Happy Trails & Pony Tails

Once upon a time, a horse-crazy gal had the crazy idea that it would be fun for friends from all over the country to meet and ride together. Several years later, the ride has become an annual event when summer is about to give way to fall. The location setting is the largest park in the U.S.A. that specifically caters to “horsefolk” – Fort Robinson State Park, located in western Nebraska. All in all, there are 22,000 acres that offer miles of smiles for trail riders! Swing your foot in the stirrup and join us for a virtual ride back into history.

This is the history lesson part of the tour. In 1874, The U.S. Government authorized the establishment of a military camp at the Red Cloud Indian Agency near what is now Crawford, NE. The area was once home to some 13,000 Lakota Sioux. The Indian chief, Crazy Horse, surrendered and later died at Fort Robinson, marking the end of the Native American horse culture of the plains.

Fort Robinson later became the world’s largest Cavalry Remount depot and at it’s peak was home to 11,000 head of horses and 7,000 head of mules. During World War II, the fort was the site of the military canine training center as well as a prisoner-of-war camp for German soldiers. The fort also served as a training base for U.S. Olympic equestrians and was known in military circles as the “Country Club” of military installations. In 1955, a new chapter for the fort began when it was acquired by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The scenery is the “High Plains” at it’s best…rolling hills of grass divided by ripples of pine ridges and striking rock formations.

The fort complex was restored to historic perfection and has been beautifully maintained. The officer’s quarters, barracks and assorted buildings serve as present day guest quarters. “Fort Rob” isn’t just for horsefolk though, thousands of people enjoy the park as an affordable and ideal site for family vacations, reunions and various other get-togethers. There is an indoor swimming pool, stream fishing, two museums, and a lovely golf course just a stone’s throw away. To learn more about Fort Robinson, visit

http://www.stateparks.com/fort_robinson.html

Ok, the stage has been set and you now know why “Fort Rob” is the perfect getaway location for a bunch of horse-crazy friends. However, all vacations require some prep work beforehand so that you can comfortably wave bye-bye to everyday life for a few days. If you have a garden, the end of summer is when the bulk of your vegetables and fruit are ready to can or freeze. And, so it was with me, but even more so for my friend, Anita (below), who is a 10 on the farmgirl scale! She has two milk cows, sheep, beef cattle, poultry, a huge garden, an orchard and hundreds of acres of hay meadow. Needless to say, she had a lot to get done before we left.

The last detail was to relax, knowing that our dear husbands would make sure everything got watered in our absence. Anita and I both are waiting on tomatoes; the fact that they’re running late this year worked out just right. I pruned and then pickled some small green ones before I left and cut off a lot of leaves too in the hope that it would hasten the ripening time.

Our annual trip to the fort is planned well in advance and my long-time galpal, Linnea, always makes reservations for our cabin and stalls. Linnea, by the way, is the one who several years ago dreamed up this “meet & ride” shindig for trail riders. This last ride was our 8th year. In the top photo, she is wearing a pink blouse and resting her horse in the creek. Alrighty then, enough chit-chat…let’s go ride!!

Chestine and Teri drive all the way from northern California with their horses for the ride.

Other friends sometimes fly in to Rapid City, SD and then get a rental car and make the drive of a couple hours to the park. Several of us have brought extra horses for those who fly to the ride.

Many of us have Morgan Horses, but not everyone rides a Morgan. We’re horse lovers at heart (ALL horses) and the best breed is a good horse no matter how the pedigree may read. We don’t care if you ride a purple dinosaur.

The fun begins at daybreak when we go to the barns to care for the horses. Then, we grab a little breakfast and then we RIDE. We may ride for a few hours or several hours a day and sometimes twice a day. We eat too much, laugh too much and talk too much!

The ride focuses on horses…sort of… but our beloved horses are only part of it. They’re the vehicle (literally) that enables us to spend time with old friends, new friends and friends we may meet for the first time at Fort Rob. We share more than an addiction to the mixed perfume of horse sweat and saddle leather. Oh, and the relaxation…the Cicadas sing you to sleep at night and our horses nicker greetings to us in the morning. Have you ever heard a horse walk on real cobblestone? The floors in the stable barns at Fort Rob are the original cobblestone. To a horse lover, the sound of a horse walking down those old aisles is soul music.

As individuals, some of us ride western, some ride English and the rest of us are a blend of whatever fits us. We have in our group: advanced dressage and western riders, ranchers, show horse gals, drivers, trail riders and rookie riders too. We come from every walk of life…nurses, oil-field workers, veterinarians, accountants, school teachers, ranchers, lawyers, truck drivers… etc etc.

Some of the gals bring their husbands as well as their horses. The ride isn’t a “No Boys” project, but the numbers are rather one-sided. There are a LOT of horse crazy girls out there who never outgrew being infatuated with horses. Many an old-time cowgirl in the era of the Suffragette knew that “peace of mind”, adventure, and a very real sense of freedom can be had on the back of a fine horse. When you look at the world from the saddle, you’re three feet higher off of the ground and somehow it offers a better view of the world and even of your own life. Well, it is true for some of us anyway. Winston Churchill said “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” He was so right. (Above: Linnea and Sue)

My 3 year old filly, “Ribbon” was our youngest “attendee” this year. Going to Fort Robinson was her first big trip away from home – her maiden voyage. She was as sensible as an old veteran, never took a bad step…a horsey angel and I’m blessed to call her mine. Below: Anita holding Ribbon while I took the photo. Anita is riding “Mac”, Ribbon’s older half-brother.

There was another item on my weekend agenda. I ordered a custom saddle awhile back and I needed to have the fitting appointment so that the order can be completed. Sean is a friend of Linnea’s and he is a saddle maker for Double H Ranch Saddles (CO). He also owns a Morgan Horse (Sammy) that Linnea bred. Anyway, Sean came to Fort Rob with Linnea for the ride, but he also came to get my saddle order fully underway with a “fitting”. After I sat on the saddle tree several times and answered his questions about pressure points, he then did the preliminary work by rasping the tree to fit my “bones”. In the beginning, there are all kinds of pressure points and the goal is to eliminate them so that in the end when you sit on the bare tree, all you feel is even contact and “balanced”.

Sean is an artist in cowboy clothes. His leather tooling is…is…well, I will just have to show you later when my saddle is done. Words can’t describe his work, nor can I make any of the most complimentary words I know fit his remarkable gift. I AM SO EXCITED to get my saddle. It will fit my body and my horse’s too…and it will have tooled/carved pansies all over it. Below: Sean and Sammy at sundown. It was so hot that we rode in the evenings til “dark thirty”. The moon was full and the prairie was “lit up” because of the moonlight shining on the tan grass.

As I finish this article, I’m sitting at my desk in my pajamas and it is 1:30 in the afternoon. My husband didn’t think I had the guts to tell you :o) …but, there it is. I’m absotively, posilutely pooped via too much fun. Lucky for me, there is no dress code for a blogger. Ribbon was happy to be home and so was I. There is no softer pillow than your own. Now, on to canning tomatoes. Ya know what? They can wait, they’ll just be a deeper shade of red tomorrow.

Leave a comment 24 Comments

  1. Terces says:

    WOW! I owned a horse when we lived in Cuba in the 1950’s and still remember how much I loved riding. Reading this inspires me to think about adding land to our farm so I can have a horse again. What a beautiful story with beautiful horse and people pictures! thank you for sharing. Love, Terces

  2. Mary Jane says:

    Oh, how I wish I were closer and your FRIEND!! I will have to enjoy thru your blog. What a beautiful tribute to your friends AND horses!

  3. Claudai says:

    The largest park in the U.S. is the Adirondack park….lets all ride here?

  4. Tanya says:

    WOW!!! All I can say is I’m putting this on my Bucket List! Thank you! It brought tears to my eyes! And I was wondering how ya’ll left your gardens!!! I’m a fan of your Blog and of your Profile Picture! Blessings to you! And thank you Sherry, for sharing your life with me!

  5. TJ Wierenga says:

    Oh how FUN!! My now-husband and I rode out at Fort Rob when we were courting…great photos reminding me of that great area of the country!

    We moved up to Montana from Texas after marrying and starting our family 4 years ago… I left behind a group of friends we called the "YeeHa Sisterhood" (made a yahoogroup and everything! nationwide! grin) that was comprised of all gals who likewise rode English, western, Aussie, or bareback! We had monthly trail rides while I was still in TX, and they still get together every now and then here and there around the country. I’ll have to suggest a Fort Robinson ride and see if I can’t haul my ’87 foundation-bred QH "Bubas Pepper" down there for a YeeHa get-together!

    Thanks for this great post – and now I’ve been singing and whistling "Happy Trails" for half an hour… grin…

    ~TJ

  6. Debbie says:

    Shery,
    There’s beauty everywhere in this post! All the gals are just beaming with joy to be with their horses and the horses look happy too…I see it’s not just " young fillies" out there on the trail with their trusty steeds. More inspiration for this middle aged "rookie rider" ! Fall riding lessons begin this Friday for me! Can’t wait… There just might be a short trail ride in my near future! I’ll keep you posted!

    I don’t have to tell you Happy Trails!
    hugs,
    Deb

  7. Grace~katmom says:

    Oh Shery,
    Thanx for taking us along on a wonderful ride….and Ribbon is beautiful!
    hugz
    grace

  8. Rose helmbright says:

    Sounds just wonderful! Someday I want to learn to ride. It was fun going along with you on your ride with your writing.

    Happy Trails
    Rose

  9. Reba says:

    Thank you for such a great post…again! It looks like so much fun…and refreshing. (I also wish that I could have had tomatoes as those on your vines. Ours were horrible!) Ribbon is a beauty!! I think it is truly a blessing to have horses. They are certainly beautiful creatures.

  10. Rene Foust says:

    Beautiful and wonderful. You are blessed.

  11. Tash says:

    Me and my horse Beauty want to come!!!!

  12. Kris says:

    Why don’t you let a friend use your camera so we can see how much you enjoy yourself? We know you do; you keep telling us, but I want to know if you tilt back your head and roar, or do a little dance, or roll around on the ground or….

  13. Mandie says:

    This is my first visit to your blog. It looks like a great blog and I can’t wait to read more and get to know you through it:) We got married not far from Ft Robinson park and I love it there – that place is amazing. I have never gotten to ride there yet but I hope to sometime. It is gorgeous there and I have heard it is such a great place to trail ride. Thank you for sharing the stories and photos :)

  14. michele hieb says:

    Looks like you had a wonderful time…wish that I was right along with you…maybe next year. :) I look forward to getting together for our next farmgirl gathering and getting all the details that fall between the lines. See you soon my friend :)

  15. If I were to be a ranch hand in this life I would love to spend my time with you and your friends. Looks like the life from here in the north. One or two of my chickens are laying eggs now. Had three yesterday but not sure if all three were laid yesterday or also from the day before. But none at all today. Pretty little blue-green ones. Made hubs 1/2 fried egg sandwich and sent on home with our little 3 year old niece.

  16. Louise Cannady says:

    Hi Shery,
    Never has a greater statement been true "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man!" In this case a woman, with MS trying to convince her family how important it is to let her have a horse. But more importantly are your kind words describing Sean and his dedication to fitting his saddles not only to you, but also the horse. Sean literally throws himself into any thing he does and he truly is an artist! I know because I’m his mom! Again, thank you.
    Louise Cannady
    P.S. I love you, Sean!

  17. Ann says:

    Hello Shery,

    I finally had some time to read your blog – what a great entry! I was so happy to hear that you gals are fans of the Morgan horse breed. The love of my life, Danny (also a Morgan), passed away in early May after 27 years. There has been a huge hole in my life since, and it was cool to hear of others who share my passion. I would love to join you one day on a ride!

  18. Connie Tarplee says:

    This looks like a great place to ride. I have been wanting to go west to ride. The history and the beauty of the land. This place I will go to ride one day.

  19. BARBARA BUTLER says:

    What a beautiful article. Bless all of you, Horses too.

  20. Susie says:

    My first visit to your blog. Oh, you are so going to love that new saddle!! I got mine from Double H almost 2 years ago. Fits my two TB Morgan crosses beautifully. And for me – improved my riding immensely! So comfortable! Best investment I ever made!! One year I would love to join your ride.

  21. Sue says:

    LOL, Shery….
    I just now saw this page…didn’t know my pic was on it :) I tell ya, that was the funnest time of my entire life. Gotta do it again! Thanks for loaning me your beautiful mares for the ride!
    Sue

  22. heather says:

    I read your article and it reminded me of a horse named Bonnie I met at summer camp.I loved her. I am reminded of the deep love in my heart for horses and how someday I can have one again.
    Enlightened
    Thank You for sharing

  23. Carla says:

    I would so love to join all you girls on this ride with my 5 yr. old Morgan mare "Mattie". My friend Kathy would like to go to.
    Now how far is Nebraska from Massachusetts! And I need the dates too Yeehaw!
    Thank-you so much!
    Carla

  24. marty says:

    Sure is one pretty mare in all the cavalry accoutraments and such! Like the rest of them too. Great job Shery and great writing,
    Marty and Karen

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