This month's trail ride with the Blue Ridge Trail Riders Club was to be at Frozen Head State Natural Area, near Wartburg, Tennessee. My riding partners and I planned to meet in the park and be ready for the ride at 10:00 a.m. After studying the map, I figured it was a good two-hour drive from my home. I own and operate Arnold Estates, a log cabin rental resort in the Smokies.
The alarm went off at 6:15 a.m. I grabbed the three bottles of water I'd put on the doorknob the night before, but the three chicken sandwiches I'd made stayed in the refrigerator. It was still dark when I got to the barn at 7:00 a.m., but my mare, Scarlet, knew what was up. I'd been working on getting her in the trailer once a week for six weeks.
Every week, Scarlet would stop with her forefeet just touching the back end of the trailer. No amount of coaxing would get her to go farther. So I'd tie a rope to one side of the trailer, loop it behind her hindquarters and simply touch her lower legs with it. Each time, she'd step smartly in the trailer.
This morning, she saw the rope in my hand and stepped into the trailer before I had a chance to tie it off and nudge her. Yep, I'm winning this battle.
I got to Frozen Head about 9:30 a.m and pulled alongside four other rigs. I may have problems getting Scarlet into the trailer, but not getting her out. I simply detach the lead line and say "back." I take time getting her settled. After the two-hour trailer ride, she's prance-y. I remember the chicken sandwiches.
By the time we're all set, there were about 16 rigs and 20 horses in the park. I took Scarlet off to the side to wait. A few minutes later, a pleasant lady with a big smile rode up and said, "You must be the new guy." Yep, I answered, that's me. We chatted about the club until everyone was ready to go.
We started out slowly, with about eight people in our group. Another group fell in about 100 yards behind us. The trail was excellent - a double track with few stones and mostly a gravel base. There was little mud. We rode for about two hours, mostly at a comfortable walk. Soon, we were surrounded by snow. The snow was pretty, the horses didn't seem to mind, and the scenery was picture perfect.
Then we rounded the mountain into wind. I mean, it was blowing about 15 knots across the snow - and my vest was back in the car. We continued on for about a half hour, but some riders were getting cold. Not cool, but hunch-your-back-I'm-hating-this cold!
About 10 of us gathered in a group. The others discussed perhaps turning around. Me, I always accomplish what I set out to do. I decided to go on, but I needed a riding companion. I caught the eye of another rider and motioned to her I was going to the top. She nodded. That's all I needed - Scarlet and I were on our way.
First, we went along in an easy walk. Then, in an effort to get warm, I kicked Scarlet into a full hang-onto-your-hats gallop. An eight-foot-wide mud hole appeared. I thought for sure she'd sidestep it, but nope. We flew across it in one, big, "oh my God" leap! For the rest of the ride, I pulled her up each time we came upon a questionable area, spoiling her fun.
About a half-mile from the top, another rider caught up to me, and we got to the summit together. In about 15 minutes, the rest of the group began to arrive. It had warmed up by now, and everyone enjoyed a nice lunch in the sunshine. I was offered some pumpkin bread.
We had a nice ride down the hill. We made it back to the parking lot after about six hours in the saddle. Scarlet did well, but got a little sloppy during the last hour of the ride. I think we'd both reached our limit for the day. I took off her saddle, brushed her down, sat under a tree, and finished my bottles of water while she grazed quietly.
Finally, it was time to get in the trailer and go home. Again, Scarlet walked up toward the trailer, but this time, she stopped about 10 feet back, on the end of the nine-foot lead line. I ask her to circle and try again. Again, she's stops 10 feet back. Now, she's 5 years old and I'm at least 10 times that - I'll show her who's stubborn!
But Scarlet sets her feet like a mule. I've got one hand on the trailer and one on the lead line. There we were for about a minute, me pulling one way and her, the other. She finally gave me a little slack, and I rewarded her. We did this several more times, until her forefeet were in the trailer, as usual. But it took more than seeing the rope to get her in. I had to tie it off and gently touch her legs.
Two hours later, I came upon the last stoplight between me and the barn. Remember the three bottles of water I drank? Well, it's a two-minute light, so I accelerated. As I did, the light turned yellow, then red. Wouldn't you know there was a cop looking right at me? Up she came, blue lights flashing.
I pulled into a parking lot, set the brakes, dug out my driver's license, and rolled down the window. As the cop came up, she looked at the back of my truck and shook her head. She said she'd seen my truck around town and loved what it said. I'd painted: "Slower traffic keep right." Then I added a little help: "This is your right," with a finger pointing in the right direction.
She let me go with a warning.
For information on Arnold Estates Log Cabin Rental Resort, call (800) 969-4504, or visit www.arnoldestates.com