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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cross One Off The Bucket List

Here are some of the horse-related things I would really, really love to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil:

1) Go on a deluxe equestrian vacation, riding from chateau-to-chateau in France or in-to-inn in Ireland. South America would be fine, too, since one of my fellow bloggers shared a lot about a fabulous trip she took there.
Ooooohhhh... I can barely stand to look at this. My idea of heaven. (France)
2) Gallop through the surf bareback on a beach.

3) Ride a gaited horse.

4) Drive a carriage or buggy with a cute horse/pony pulling it.

5) Ride saddleseat.

So, which one of these things do you think I actually got to do last week??? Here's a hint: I live in Missouri, so galloping through surf is probably not it. :-) Nope, I was terribly excited because while browsing online for a family-friendly activity (kids on spring break), I stumbled across the website for a place that offered trail-riding, which looked to be far from ordinary. No strings of underfed hacks there, just someone's personal very nice-looking, seemingly well cared-for... GAITED HORSES. Specifically, Missouri Fox Trotters, Tennessee Walkers and Paso Finos. HEL-lo, we were going!

I'm afraid this plan was met with a lukewarm response from the rest of the gang. Riding? But that's your thing, Mom. I guess it would be okay... you say these horses are really smooth? Yes, I said, bouncing up and down. They're special-moving horses and supposed to be very comfortable. Lots of people get them when they're tired of posting or have injuries that make it uncomfortable. And I've ALWAYS wanted to try riding one! (You get the picture, I was going with or without the other three in tow, but I sincerely hoped they would join me.) I just hoped it wouldn't rain because we've had a lot here lately.

Long story short, I was thrilled when Tuesday dawned bright, clear and absolutely gorgeous. I was able to hustle the entire gang out the door for the hour and a half drive to the farm. I had been in touch with the owner via phone and email, and was even more convinced that we were in for a real treat. The first thing she asked me was if anyone was over 220 lbs. - now there is an owner who definitely cares about her horses! (See recent Fugly discussion re: rider weight issues.) We navigated our way into the hilly terrain of SW Missouri, ending up on a dirt/gravel road - I was glad we'd taken our Jeep SUV and not my long-suffering minivan.

Here is the beautiful vista that awaited us when we arrived at Meramec Farm:
There was an obviously gaited horse - I had no idea what kind - pacing about and whinnying in a round pen next to the picturesque barn. He looked a little spirited, and I hoped no one in my family was going to be assigned to him for the ride (we weren't):
This fellow turned out to be a Paso Fino.
The lady I'd spoken to on the phone, Carol, came out of the lovely, newer house. She introduced herself to everyone and directed us to the picnic table where liability release forms and whew, riding helmets awaited. I'd told the family to bring their bike helmets just in case but had crossed my fingers that she'd have some (I'd forgotten to ask in advance).

There were two other women present; one of them was Carol's friend, who had brought her own horse over and was going to ride with us, and the other was a college student. I never did determine exactly what her relationship was with Carol but she was in the barn tacking up our horses when we arrived. So we were the only paying guests this time. Like I said, not your usual commercial trail ride at all!

Hunter was mounted first on a cute little Fox Trotter mare. Carol was very careful and methodical and gave him many instructions:
Next came DD, on another Fox Trotter (I didn't know they came in Pinto):
I was settled on a really nice mare named Sally, after some admonishment about not keeping constant contact with her long-shanked bit. Carol said the English H/J people she gets want to do that, but it's not how you ride a MFT (I actually knew this already):
And last but not least, here's Hubby on his Fox Trotter girl:
After a brief period of instruction for the non-riders, we headed out.
WOW!!! From the very first steps my mare took I could immediately feel the difference in her way of moving. The diagonal gait was apparent the second we went any faster than a very slow walk. I could hardly wait to really let Sally go, and she was in complete agreement - she was ready to roll. Alas, we had to keep our pace down to accomodate the rest of my family. It was okay, I was very glad they were all there, too.

Here's a little video I filmed as we were going down the driveway, towards those hills you can see behind the kids. I shouldn't even show it to you - it's lousy, and I apologize for the constantly changing view. I was having a hard time holding my phone steady, for one thing, and then I couldn't decide if I liked the vertical or horizontal alignment better.

We crossed the road and went into a huge pasture. This part of the ride was definitely my favorite, both going towards the hills and back to the farm.
As I said, Ms. Sally was wanting to go-go-go, so I did have to tell her WHOA a lot and circle around behind everyone else. I still got to feel the unique "fox-trotting" gait a lot, though, which just delighted me! When we made it over to the hill we started climbing in the woods.
Eventually we made it to a great spot which overlooked the "valley" and Carol's house. We paused for a few minutes here, and I really appreciated that Carol had thoughtfully equipped all of us with horn-mounted saddlebags which contained a bottle of water and a couple granola bars. There's definitely something to be said for western saddles!
On the way back to the farm we passed some of Carol's cattle. Both horses and cows regarded each other with zero interest, which I found amusing. Obviously they're well-acquainted with each other.
One Hereford momma was standing only a few feet from where were riding, placidly chewing her cud. Hubby told me later that he "mooed" at her and caused her to startle a bit - naughty guy...

I was really happy when Carol said I could finally let Sally go when we were headed up a slight incline in the pasture. All I had to do was cluck once and we were off! Of course I don't know how to properly support a horse while it is gaiting, so she broke to a canter a couple times. Carol told me that Sally can actually gait faster than most horses canter, about 14 mph. She had a baby last year by the Missouri Fox Trotter World Grand Champion.* I think she's definitely one of Carol's nicest horses, so I really appreciated getting to ride her. I can certainly see why people enjoy gaited horses so much, as the ride was amazingly smooth. Faster than trotting but not bumpy in the least, and a totally new sensation for this rider. I'm not ready to change disciplines yet but it truly was a blast! My family enjoyed the MFTs as well, even if they weren't quite as cognizant of the different gait.

Our ride lasted an hour and a half, which was just right. Even I was ready to hop down when we returned to the farm. Riding Western always hurts my knees, but at least Sally's saddle had nice, soft synthetic fenders. The stiff leather ones that really torque your knees just kill me.
It truly was a wonderful experience, and I hope to go back again. Carol has two cabins for rent on the property and it would be a great getaway location. Here's her website: :  Highly recommended!

* I am really, really hoping that show-ring MFTs are not subjected to the same treatment as their cousins, the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses... unfortunately, I have a feeling that some of the same stuff - i.e. soring - does go on. All I can say is Carol's horses are definitely loved and well-treated at HER place.

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