afternoon, we had the rig mostly ready to go. I wanted to leave Wednesday by about noon, to arrive before dark. We got a bit of a late start, and arrived around 9:30PM. Parking in the campground is tight, with very few electric spots. We found one to pull straight into, between two huge trailers that are stored on the property.
Only one other rider was in camp, but more were to arrive Thursday. I like to give the horses time to recover after a longer trailer ride. Since Bill was 'on vacation', I thought it would also be nice to have all of Thursday to relax and take in a little more of the Arkansas mountains. Got the horses settled in, Thelma on her tie, and headed to bed.
The next morning, we fussed around camp a little, and then headed back down to Russelville to the Wal-Mart to finish shopping for the weekend. Also fueled up the truck, so it would be full when we headed home after the ride. Had a nice breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and then headed back up to camp. We decided to take the horses out for a little ride. The weather was lovely,and we could only wish it could be so nice over the weekend. When we returned to camp, more riders had arrived, and camp was starting to take on the look of a ride. Bill started grilling our dinner, as I took care of the horses. He is such a wonderful cook, I know I ate better all weekend than I have at any other ride.
Friday morning, we took another short ride down a long gradual grade to a creek crossing, then headed back up the hill to camp.
I miss riding in hills and mountains, and this climb back to camp reminded me of our conditioning trails we used to ride in CA. Looking across the hill tops etc. I knew the ride was going to be really pretty, and challenging. Lots of rocks in some sections, so one must ride careful, and pay attention to the footing. We prepped the saddles, made sure we had all the saddle packs packed with a snack, water bottles, and needed supplies. Made sure to have our hoof picks packed, and we each had a cheap rain coat. The weather was questionable. We ride with sheepskin covers on the saddles, and if it rains, they are not pleasant. I also hate the leather to get too wet, as I then need to condition it right after the ride. So, we put the waterproof saddle covers on. Figured if it looked good tomorrow, we could pull them off, but we ended up leaving them on all weekend! Grilled steak for dinner. Did I mention Bill is a very good cook? Rider meeting, and off to bed for that early wake up.
BILL CHECKING IN FLAG WITH VET WHILE HORSEMANSHIP JUDGE LOOK ON
Saturday AM. I wanted to time out towards the front, as I was not sure how Flag was going to act. He loves to go. Usually it does not matter if horses are in front or not, he just loves to go! We managed to time out first, and I had Bill lead the way, and let Flag move out a little, until we saw where his brain was at for the day. Down the same hill we rode Friday AM, and we walked briskly, and trotted some. At one point, we were trotting, and Hank came to a puddle that was about 8-10' across, and he decided that leaping it would be better than splashing through it. Thank goodness I had a feeling me might be naughty, and was sort of prepared for him to do something "Hank like". It gave Don a great chuckle as he was behind me watching Hank launch himself through the air over the puddle. Never a dull ride with Hank. Flag is such an unusual little horse. His ears are always up, and he is not mad at going slower than we want him to, he just enjoys going down the trail....quickly. He does not tug and jerk against on the reins, but will set solid against them at times and pull steady. He can be held to the gait of choice, but the speed of choice takes some work. We have been doing a ton of schooling at home, and he is getting better, but needs more miles with other horses on the trail. Hard to get mad at him, as it is like an ADD kid who is cranked up on sugar and caffeine. He walks over 5 mph at times! We won't talk about his trot when he gets going! Bill had moments of frustration, between moments of enjoying the awesome scenery of the trails.
ONE OF THE BEAUTIFUL CREEK CROSSINGS
We knew he would need to work through a few things with Flag. We got to the first pulse and respiration check, and Flag lost a point, but Hank had no problems. The metabolic check by the vet on trail went well. We had an obstacle to do for the judges. It was a couple logs in an L shape next to a campfire pit. Logs were used to sit on at the fire ring. We had to side pass the L, with the horses front feet between the log and the fire ring. Hank stared at that pile of ashes and rocks, and even snorted at it a little, but did an excellent side pass, if anything, a tad too quick.
Does Hank look worried?
Bill was going to pass on it, but we convinced him to give it a try. Flag did very well, made it down one log, and made the turn, took a couple steps, then stepped forward, and marched across the fire pit.
Thanks Deborah Starr-Keene for the photos. More here:
I was pleased to see how well they actually did, as some were unable to side pass at all, or if they did, not make the L corner very well. Looking at photos of Bill and Flag, he actually did what I have reminded him to do, which is look in the direction he wants to side pass, not down. I looked down. I need to listen to my own suggestions. lol We had another P&R, no points lost, and then we had lunch in camp. Just before we headed out, we hear thunder in the distance. We added some rain gear items, and headed back on the trail. Well, it rained, it thundered, and we had lightning that was dang close. But, it could have been worse. We did about 20 miles before lunch, and only had 10 miles to go. It rained for most of that 10 mile loop, including another P&R.
Made sure to have the rump rug to keep Flags butt warm when stopped for the P&R. Did not want him to chill like he did at the endurance ride. Even with the rain, this was one of the most beautiful sections f the trail, with water falls and some creeks that we not only crossed, but traveled up through the creek bed at one point.
For erosion control, they put down cement blocks, or pavers over the trail. Great for ATV's, not so wonderful for the horses, but room next to them to ride.
RIDING DOWN THE CREEK BED
Finally done, and then the rain stopped, as the judges made their rounds to the trailers. The boys both checked out perfect.
That night, it rained off and on, sometimes we had some good downpours, other times, just sprinkling. I actually love the sound of rain on the camper roof. It is sort of relaxing to me, unless it is just pouring. Next morning, a combo of Bill being a tad sore, but not too bad, and the thought of holding Flag back on trails that might now be muddy or slick, and having to start out WITH the rain gear on, and Bill decided to stay in camp. He is not competitive, and just wanted to see some pretty trails, and ride with me, which he got to do. So Hank and I headed out alone, with Flag watching us leave, but never making a single whinny. The trails ended up not being as muddy as we expected, and it was even more beautiful out there, with everything so clean. At times we could see the clouds sitting in the valleys between the mountains in the distance.
Bits of clouds hanging in the valleys:
And then we rode up into the clouds / fog
Hank rode with one of his newest best friends, Khid, for most of the day. Khid is actually a cousin to Rockhe, our little grey gelding. Khid and Hank do enjoy entertaining each other, often doing things that do NOT amuse their riders. lol I geared down our speed from riding with Flag yesterday. It gave me more time to take in the beauty and wonder of our route through the forest. Taking notice of the rain drops hanging on the leaves,that would glisten when the sun hit them just right and the springs and small creeks flowing down through the rocks through the forest floor, and the sounds that only nature can give us, mixed with the horses hooves hitting the trails, often covered with soft wet leaves. The 7 hour trip to the ride was worth it just to take in all the beauty around us. Again, after we crossed to the trails on the other side of the highway, it started to rain more. We had an obstacle that we were to trot to judge, halt, dismount, and back the horse in hand through two trees. Hank decided to have one of his moments, and gave me trouble backing straight. We got it done, but it was not pretty. Oh well. Then, while waiting for Don and Khid to finish, I decide I needed to put my rain jacked back on. I've done this while mounted, with no issues, but Hank suddenly decided he had a monster trying to get him, and at the worse moment (meaning I did not have reins in hand), spooked, heading towards Khid for protection. I grabbed reins, told him whoa, before we got up to full speed. Guess I need to work on this again. We finished the loop, and arrived back in camp with it still raining a tad. Thankfully, it again stopped as we took care of horses.
Our camp area, where the horses stood had turned into a couple muddy, yucky puddles. Not deep, but it was a very wet, sticky mud. I did not even bother to change out of my wet bots until we were all done checking Hank through the final vet check (all perfect scores again) and got things packed up. At one point, the dog decided she needed to hide her food, and tried to cover it with dirt. But instead, she was shoving mud around, with it turning her into some clown looking dog when she was done, and her nose was covered with mud.
We got camp packed, and moved the rig over to a gravel area, waiting for awards. Some rigs got stuck, and had to get help to be pulled out.
Our region has been blessed with full rides all year. The more riders, the better the points you receive towards year end awards. When we started the season, I had in the back of my mind, I'd like him to get another Nat. Championship. He got one in 2006. Then, as he did better, I hoped for it in 6 rides, but now, I had changed my wish list to 5 rides, knowing that was hard to achieve. We ended up with a full class of 6 riders, so all Hank had to do was place 2nd or better, and he would have enough points for his National Championship in just 5 rides. Not common to get it in 5, doing really good to get it in 6, but most horses take 7 to 9 rides. And even then, it shows a horse that is pretty good at the sport. The requirements are that they need a combo of 1sts and 2nds at three of the rides, one of those needs to be out of state or region, then a total of 75 points.
So, award time came around, and I was so surprised when I won my class in Horsemanship. This was the first 1st place in Horsemanship I have got since getting back into NATRC after our move to Texas. Then for the horse awards, when 4th, then 3rd was announced, and it was not Hank, I was pretty overwhelmed to realize Hank got his National Championship. I'd guess, the first one in all of NATRC for the season. We were called up for 2nd place, and Gary Claytons horse, who won The Presidents Cup (highest award in NATRC) last year won our class. Hank is still amazing me. So not only did we get to take in the beautiy of Arkansas, including the dogwood trees blooming through out the woods
But Hank showed me he is fit and healthy to take on a ride with some awesome climbs and rocky footing like a champ.....a NATIONAL Champ!
Originally we had allowed ourselves an extra night, in case we were not up to driving home after the ride Sunday night. But since Bill had not ridden, we decided to head home right after awards. I drove about 160 miles, then Bill took over, and I fell asleep for most of the drive home. Arrived about 3AM, and Hank was more than ready to take off through the pasture, looking for the others, and I am sure, to tell them all about how the weekend went, and how I mentioned Hank is the number one boy, and they are not near as special. While I tend to agree, I would NEVER tell the others that. But Hank would.