I've been regaled with tales of a special training exercise that several of my local friends have been involved with over the past few years. The multi-week training takes place in various remote places in West Virginia during different times of the year from the hot heat of summer to the bitter cold (and snow) of winter. The trainees are both from the US and abroad and learn how to navigate through rugged backcountry terrain both on foot, on horseback, and on skis.
When the training involves a horse component, Dan, my friend and farrier, is been one of the instructors. He's one of the most skilled backcountry navigators I've ever known, versed both in contemporary and ancient (Oglala Lakota) methodologies; to boot, he's got a very natural hand with horses. Both of these characteristics make him a perfect fit as an instructor for this specialized training course.
Dan shared with me early on in the summer that a training course would be taking place in September, and they would need more horses than usual for it. The horses would largely be ridden by individuals with ZERO horse experience and would need to have temperaments that could handle loud, sometimes unexpected noises that would occur during training. The goal of the training was to prepare the human trainees for such a time that they would need to be adept at riding a horse through rugged terrain in a dangerous environment.
I would never dream of signing Griffin or Q up for dealing with newbies in this kind of atmosphere. They do not have the temperament for such activities, and I have no desire to subject them to riders that are unbalanced and unpredictable in their abilities as neither horse has a lot of patience for it past 30-45 minutes.
Stan though? Stan is as even-keeled as they come. I knew he could handle everything with aplomb. A bonus (in my mind) was that the opportunity would also be great conditioning for him during a month when I wanted to focus my efforts solely on Q and Griffin. The only way I can keep three horses in full work is through the help of friends!
And so, Stan was drafted to the Army!
Dan and others picked Stan up on the last day of August. At this time I was apprised of the general gist of what he'd be doing, though many details were still left out due to confidentiality reasons.
Largely, he'd be giving basic riding lessons the first days, and then would be ridden at night over rough terrain the rest of the days for 10-12 miles per night as they pursued night infiltration practice missions. The level of difficulty would increase as the course proceeded.
While Stan was away, I didn't hear too much from Dan. The area they were in is one of the most remote in the state and you have to drive a significant clip to get cell service. However, I did receive the following updates about half-way through:
|Stan is left of center between the buckskin and paint; Dan isn't much for photos and this is all he sent lol|
In case you missed it, or wondered if there was a bizarre autocorrect situation in there...
My horse is helicopter broke.
Don't believe me?
How about now? Sure, that photo has the helicopter on the ground, but during their night missions the horses had to ride to meet a hovering blackhawk helicopter several times. As Dan stated above, Stan handled it like a boss.
In fact, Stan was so outstanding during his time at this training that the experienced riders and trainers bickered over who would get to ride him. From talking with them afterward, it sounds like Willie won out a lot. Hearing this pleased me greatly because he is a phenomenal rider and I'm grateful Stan didn't have to deal with newbies too much. In fact, after many miles and hours with Willie in the saddle, Stan came back to me lighter in the aids than he's been since I've had him! Another added bonus.
Because he was Willie's horse so often, Stan led a lot of the rides and night missions. He was the first to traverse rugged terrain in low light conditions, the first to encounter loud noises and bright lights, and a steady rock for all others to follow. I knew he was solid and good, but to tackle this with relative ease as it sounds he did was news to me and blew me away.
Since the conclusion of the training, I've continued to have multiple people involved reach out to me to tell me how incredibly outstanding Stan was for everything. I even heard tales of some of the older horse-folk who helped out arguing that Stan was one of the best built QH they'd ever met. Hearing all of this made me feel so happy about my boy.
This experience was not only great conditioning for Stan, but the experience showed me (even more) what a gem this horse is. Stan is so special - a fact that is now evident to not only me as his very biased owner, but also others. I'm so grateful to have him in my life. 💙