This past weekend was the first NATRC ride of the 2010 season. Region 4 always has this ride in early December, the "Christmas Ride". Besides the normal ride, there is a gift exchange, nice potluck with Turkey and Ham, and riders are also asked to bring unwrapped gifts for Meals On Wheels. Always a nice ride that we look forward to.
This year the ride was held down at Parrie Haynes State Park, just south of Ft. Hood in Killeen Texas. They have a nice campground with some electric spots and a trail system with permanently marked trails. Normally the ride at this location is a springtime ride, so it would be interesting to see the area with the trees dropping leaves instead of full foliage. The weather in Texas is never predictable. And of course, this time of year is most uncertain.
I headed down to the ride Thursday, so I could secure an electric spot to camp. They were calling for cold nights, down in the 20's, and even some snow on Friday. Thelma and the puppy stayed at home with my hubby, so it was just Hank and I heading down. Only 200 miles to this ride. I had picked up an audio book of Seabiscuit on CD, and that kept me entertained on the drive. We arrived, got camp set up, and I went out to dinner with some friends.
Thankfully the predicted snow for Friday only amounted to small flakes falling for about 5 min. So it was not a "White Christmas ride". I did manage to string some Christmas lights up on the camper and trailer to add some holiday cheer.
Saturday morning was indeed pretty chilly, with the temps in the mid to upper 20's, warming up to 30ish when we timed out to do our 25.5 miles. Hank was SO full of himself with the chill in the air, and I was riding a rocket. While he is not one to buck, and is always under control, he was just bursting with energy. The judges watched us not too far out of camp go up and down some little berms, or small hills, and he was jiggy, went down the first one in a side pass, and was breathing fire. After we got past this spot, and on some open trail, I let him move out for awhile at his nice trot, and he finally settled down after getting to stretch his legs. Meanwhile, I figured he did not impress the judges with his rather animated manner in which he passed them.
The trails are a combo of single tracks twisting their way through the trees and woods,
rocky sections where it is best to watch their footing,
two tracks across through open meadows, and many creek crossings, and some muddy sections to negotiate.
Plenty of places to really move out, much to the delight of Hank. Even though he was naughty, I still love the feel of a powerful, strong, fit horse. He does not tug or fight me, and is obedient, but his energy and strength radiates up through the reins. We finally found a nice pocket where we were all alone, and had some of those moments of pure joy to be riding ones favorite trail partner. We were cantering a nice open section of trail and when I came to a curve, asked Hank for a flying lead change, and it was flawless.
He was bold, forward, not acting goofy and not spooking like he often does for the heck of it. He had settled in, and the morning energy was leveling out. We came to a judged creek crossing where we had to stop before exiting up the muddy bank, and back 5 steps.
Hank listened, and did very well. His metabolics were fine. A couple little odd things, but with the cold weather, and many horses not thrilled about drinking the super cold creek water, I was not surprised, or worried.
Sunday dawned with some fog / light mist in the air. Not as frigid as Saturday morning, and I decided that rain gear was in order. Because the ride loops back through camp, I was able to drop off jackets at my rig as the weather warmed up, and the moisture in the air subsided. Hank was not as revved up, but he was still strong and ready to go. I found our pocket, and again enjoyed the trail in the manner I prefer best. Just my horse and I. But about 2/3 of the way through the first loop, I was trotting across sort of an open area when two riders came cantering up behind us. I moved out his trot, but they just cantered faster. We then caught up to a couple riders, and now our peaceful pocket was blown. In general, those who ride in the Open division will seek a pocket to ride alone, or with a friend or two, and pace themselves to stay in that nice little window. Most of us sort of have a preference as to where we ride in the group, out towards the front, in the middle, or towards the back, and don't normally alter that much, even ride to ride. But sometimes those plans fall apart with an anxious horse, or with riders new to the division that have not figured out how to pace well, or can't find that "spot". Such was the case with the two who cantered up behind us, and now Hanks mind was jazzed up a bit. And of course, around the corner, and we had a judged spot at a creek. Simple enough. Ride into the creek, step over the small log in the water, stand, count to five, exit the creek. But Hanks version was to jig into the creek, step over the log, start to side pass left, and I blocked him with my leg, start to side pass right, I blocked him with my leg, head left again, and sort of do the Cha-Cha over the log. Got him to stand, counted to TEN, to make him listen and stand, then exited the creek, which he did in a huge rush. I can't get mad at him. He is a horse with his own brain, is fit, ready to go, and mentally, had been "chased" from behind by the other horses moving rather quickly. He of course settled down after we got to move out again. We had one more obstacle, of a side pass in hand over a log, and a mount, which he was a perfect boy. At the end of the day he checked out with good metabolics. Even with the cold, and Hank being rather forward, we had a great ride. I have no worries about getting him back to some 50 mile endurance rides in 2010.
Started packing, took down my Christmas lights, and got ready to hit the road after awards. Just a four hour drive home, and we would both sleep better in our own 'beds'. At awards, Hank placed 4th,and I won my horsemanship class. After I looked at our score cards, I saw that he indeed, lost manners points for his anxious attitude. Oh well. And much to my surprise, I only lost one horsemanship point all weekend. I gave Hank hugs and kisses back at the trailer, told him he was a good boy, and loaded up and headed home. At home, he ran around the pasture, I'm sure telling the others how terrific he was.
Not sure when our next ride will be. We have some endurance rides in the area coming up, but they are not ones I enjoy riding. The next NATRC ride is in March, so until then, we will just keep conditioning, and hope that the winter weather is kind enough to do so.
Again, Thank you Jim Edmondson for some awesome photos from the weekend. If y'all are interested in seeing more of his work from the weekend, the gallery is HERE