With Missouri Fox Trotters through the Monument Valley (September 2014)

With Missouri Fox Trotters through the Monument Valley (September 2014)
 By Karl Schilling
“Missouri Fox Trotter are not only a comfortable gaited horse breed, but because of their sure footing the ideal horses for long and extreme difficult trail rides.” A statement from our friend and successful breeder in Scottsdale, Arizona, who invited us for one week “Extreme Trail” through the Monument Valley.

Of course we know from our own Fox Trotters in Germany about their quality in the open country. But we were very anxious to learn how this loved and appreciated breed will perform under extreme conditions. Following an evening of introduction at the Miller-Ranch, we start our 6 hour journey to Gouldings in the Monument Valley on Sept 18, 2014 early in the morning at 7 am. According to American standard this is not a long trip. 6 guests and 2 members of the Miller-Ranch are traveling with 2 trucks, 1 Nissan and 2 horse trailers and one chuck-wagon. (The culinary aspect of our trail should not be forgotten even in the desert) We travel with 10 horses, inclusive one spare horse and one horse for our Navajo guide. Without him we are not allowed to enter the protected Reservation. It would be anyway very difficult for us to find our way without a guide in this vast country, full of mountains, valleys and prairie, which we wish to conquer during this week. After several stops for gas and repair we arrive with one hour time difference (Navajo time) at 4 pm at the gate to the valley. Here we fill the water tanks of our 3 trailers with several thousand gallons of water. Last minute shopping in the super-market is done, except Liquor, which is not allowed in the Reservation. At 6 pm we finally arrive at our camp ground. We still have 1 ½ h until dark to build our camp.

For the horses a long picket line is installed between 2 trailers; tents are set up for the riders; for our appetite and thirst the chuck wagon is placed into position. It contains indeed everything to make our stay in the desert comfortable. At the first evening for dinner salmon is served, at all following evenings delicious steaks of various qualities are offered. Besides of good food, the hot shower available, gives us also great comfort. We are well equipped in our camp to survive the daily 6 – 8 hours in the saddle. More or less the first trail day is reserved for rider and horse to get acquainted. Our Navajo guide, Nesswood,is leading us along the well known view points with old stone paintings and caves, which all date back 2000 years into the time of the original inhabitants. Some tourists can be found scattered in this area, driven in a truck to the landmarks. The sight of 9 cowboys always creates some excitement and a busy photo shooting. With the beginning of the 2nd day, our trail leads us more and more into the back country of the Monument Valley. Strictly forbidden to all tourists, we are allowed to enter this hidden area, thanks to our Navajo Guide. The terrain gets increasingly more and more difficult; especially stressful for the horses, because for hours we ride through deep sand dunes; but in part also very demanding for the riders, because of the level of difficulty, especially when crossing the enormous cliff formations. Although we know from home in Germany what Missouri Fox Trotter can achieve, we are overwhelmed by the uncanny sureness of the horses moving through these partly impassable mountains. It proves again, that this breed originally was bred for a secure riding in the  mountains.

Like mountain goats the horses are moving in this difficult terrain; high rocks up and down. We would nether have thought, horses will be able to do that. Besides being wonderful sure footed, which is absolutely necessary when left and right of the trail it steeply descends several thousand feet. After 4 days we move the camp to another location. This is an opportunity to buy new supply, water and hay and to purchase some personal items.

Then it starts, our last trail ride into the “Painted Desert”; surely for all of us the highlight of the tour. Our Navajo guide is leading us without any moments of hesitation over an extreme chain of mountains. There is just total silence amongst us riders and also some cold-sweat. One or the other might be concerned, whether our tough Fox Trotters will master this difficult route too, calm and sure footed as always. One misstep would mean, you are history. But this concern or is it more fear is unfounded; the horses don´t show any unsteadiness, none is stumbling, they feel at home in the mountains and carry us securely over this unbelievable, difficult part of the trail. Nevertheless we are happy, arriving at the camp safe and unhurt and therefore the mood during this last evening in the camp is very relaxed. No injuries of rider or horse are a positive outcome of this remarkable trail ride. The next day we drive back to the Miller-Ranch in Scottsdale. That last evening an excellent Dinner is waiting for us at the Ranch; with plenty of food, wine, Prosecco and beer we discuss again the endured adventure in all detail. We all agree in the result: There is no other breed than the Missouri Fox Trotter, which could have brought us so comfortable, so smooth and safe in the gaits and so surefooted through the Monument Valley. We hope, that this breed will go on in the high breeding standard, to fulfill those criteria also in future.

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