I headed up Thursday with Hank in tow, and Mardi in the back seat. She is a good traveler, and enjoyed stopping for "road food" which was a corn dog for her.
The 380 mile drive passed quick enough, getting to see much of the small Oklahoma towns, and farm and ranch land, then through parts of NW Arkansas.
We arrived mid afternoon, and got settled in, and prepped for potential severe weather that was heading our way. The warm night with little to no wind was going to change, and we knew we could be in for a rough one. I prepped the horse compartment of the trailer to put Hank inside if needed, and headed to bed. After midnight, I got a knock on the door that we were under tornado warning. I listened to the borrowed weather radio and checked a map for the locations the weather alerts were listing, and felt that we were OK as far as tornadoes, but I feared hail, and I think all of us in camp loaded our horses in their trailers for the night, or had them in the barn down below. Turned out we had heavy, heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and high winds, but thankfully no hail. Hank has spent so much time in the trailer, he is a pretty good boy. Had a bucket of water, hay, and was dry.
Friday was cooler, and windy, but the ground dried out quickly, and the horses ended up not having mud in their camping area. We got all checked in, and everything ready for the next days ride. We would be doing 30+ miles. With the cold temps, I put Hanks warm blanket on, and tossed the electric throw on my bed, and we were both cozy. Mardi had her little horse blanket on, and a nice bed of shavings and hay tucked in the trailer. She got to sleep in the camper the night before, since Hank was using her bedroom, but that requires her being lifted up into it, and helped out of it, since it is not really "dog friendly". She is pretty happy in the horse compartment.
Saturday morning arrived, and I was ready to ride. These are such beautiful trails. A bit chilly, made for some overly cheerful horses on the early morning start. But it looked like Thursday nights rain was all we would have for the weekend. Although I did pack a rain coat Saturday AM until the clouds cleared up for the afternoon trail. We timed out, and headed down the mountain, and Hank was full of himself. He wanted to go, go, go. The winds blew a tree across the trail that we had to negotiate. The lowest part, at about 18" high had a small soft branch extending out the other side, and I knew if Hank stepped on it when going over the tree, and it moved, he would most likely spook, and so something silly, so I went for the higher about 2' section, that had a clear landing on the other side. Hank walked up, and decided he needed to tackle it like a 6' wall. Well, at least from MY perspective. He launched, we landed, and I had lost both stirrups, and had shifted a little off center. He was still ready to continue on down the trail, but this was not gonna work in my favor if he went much further, so I said WHOA, and he stopped, I got my self put back together, looked to see if anyone had got to witness my rather unflattering leap over the log, and then picked up the trot to continue on down the trail. He had a few horses in front of him, and was anxious to catch up. We were trotting along a nice stretch of trail at a pretty good clip when he sort of ducked his head to tug on the reins, as I checked on him for tugging on me, and suddenly I felt things "give". I quickly thought I had a rein or snap break, sat deep and said "WHOA", ( twice in less than 15 min. we are needing to stop on a verbal) and he slammed on the brakes. I hopped off, and saw the reins were still connected to the bit, but the bit was now in two pieces. His Myler bit broke at the joint of the barrel in the mouthpiece.
Well, not a lot of choice, so I stuffed the bridle in my pack, snapped the reins on the side rings on his halter, and got going again. I caught the horses in front and asked if we could get ahead of them for a bit, until I was sure I had the communication I needed. He has been ridden a lot in a simple S hackamore, but I prefer the bit, as it gives me a better finer detailed communication with him when negotiating tricky trail sections, or doing obstacles. He was going along nice, and after a few miles the other horses went on ahead again, and we were fine. Then we came to our first obstacle. It was a tree up on a small 3-4' slope that we had to back up and around it. Backing around trees have been an issue over the years, but he had been doing well lately. So, I positioned him, asked him to back,and he zipped around it nice and smooth, and we were heading on down the trail. (he got an excellent from the vet!)
The sky was slowly clearing from the cloud cover, the blue sky was showing, and the sun started shining down through the trees and the dogwoods were blooming. What a beautiful, beautiful day!!!
We had a lunch break in camp, where I put his hackamore on over his halter and then headed out across the highway to our other loop. This loop has the water falls.
So much to see, and take in. We rode alone for the most part. Hank is a horse who never forgets a trail, and I could tell he knew where we were going, and when we got to intersections of trails we rode in past years, he would try to go where the trail had gone before. At least I should never be lost if I need to get back to camp. Before we knew it, our 30 miles were done, and we were back at the trailer.
While relaxing after our days ride, I talked to a few people to consider if they felt they could stop their horse if their main means of communication through the reins were to be lost. It really does not matter if one rides with a bit, hackamore, bitless bridle, or halter. If it broke from the horses head, could you stop that horse? How much do you depend on the reins to stop them, or even control their direction? When I needed it, Hank stopped on my sitting deep, and saying "whoa". Something for riders to practice before they need that skill when things go wrong. I will admit I had not made a point to ever practice it, but just by always asking with my seat, and usually voice too, I had taught Hank to respond to more than just the reins. Because I used to do carriage driving, I am big on verbal cues. And like any cue we use, they are as subtle as possible to get the response I am seeking. (so my louder, more firm WHOA sue got his attention!)
Sunday morning dawned warmer than the previous day, and no jackets were needed, at least for me. Blue sky and breezes were the order for the day.
I had moments of that feeling of just being absolutely perfectly in sync and "one" with my horse. That usually brings out the gushy emotions of how lucky I am to still have Hank with me after his surgery, and glad I am riding alone, so I can sweet talk him. Had my Ipod on for a bit, and enjoyed some of my favorite music as we took in the views, flowers, butterflys, and wooded surroundings with spectacular streams. Up along one section of trail Hank had the best grazing he has ever had at a ride.
He could not stuff enough in his mouth at once to suit him. Today I found that I was able to soak in even more of the sights, sounds and smells of the mountains we were privileged to be exploring.
All the horses were checked through, and then management was announcing awards were ready! I felt Hank had done well, his metabolics had little change through the weekend, and he had no soundness issues, his back was good, and I felt he was a pretty good boy on his manners and trail ability. But we never know how the other horses have done, so I don't ever get confident of any placing. But when the awards were all said and done, I had placed first in Horsemanship, and Hank had Sweepstaked the ride. Meaning he had the highest score of all the horses in the Open division, which was around 18 to 20 horses. This is just his 3rd ride of the ride season, but he has met the placing requirements for his National Championship again, so now all we need are 27 more points. Beyond that, I do have a goal / award I'd like to try for, that thankfully would not require I drive all over the country to achieve it. But the greatest reward is spending weekends like this one, taking in such beautiful trails.
I spent the night and headed home at pre-dawn hours, arriving a bit after noon. Turned Hank out, and he was as always, anxious to roll, trot around telling the others all about his weekend, roll some more,and start munching grass.