Traveling the United States with My Horse, Will Rogers
For quite a while, I've been excited about taking my horse, Will Rogers, to the best riding spots in other states. After collecting information on great destinations and emailing all Poway Ridge Riders Club members for ideas and suggestions on keeping Will cool in the trailer, I felt I was prepared as well as I could be for any problem. (I want to thank Poway Ridge Riders Club members so much for their suggestions!) The number of obstacles relating to work/home and preparing my camper, horse, trailer and truck for my month-long journey were so numerous, I knew the odds against being able to leave were high. But I solved one at a time and was finished when I realized, to my surprise, that I had two new obstacles that felt insurmountable:
Sometimes I fall asleep driving from Del Mar to Kearny Mesa, so how was I going to stay awake driving 6-8 hours? And when it's hot, you can't stop in 100 degree plus temperatures to nap or your horse will cook!
My plan to beat the heat was to stay in higher elevations: high desert and mountains. I knew Yuma and Phoenix would be like a furnace and my first destination of Tombstone, Arizona should be about 82 degrees, but with a heat wave everything could be hot and I would have to return home.
So at the start of July, I was off, and traveling at night to beat the heat. It was 72 degrees leaving Del Mar, 82 degrees through Alpine, and by the time I was on the desert floor traveling Route 8 to Yuma, it was like an oven! I finally pulled over at a gas station to find out it was 102 degrees at 1:30 in the morning! Figuring it was too hot and would be hotter in the daytime, I returned up the hill to Boulder Oaks to camp and wait a day to see if the weather cooled. It didn't, it was the start of a major heat wave, so I returned to Del Mar's Far West Farms.
Well, as God knew, I happened to be desperately needed at work through the end of July. Finally, after checking cities from Arizona to Kentucky 3 times/day for a month, I was able to get out of work. The last couple of weeks, temps had been good everywhere. The question was, would it get hot as August usually does. I couldn't wait until fall because right now is when I knew I could get out of work. So off again, more determined than ever, I decided since Yuma had been 85 degrees at nite the nite before, rather than drive all nite through the desert to arrive at Tombstone, AZ, 8-10 hours later, I would make the first leg easy and spend the nite in Yuma.
Well it was quite nerve racking wondering how Will was - it sure would be nice if our horses could talk! I left at 3:30 pm, and at 6:00pm in El Centro it was 104 degrees. After an hour of hot temp, I drove into an agricultural, semi-truck business. They were really nice and let me use the 6 inch wide hose to give Will a shower.. the only problem the water was about 85-degrees but it certainly helped! Of course Will didn’t drink but I poured a bottle of water into his mouth anyways. Looking back, he was doing really well, just lots of energy wondering where he was and dancing if the tractor-trailers came too close. We rolled into Yuma with perfect timing. It was 8:30 pm, still light, about 88 degrees and just in time for the ranch hosts to show us our stall before they went to bed. It was such a nice facility and meeting such friendly people that mentioned Yuma would be the hottest city really encouraged me.
After a very comfortable night, we were rolling by 3:00 am to beat the desert heat and arrived in Tombstone at 9:00 am. Temps were in the 80's - it was a very smooth trip, stopping once to let Will out. Tombstone - home of Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral, was 80 degrees, with thunderstorms circling in the mountains, really fun weather! However, no rain in town. There's only one stable in town, the Mayor's place that runs the 2 stage coaches in town. He had no room but was nice enough to show me around his ranch. I got a name from one of the hired hands and it was the same people who said I could stay before I left on my trip. So I headed there, a couple miles out of town. I pulled into the wrong ranch next door and the nice woman mentioned I could stay at her place but rather than impose, I went next door where they take in overnighters. The guy next door was older, and I suspected he had a slight attitude. He said I could stay there with my horse and pointed to a flat place to park my rig. He was nice but I was still uneasy…everything in his barn was spotless and very orderly. I thought if I was real nice and was careful not to move anything, I could get out in a couple of days without him getting upset. I asked if it was all right to get back from town as late as 10 pm and that I may leave to my next city at 3pm, and he said fine. Boy, was I right to be concerned - I really read him right! At 6:30 am, he's yelling to me outside my camper. I'm sound asleep, and he says I didn't tell him I'd be spending the night on his property! I told him repeatedly it was no problem, that I would pay more, but that I had made it very clear yesterday that I intended to stay in my camper! He said he didn't want any money, he just wanted me off his property! He went in the barn and before he had a chance to come out, I had my horse loaded and was off his property in 3 minutes before he created some other problem! Well, what happened is I merely went right next door to that very friendly lady who welcomed us, who had a really beautiful place, had 10 horses for Will to visit, had 2 fun parties (she's a very successful business women in town and knows everyone), and met some good friends through her. I really feel this was God's way of moving me over to the ranch next door where I could have such a great time. We rode through the AZ countryside, which had surprisingly few cactus compared to Borrego. I even rode into town, tied up at the saloon and went in and saw a show! Will created quite a stir being the only horse. Shopkeepers came out of their stores along with the tourists and couldn't get over him. For the next couple of days, I would go into stores and they would ask me where my horse was! Before I left, we even had a thunderstorm. Being Will's first, I was so glad he didn't try to jump the fence. I think he gained confidence from the other horses. At the nice woman’s house I met a young couple that took 10 months off and traveled through nearly every state. They were so helpful letting me know which roads would be too steep. They had info on numerous places to camp in every state so as I needed info on my trip, I could just call them. That really reassured me to continue on.
I left at 6 am for the mountains of New Mexico and arrived at 3 pm. Temps were in the 70's through gorgeous AZ countryside and 80's through Las Cruces and the White Sands of New Mexico. As I climbed to Ruidoso Downs, the racetrack with a casino in the mountains, there was lightening in the distance. I stayed at a large, old thoroughbred ranch next to the racetrack, with bear and elk just down the trail! It was a cute town like Julian only a little bigger and more commercial. Weather was 70 degrees and a brisk 55 degrees at nite. Soon with Kentucky blue grass in mind, I was on the road at 5 am enjoying cool temps to Amarillo, Texas. It was funny when I stopped to let Will out along the way, if there were horses around he would balk once before going back in the trailer. But when he got out and saw east New Mexico and Texas (flat and boring and no horses) he was ready to go right back in the trailer! We arrived in Amarillo at the Happy Tracks Horse Motel after traveling 9 hours to nice stalls with corrals that were right on the highway entrance ramp. If Will wasn't used to the millions of semi trucks that passed us along the way - he would be by morning!
Other than the great rides, meeting people who had the same interests that were all traveling with their horse was the most fun. Happy Tracks was a busy place and everyone was anxious to point out great destinations. Two separate groups were getting back from a Pat Parelli clinic in Colorado and had paid $5,000 per person for 3 weeks! One couple invited me to East Tennessee where they had 125 acres and lakes and said the riding was beautiful. Jobba the Hut was sitting on a stool near my truck so I went over to say hi. It turned out he flew in from Alabama where he owned 5,000 acres on the ocean and was waiting for his trainer and cutting horses to arrive. The trainer arrived in a huge, new 10 horse slant load, ramp, and huge living quarters pulled by a Ford 550 flatbed. It was 24 yards long! They were on their way to Sheridan, Wyoming.
As we arrived in Oklahoma, for the first time since leaving San Diego there were actually all trees along the highway, lots of green pastures and now the bridges we traveled over actually had rivers! It was so beautiful, Missouri and Illinois were even more so. Then we pulled over at a private ranch with beautiful pastures full of goats. We passed a street sign with a horse buggy on it. Do you know what that means? We'd arrived in Amish country! They go buggying right by the ranch I stayed at to go to the grocery store. It was so much fun seeing people actually "live" with their horses and live like 100 years ago. I thought I had died and went to heaven. I really wished I had my buggy so I could trot on past them! After having fun in Amish Country, I stopped in Daniel Boone country in Indiana near Kentucky to ride in the national forest. The forests are thick and there's often horseflies (the size of humming birds)! It was one of my favorite rides as it was too foggy to drive and we sat overlooking the Ohio River. But it still wasn’t as nice as Cuyamaca, and the trails were like an obstacle course with all the fallen trees.
Later we arrived in the blue grass state - Louisville, Kentucky, at one of the ritzy saddlebred barns with riders preparing for the national saddlebred championships in Louisville. For really nice riding, they pointed me across the street to the park. When I got there I found a huge, beautiful park with grass everywhere and a paved path around it being used by hikers and bikers. Well what would you do? I (being a Poway Ridge Rider not wanting to upset anyone by riding in the wrong area) returned to the stables mentioning I didn't find the horsetrail (but figuring secretly I was supposed to ride on the paved path right?). Well the gang at the barn said I was just supposed to stay off the paved path but could ride anywhere I wanted on the grass! -just the opposite of S. Calif. - now I could really get use to this! - running on the nice grass and eating as we go. That night they invited me to a bbq for young professionals at the clubhouse, 15 feet from my camper. 200 people showed up. It was fun meeting all the locals and having the band quit at 1 am because of a thunderstorm. The next morning, trainers were in the barn fussing with their fancy champion saddlebreds. One trainer came from San Francisco with 8 horses for the show.
Well I thought they were all paying a little too much attention to their horses (even though out of the corner of their eyes they certainly noticed my horse was better looking (I'm prejudiced)). Certainly my horse could do anything their champion horses could, but as a Poway Ridge Rider what could mine do that theirs couldn't? It was raining but the temperature was great as they all huddled in the barn. Well this was my favorite kind of weather so I did like a Poway Ridge Rider would do and saddled up! - and you guessed it, with my umbrella!! Oh, all of a sudden everyone was stirring and couldn't believe I was on a saddlebred with an umbrella. And by the time I returned from riding, every person in the barns and office knew. I had trainers, saddlebred experts who had been riding 50 years, and the mounted police who stabled there coming up to me and saying they couldn't believe it -that they had used rain gear on their horse once but "how did I do it with an umbrella?" I said if you're a Poway Ridge Rider, you can do anything because you bond with your horse and that they should join! I was going to run up behind Will and vault over his tail into the saddle but I didn't want them to feel inferior with their champion horses, (just kidding). In the days that followed, I went to the Kentucky State Fair, the horse show, the Reba McIntyre/McBride concert, and the Kentucky Derby track.
All for now, I'm on my way to the top sulky racing barn in Ohio. More in the next newsletter. By the way, those two insurmountable obstacles that almost prevented me from leaving on my trip - they disappeared! Thanks to God, the weather couldn't be better and I haven't got tired driving at all!
Wish you were here!
George Carter/Poway Ridge Riders