“I can’t remember exactly when I started linking horses… so I’ll just say it’s been forever!” That’s what I told the lady when I visited the Fantasy Hills Ranch in Delavan, Wisconsin a few weeks ago. She wanted to know my skill level, and it even shocked me to say I had been riding off and on for almost 25 years. It made me start to want to find out the answer to that question for my own curiosity.
I searched through my baby photo albums (even my sisters) because I know somewhere there exists a picture of me in a red cowboy hat, and vest with my stick horse and I’m so young that I’m still in front of my crib. The picture has vanished though like on Back to the Future. I remember bringing it out sometime in the past two decades for someone who wanted to post baby pictures for a guessing contest. (I sure hope I gave them a copy!) Anyway, if I was near my crib that had to have been close enough for me to say I’ve always loved horses.
There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. ~ Sir Winston Churchill
Here is the proof !
This is a picture of me at West Allis Western Days. Gee I love pony rides ! Ha ! Just kidding, I’d be in trouble if that was a pony I was sitting on. I would have to guess that I was about 6 years old…
Because in this picture I was 9 years old. Precisely, it was December 5, 1987, and that massive crowd behind me was preventing me from meeting Davy Jones at a book signing at Mayfair Mall. And so, in turn, I had to prevent myself from crying. We stood for hours in a line that wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t even see him on stage over the crowd. Mom took this last picture of me with the book and my Monkey, George, and we went home. Still, I have an autograph that my cousin got for me framed on my wall. It looks like it says Maggie Love, but it actually reads Maggie Love, David Jones.
Wait a minute here… how did this post go from talking about horses to talking about Monkees ?? Well because after I found out how much Davy loved horses, then I wanted to as well. That leads me to a completely different thought for a post on how a person grows into who they are and how they come to know things.
I had a photocopy of this picture of Davy from his book, framed on my wall. I wanted to be a jockey too.
See also my related post Me Without You on Davy’s passing.
Wild dreams for a kid in a middle class family in suburban Wisconsin. I had no means of being around horses unless they came to town with a fair, nor was I old enough to realize it wasn’t necessarily a sport for girls. I never did gain much height, but as I got older my frame no longer fit what would be suitable for a jockey’s stature.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a photograph to chronicle each time I rode, but I wish I did.
The first time I really got to ride a horse was the next year. It was a guided trail ride through the woods in Hayward, Wisconsin (Northwestern region) and my dad went with me the one time. In answer to your question… no I hardly ever took that shirt off.
At age 13, I returned again, and my feet almost reach.
In the in-between times, we had found a stable in Racine, Wisconsin, on 7 Mile road, that gave trail rides, partly through the woods and up along the rim of a hill that overlooked Lake Michigan. I remember going there whenever the opportunity arose. There was a Rifle Club shooting range next door that my dad belonged to so, when I went with him shooting, I would try to convince him to let me go riding. I remember one time that I must have been there so often that the owner asked me if I wanted to go along the path alone because he recognized that I had been there before. No one else was there to ride and he was busy.
They closed eventually, and circumstances prevented me from going back to Hayward where by Grandpa had a cabin.
The next picture I have is when I was 18 years old. Perhaps in early January 1997. This is in Scottsdale, Arizona and my friend’s mother’s horse. If she remembers the name, please share it.
This is probably my favorite picture. I remember my horse’s name was Deuce. This was taken by a professional photographer as a courtesy to guests at the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tuscon, Arizona. January 11, 2001.
Just before this in 1995 Christopher Reeve (Superman) had his crippling accident when he was thrown from his horse during competition and was paralyzed for life. I began to notice a change at most of the stables. We wouldn’t trot or cantor anymore. It was strictly walking and you wore a helmet. An example of how cowboy hats were traded in. October 10, 2006. Rock Creek Parkway, Washington DC.
I was on my way to the Taylor Home Inn (A bed and breakfast made up to look like the Andy Griffith Show House) October 2, 2010, when I found a place called Red Ridge Ranch in Mauston, Wisconsin just north of the Wisconsin Dells. I had just taken an hour trail ride in the Dells, but I couldn’t pass up the charm of this ranch. It was decked out in Halloween décor and harvest accents. A decent, muddy ride with my horse Kendell. Only a slight trot to get out of the mud and up a minor incline.
As you can see, I’ve been able to ride horses in a variety of places providing a wide range of scenery. I think by far, my favorite so far was a ride I shared with my best friend on August 13, 2011 at the Holman Ranch in Carmel, California. My horse, Dooley, and I rode through the vineyards, up the side of a mountain, along a path where cattle were grazing. It was so beautiful and so quintessentially cowboy, that I was actually more interested in taking pictures of the landscape than of the horses. Luckily Chris was there to snap a few pictures of me and grey-haired Dooley.
Oh how I longed to do that again. On the recommendation of a friend, I tried the Fantasy Hills Ranch this past August 31st where my story started out. Just a silhouette of me and Wyatt this time. It was an hour long ride, which is pretty standard anywhere.
However, this place offers all day 30 mile rides. I wanted to do that, and I came back three days later on Labor Day, September 3, 2012 to do so. I arrived at the ranch at 9 am, but after getting the horses and driving to the entrance of the forest, we started out close to 11:00 am. We rode 15 miles through the Kettle Moraine State Forest and then stopped for a late lunch. We didn’t return to our vehicles until 6:30 that night.
My horse’s name this time was Maks (I choose to spell it Maks, instead of Max by personal choice…. I really don’t know how they do it) and he was a handful. I will never forget him. To begin with, he got us in trouble for eating most of a baby shrub. Maks was so much bigger than me that I had blisters on my hands from trying to pull the reigns to get his head up. He was just too strong. Even when I sensed he was reaching out or down for some leaves along the way and I tried to stop him in advance, the tug-o-war between us was always lost on my side. It was not for lack of trying to show him who the boss was, I just couldn’t do it.
Fantasy Hills Ranch was different from the other places for a few reasons. On the all day ride, they didn’t have a platform so you had to put your foot in the stirrup and get up on the horse on your own. Well, remember I didn’t grow too tall…. Even at this age, I’m still shootin’ for five feet actually. I had the hardest time trying to get on. I thought it might have been easier for me to climb a building and jump off into the saddle instead of starting on the ground.
Anyway, it was also different because every place I had gone before, they always stressed riding single file. Not here. We were three wide, and the horses were always walking so close to each other. Oh yea, Maks had a problem with biting the butts of the horses in front of him. He wanted to be in charge of everything !
There were 5 of us on this trail plus the guide to make 6. Six gals out for fun, adventure and relaxation. Both were mother/daughter pairs, but they also had some experience so there was no doubt that the guide said we would be doing more than just walking.
What was so awesome about our guide is that she didn’t mind if we had our cameras with us, and I think she could sense we were responsible enough to multi-task. Once she even offered to take the camera. While we were running, she put it on video and recorded a few seconds of it. She said it was her pleasure to be able to see the excitement and joy on our faces and wanted us to see it too.
For me it was just that. After the Christopher Reeve incident I didn’t believe I would ever be able to know the thrill of racing a horse again, and now that I was bigger and able to handle it better, I desired it even more. Still, I was uncertain I was able to handle it and control Maks. Sure I’ve rambled quite extensively about how long I had been riding horses, but trail horses are so different because they know where to go and don’t need much direction from the rider. We were told the horses get quite excited in the Kettle Moraine forest because it was a treat for them to be away from the ranch.
The fear type of adrenaline ran through my body, and I pictured myself going headfirst over Maks. But in all the years of riding, back when it was ok to do more than walk, no one ever told me that it would be better to hold on with one hand to the back seat part of the saddle to keep you in place. A totally invaluable tip. The first run we did was not very long. It was just to get us used to it. The first one was fear. And of course I couldn’t help but think about Davy Jones and back to my childhood dreams.
As a horse runs, think of it as a game of tag with the wind. ~ Tre Tuberville
The second run was pure enjoyment. It gave me such a feeling of excitement that I was near tears of joy when we stopped. I believed that nothing could possibly feel better than this speed. Not a motorcycle or NASCAR, or even jumping out of a plane. It was the best feeling in the world!! Riding side by side by side, running through the trees, with such a feeling of freedom and togetherness at the same time. But of course, Maks, wants to be in charge and starts to want to pass the guide so we had to stop. Probably my fault because I wasn’t paying attention to how close I was getting.
Hey, it just dawned on me now!!! My horse would have won the race ! If we were racing and the guide hadn’t stopped it so I couldn’t win. The challenge didn’t end with not bouncing completely out of the saddle though. After lunch, on the way back, she took us running on paths that were curved and we had to be sure not to lean into the curve or we’d fall.
This is the video she shot from her horse, looking back on me. If you can handle not getting motion sickness from the video, it’s only about 40 seconds long.
I can’t wait to save up and do it again next year ! I’m sure there will be much more riding in my future as well.
Please take a moment to check out the Davy Jones Equine Memorial Fund where funds will be raised to support the former Monkees’ favorite charity. The DJEMF was created in loving memory & to protect and care for the horses Davy loved. Jones was an avid horseman and this charity ensures the continuing care of the horses he so loved. Your donation at this time will go towards day to day care of the horses. The DJEMF is a registered non profit organisation.