Freedom the Photogenic Missouri Fox Trotter Trail Horse

 

Freedom is a Missouri Fox Trotter who is at the ripe old age of a banana, just shy of 19-years-old. He loves his adventures with all the scenic landscapes we travel through. Just look at his pictures and you’ll see.

 

Me being his “owner” is true; I own him. In reality, I never look at it that way. It’s that we are two best friends attached at the hip sharing the same brain. Of course, it didn’t start that way. Just like meeting someone new, you have to build your friendship up. All those words we hear when it comes to horses: the training, confidence, trust, respect, etc. They all apply and fit together.

 

Freedom and I have a bond that is almost unexplainable. We travel alone to many places, encounter many new things and with views that are simply amazing. When we venture out on new trails there is never any doubt in my mind that I’m as safe as can be with him. I’m never nervous.  There’s always the excitement of where and what are we going to see today. It’s not just enjoyable for me. There are times Freedom gets to choose where he is going and a lot of times it’s not a trail. Then I wonder what kind of shenanigans this old horse is about to get me in. There are those times I just sit in the saddle let go of the reins, munch on some cookies drink some coffee and enjoy where he takes me. It’s that simple! I’m not the boss, and he isn’t the boss. I must be insane right? The stories I can tell about our adventures are endless.

Recently, Freedom and I went to the Boston Mountains in Arkansas. Our first day out on the trail was fun. The enormous rock formations scattered around the woods are a sight to see with all the nooks and crannies around the creek walls. The creek water was clear and cold with a hint of blue to it. We took a little time to stop at Bobtail Creek where I wandered around the creek checking things out while Freedom hung out in the creek slurping up some water. A short time had passed when I noticed Freedom with a dead stare up the creek. So I looked to see what he was watching and just a short ways up the creek was a raccoon playing in the water. That raccoon was jumping and splashing water like a little kid.

 

Later that afternoon about 4 o’clock, I could hear thunder in the distance. Of course we’re about 10 miles from camp and as far down in the mountains as we could be so you couldn’t see where the storm was and no cell signal like usual. The thunder got a whole lot louder and more frequent. We found shelter under a cave outcropping and within about ten minutes it stormed like crazy. Windy, torrential rain and a whole lot of lightning and loud thunder. We waited for that storm to pass and was about to start heading back to camp when I realized that was not the end of it. Another storm was about to roll in! I realized we weren’t going to camp anytime soon so I just sat my little butt down in front of Freedom used his front legs as my back rest. I think we both kept dozing off from the boredom for three and a half hours. Seven thirty in the evening we headed back to camp.

 

A couple days later we met a big black bear! We were just walking along a trail through some cedars and pine up to the top of the mountain where it opens up some. We turn to the left around this corner of cedars and out of nowhere here is Yogi the bear standing up looking across the opening, about 20 feet in front us. Freedom immediately locked his brakes and glued his eyes and ears on Yogi. Pretty sure I almost was going to need some new undershorts. The crazy thing was the bear was just as dumbfounded as we were and couldn’t stop looking.  Eventually, Yogi the bear lost the eye blinking battle and ran back into the woods without even congratulating Freedom on his victory.

 

Fox Trotters are proven to be very versatile in many disciplines. They also excel in trail riding, from a smooth ride to being sure footed. I hear and see from time to time that people won’t ride a horse in difficult terrain, that it’s a challenge to conquer. Some say, “I’d only ride a mule there not a horse.” Much like a Chevy owner saying they would only drive a Chevy not a Ford. Truth be told they are both capable of doing the same things. Find yourself a fox trotter, get to work on making a well-oiled foxtrotting trail machine and you can show the world that fox trotters in fact can conquer some unique and challenging terrain.

 

Horses are very intelligent. When I’m on the trail I listen to Freedom and vice versa. You need to know how to listen to your horse. I am Freedom’s “herd mate and leader”. This might sound silly, but I believe it’s because he chooses me. Here’s a prime example. If we cross paths with a group of other horses he never looks twice about wanting to try to turn around and be with them.  Why would one horse not attempt to even try to follow or join other horses like their instincts? Probably because he has a better time goofing off with me, playing in the creeks, checking out caves, seeing how high we can climb, jumping whatever log we can find and bushwhacking our way off the trail to try to find cool places. When I ride there is no time limit, no setting a pace and there is no keeping up or waiting on someone else. No stress, no worries.

Freedom is far from being perfect in the show ring, bouncing head, flapping ears and perfect gaits. I’m far from being perfect on a show strip in Las Vegas so we have something in common, but who gives a doo-doo. There is no such thing as a perfect horse or human. We all have some kind of flaws just like horses have some kind of flaws. Having that perfect gait and flapping ears isn’t going to keep me safe out on the trails. That heart of gold, companionship and trust is what really matters, and you can’t put a price tag on that.

 

I want people to see that nothing is impossible with a fox trotter, especially when it comes to trail riding. I want Freedom and I to be some encouragement for others to build an even closer bond with their fox trotter.

 

How many people wish they could go trek out on the trails with just you and your horse? Would you still be as confident alone as you are in a group? What about your horse? Is your horse confident in himself and confident with just you?

 

I do understand that riding with a group can be fun and enjoyable and also pretty safe, but the experience of trail riding in different places, just you and your horse, is extremely rewarding and let me mention the peace and quiet!

 

Riding alone with your horse is a completely different experience as you see the diversity of wildlife up close. It’s fantastic! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come upon a deer that simply stayed lying down while watching us pass by, a few feet away, and how the deer that are feeding don’t fear you and take off. Countless times, I’ve watched raccoons playing and bears, yes the ever so scary bears, who are honestly more afraid of you. Yes, seeing a giant Yogi might be a heart pounder in the moment, but watching one out in the wild run through the woods away from you is a thrill you will never forget. I have seen a band of wild pigs run off to the sound of hoof beats and bobcats that sit in a tree or on rock ledges watching you from a distance.

 

What makes the wildlife encounters so memorable is that you see them in their natural habitat, but most of all how well your horse handles each encounter. Some may disagree with me that you can train your horse to be desensitized to all kinds of objects and things around the home and spend countless hours training to be a “trail horse” crossing logs, water, side step, bridges, stairs, jumping, etc. This is great training, but how do you train your horse for unexpected encounters with wildlife, something the horse hasn’t seen before. How do you train your horse to not leave you behind?

 

Home is safe, especially to a rider. Mentally you feel safer, more confident, more relaxed, and more in tune with your horse. Now really think to yourself if you go someplace new to ride for the weekend by your lonesome, are you still going to feel just as safe as you do at home? Just as confident and relaxed? Are you going to be just as in tune with your horse? What about the horse?  Is he going to be confident away from the safety of home? Much of this dialogue centers on the bond and trust that you have with your horse and your horse has in you and how working in harmony makes the possibilities endless. Sure your horse Lollipop Larry may know you well and loves all the treats the grooming and pampering, but is Larry the horse going to keep you safe away from home? Are you going to keep Larry safe? There is one point in this entire writing that folks should understand, a fox trotter is the only horse you should ever own, but on a serious note, it takes more than just a good broke horse, good training and repetition to achieve a level of companionship.

 

I hear all the time that I must be crazy riding alone in unfamiliar places or how unsafe that is—blah, blah, blah. Well what if this or that happens? What if, what if…. What if we stop worrying about what-ifs and focus on what can be? I would almost bet some folks have never truly tried such a thing and their horse doesn’t have that unshakeable bond with its human.

 

Recently, I’ve had several people asking me about the unique bond I have with my fox trotter, Freedom, and are intrigued by the relationship. People want to know how I do it. I’m just scratching the surface on some of my secrets, but want to encourage people to get outside of their comfort zone and experience trail riding with just their horse. Trail riding is rewarding and a true partnership between horse and human.

 

– Jake Benson –