We arrived at Fort Valley Stables on Friday afternoon, met up with some friends, unpacked, and got camp set up. Once we let the horses settle in from their trailer journeys, myself and Disco, my sister Jessica and her 24 year old OTTB mare Cease Lass, and our friend Shari on her Paint mare Kiddo hit the trail for our first ride of the weekend. Between the rocky trails, our three dogs darting every which way after squirrels and birds, water crossings, and Disco letting me drop the reins to read the trail map while we led the way, to say he impressed me from day one is an understatement. Not to mention that he was smooth enough to not make me spill my trail mimosa, always a plus! After a few hours out on the trail we headed back to camp to settle everyone in for the night. Each horse had its own outdoor corral stall, and even though Disco has been living out with a four other horses at home, he had no trouble going back to being on his own with his two new friends in sight. He did not even seem unsettled when we had a campfire nearby later in the evening.
On day two we woke up to a dusting of snow, but that did not stop us. Disco once again forged the road ahead for his two new lady friends (I think he likes showing off for the girls). We packed lunches to bring with us for the ride, and hit the trail once again. We were in search of a set of trails off the Fort Valley Stable property. After a few wrong turns, some bush whacking, sandwich eating, some more mimosas, and a three hour or so ride, we meandered our way back to camp to take a break and warm ourselves up. The amount of times I just let Disco take the lead while I multi-tasked (either taking photos, eating, drinking, or reading the map), and he took care of me just shows what a reliable trail mount he is, and how much potential he has if this is what he is showing so early on.
We went for another ride that afternoon. The intention was to stay on the Fort Valley Ranch property, take the dogs, and go for a shorter ride so we could be back before dark. We ended up deciding to go bareback (in part to keep warm), although we did not quite realize how mountainous the property trails would be! That did not stop us though. We climbed the mountain, saw some great views, and picked our way through boulder covered trails. It was as if each ride he was finding new ways to impress me.
When Sunday morning came around the weather had improved and we took advantage of it to go on one last ride before we all had to head back home to reality. We again went out on the Fort Valley Stables trails, and climbed the mountain from their property to head into George Washington National Forest. Despite it being our third day of riding, Disco showed no signs of being sour or tired. He calmly and powerfully let the way once more, showing his seasoned trail buddies that he can more than hold his own. We returned to camp happy and ready to apply everything we learned to our training at home.
I think that the biggest thing I would have others take from how we went about this weekend, is that long slow days of riding are GREAT for the OTTB. Giving these horses the chance to learn, and get some sweat under the saddle pad without being blow-hard tired or having to break into a canter or gallop is one of my favorite things to do. It makes them appreciate the slow work, teaches them patience, and changes up their routine from endless schooling and drilling in the arena. Then when you take the horse back to schooling, they remember those long days of quiet riding, and it usually translates back to your flat work. Disco did just that when we got home. Our turn arounds and pivots were greatly improved (probably from making all of those tight reversals when we took wrong turns on narrow mountain trails), our jog has become much softer, smoother, and slower, and the arena obstacles that were slightly scary before the weekend, are now a cakewalk. From dragging logs, to the arena bridge, and ground poles, compare them to rocky mountain trails and Disco said "I've got this!"
I cannot wait to keep on throwing more at this horse and keep on seeing what he does with it all. Be sure to check out our photos from the weekend, and keep checking back for more updates!