Last Saturday, I loaded John onto the trailer and drove out to the Hartford County 4-H Camp in Marlborough for the New England Arabian Trail Organization (NEATO) Trick or Treat Ride. It was advertised as a 13 mile pleasure ride with two river crossings, numerous brooks and rocky footing where shoes or hoof protection were recommended.
I was eager to take John on a "fun" ride and it has been years since I rode the trails at the 4-H camp. Trick or Treat with NEATO sounded like the perfect opportunity.
I arrived at the campground and parked next to Jim and Esther (who also ride Morgans on the competitive trail circuit). The next trailer into the lot was one of the riders I met at Fun In The Forest the previous week. Its a small world!
NEATO does a great job organizing rides. I went to register and there was a huge breakfast spread, including coffee, candy (makes sense, it was a trick or treat ride), fruit for humans and apples and carrots for horses. I grabbed another cup of coffee, some carrots for John and candy for my saddle bag and then went over the trail map and markings with Roxanne.
The trail was separated into three loops, the loop out of camp, marked with striped tape, which is one mile one way. The next loop was pink and seven miles. The third loop was orange and 4 miles. I tacked up and headed off down the trail at twenty of ten. On the first loop, you cross the Salmon River, with the drought we have had, the river was not high, but it is the first sizable river I have had John cross. He had a lot of fun pawing the water and then scurried to the other side.
Riders were all incredibly bunched up on the first loop. When we got to the turnoff (left for pink and right for orange), Esther and Jim decided to go right while everyone else was going left. John was a bit jazzed up, but so was Esther's horse, so I decided to go left with the rest of the pack onto the pink trail. I thought it would be a good opportunity for John to practice being calm and not racing other horses.
We rode alongside the Jeremy river and then crossed that river as well. This one was deeper and a lot more fun to cross. John was having a great time exploring the river until a horse came flying up the trail and into the river behind us. We quickly crossed the river and pulled off to the side of the trail to let the excited horse pass us.
After a little while on the pink trail I discovered why hoof protection was strongly recommended. The trail was one of the rockiest I have ever seen. And there were lots of hills. The terrain neccessitated a slow and careful route, something John was not always willing to do but he soon settled in. I kept him behind the horses in front of us for a long time. After awhile, I got bored of always walking, so when we found a good spot, I let him trot and we passed several groups. John decided that this meant we were on a competitive trail ride and should be going fast, so we started over with trying to calm down and walk quietly.
We finaally made our way back to the Jeremy river. This time, I let him cross the river as slowly as he wanted. I was enjoying the view too. We walked down the road, past the opening to the striped trail (that led back to camp) and picked up the orange trail for another four mile loop. The orange trail is airline trail - packed dirt and gravel roads. John loves airline trail and I let him canter right away, to make up for the rocky woods trail (his least favorite kind of trail). He had just settled into his stride when I saw people walking on the trail up ahead. I eased him back to a walk and we walked past the people. Off we went into the canter again and then we rounded a bend and saw a mother and son sitting on a rock with their bicycle off to the side. I eased him back into a walk and we went past the people.
We encountered our first loose dog of our lives further up the trail when he came running at us. Luckily, his owner was right there and grabbed him. The owner also had his elderly mother sitting in a chair at the trail head that I needed to cross into and was standing next to the small opening (half blocked by his mother in her chair) with the dog straining to get at John. Despite this mini-circus, John behaved like a star and listened very closely to me as we eased past the lady in the chair and the dog. I also mentioned that there were several horses behind me that would be coming along the same trail (since they had not offered to move).
We rode down a steep hill on some woods trail from one set of airline trail to another to make the loop of airline trail. As we galloped along the Salmon river, another loose dog ran out at us. He was only a small dog (Boston Terrier) and he would run at us barking and then run away because he was scared. I kept walking John forward, talking to the dog and soon his owner appeared from the river bank - they were fishing. And on we galloped again. Until we found a great spot where we could walk down into the river so I rode John right into the Salmon river and let him stop for a drink and a break. We continued to canter along until we were back at the road.
The striped trail was not far from the orange trail and we quickly headed back to camp (after crossing the Salmon river one more time).
Our thirteen miles were complete and it was a great time. I had let John run a bit on the airline trail because I was hungry and the registration form said lunch was only being served from noon until one. I rode back into camp at twenty of one. I had lunch with several of the other riders (chili, mmm) and then they all headed back out on the trail. Wait a minute... I could have taken my time on this ride. They all did one loop (pink or orange) and then had lunch and then did the other loop. And then they were going to do it all over again on Sunday.
I guess my horse is not the only one who needs a little more practice on the art of a "fun" ride.