If you enjoy camping with your horse at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL) in western Kentucky and Tennessee, or hauling in to ride the trails just for the day, it’s likely you will run into one particular “regular”. Lola Hobby probably knows the 100 miles of equestrian riding and driving trails better than anyone. She is easily spotted; a slight woman riding riding one of her two horses–an experienced chestnut or her young palomino gelding with a white blaze, and accompanied by her large, Great Dane-mix dog.
Lola has been riding the trails most weekends for about six years. I recently had several delightful conversations with her about her horses and trail riding experiences. After our chats I couldn’t help but sit back and smile, and think about Lola’s joyful tales of the trails.
WH: When did you start riding horses?
LH: I helped my daddy tend our farm animals. Mornings started with milking the cows, cleaning the barn, then toting wood or coal to the house. We always had a mule mare for plowing the fields. All my life there were just a few years when I didn’t have a horse. And I always wanted them back again.
WH: How did you come to own your current horses?
LH: Red is a Missouri Fox Trotter. He’s 23 but he doesn’t know it. He belonged to my uncle but he was too fast, even at a walk. My uncle didn’t like that but we get along just fine. Red is easy going. I ride him in a hackamore with no throat latch. One day we were riding and the bees were swarming around his head. He started shaking his head and the hackamore slid off. I couldn’t reach to pull it up so we just went on down the trail and finished our ride with that hackamore hanging off his neck.
A few years ago, I decided to get a younger horse with Red getting up in age. I found Arizona, a Palomino Walking Horse, through a friend. His previous owner brought him to Wranglers to trail ride and show, trying to sell him. Its not good to shop for horses and take your trailer with you, but that’s what I did. I saw him and said to myself “Oh, this one is gonna be mine.” He was only three so I sent him to a trainer who said Arizona was the “bucking-est” Walking Horse he ever saw.
WH: What qualities make a good trail horse?
LH: A horse that isn’t spooky will make a good trail horse. It’s okay to look around and snort at strange things on the trail. A trail horse needs to learn to stay on the trail, cut around trees, step over logs and walk through water. It’s hard with a new horse, it can take a little time but most figure it out. A horse that doesn’t adapt and continues to react at every little thing makes for a miserable ride.
WH: What advice can you offer someone headed out on a trail ride?
LH: Folks need to check their tack and make certain it fits and is properly adjusted. I see a lot of back girths that are hanging down. They need to be snug against the horse’s belly. If that strap hangs low it can catch on a stick or bush and that’s going to cause problems for any horse.
I prefer riding with a smaller group. It seems a big group of people riding together increases the likelihood of something happening. If the lead horse disturbs a hornet nest, you don’t want to be at the end of a long line of horses. That happened to me. Arizona took off through the woods trying to brush off the hornets; he was bucking like a rodeo horse. I fell off breaking five ribs, and he ran over the hill to another group of riders.
WH: How do you keep from getting lost on the trails?
LH: Trails are usually marked pretty well. Some parks do a better job than others. It’s funny, a horse knows where he is most of the time. I’ve heard stories of horses coming back to camp alone when their rider fell off. They walk past everyone, other horses, campsites, and go stand right next to their trailer until someone comes to get them. I took Arizona on a new trail and as soon as I turned back, he sped up and marched back up the trail. He knew exactly how to get back and he’s gung-ho to get there.
WH: Where do you trail ride?
LH: I usually ride at LBL where there are wide trails for driving and a good mix of woods and open fields around the lakes. I also ride at Shawnee National Forest, which is pretty with large rock formations. Mammoth Cave National Park is another good place to ride.
WH: Is camping with horses a lot of work?
LH: I camp quite a bit during the warmer months. I’ll go for a long weekend, reserve a stall for my horse and get a spot for the trailer where I can keep an eye on the stable and my horse. At LBL there are four areas to set up and stable your horse although lots of people choose to keep their horses on a tie line. The facilities are great. There’s a bath house, trailer hookups, water, everything you need to be comfortable for a couple days.
My horses are very spoiled. I keep an eye on them and they watch me too. When they see me packing up to head home, they start pacing around and get kind of frantic. They like camping and trail riding but they want to make sure they’re going home with me, that I don’t forget them.
When I camp, I always take my dog, Apache. He’s a mix, maybe a Great Dane/Shepherd/Catahoula. On the trail he sticks like glue to my horse. He’s a silent partner, always right behind us. He stays on the trail and doesn’t bother other horses or dogs we come up on. He’s there to take care of things.
WH: What do you like most about trail riding?
LH: After a good ride it’s nice to get back to camp and enjoy a good meal. I can’t think of anything much better than a pot of white beans and ham with big slices of onion, maybe some fresh turnip greens and cornbread. Sometimes we’ll make homemade ice cream.
Trail riding folk are the nicest people. They’re helpful, congenial, and they’re doing something they like to do. I’ll meet up and ride with friends but just as often I’ll go ride alone. After a good ride everyone meets back at the campground to get together, tell stories and cook. Recently one fella brought his grill and cooler full of chicken and porterhouse steaks and cooked for anyone who stopped by. Trail riders are good folk that like to have a good time.
WH: What about your horses makes you happy?
LH: Red’s favorite treat is candy corn. I’ll give him a couple pieces and he’ll suck and run his tongue over his teeth to get the sugar. Once I was riding Red in a Fourth of July parade. Along the way someone was throwing candy corn onto the pavement. At first he didn’t notice, then the light bulb went off. He wanted to stop and eat those treats but he knew better. We kept going.
If I hadn’t named him Arizona, I would have named the new horse Double Trouble. He is not calm or collected. I like a horse with a little zip. He has to be in front on a trail ride and he’ll leave any slower horse behind. He is frisky, nosey, and inquisitive. Nothing escapes him. I had a wrought iron hanger with flower pots in the yard. He pulled it out of the ground and threw it on the fence. I hung fly strips in the barn. I should have known better. He tore them down. He’s pulled a hammer out of my hand. Nuzzling me, he pulled my shoe off.
Returning from a ride, Arizona was acting up. I had enough and got after him. He spun around and bucked but finally settled. My friend said “I got new respect for you, your butt never left the saddle!” I answered, “Well, its not supposed to.”
WH: How old is someone too old to trail ride?
LH: Age has nothing to do with riding. Your capability should be the factor. Sometimes I ride with an old man, he’s in his 80’s. He’s going to do it all himself, one arm doesn’t work well and he can barely get on the horse, but he’ll get up there and off he goes. If I have to crawl up on my horse, I plan to keep riding.
WH: Is there anything that will keep you from trail riding?
LH: A few years ago I had a double mastectomy and went through chemotherapy. I planned the treatments during winter so it wouldn’t interfere with my trail riding. My husband took good care of the horses while I recovered and by warmer weather I was back on the trails. I found good use for my old riding bras!
If I didn’t have my horses to ride, my body would hurt all the time. I’ve got rheumatoid arthritis and shingles pain around my waist. But you have to get up and hit it everyday. If you lie around everything hurts worse. I don’t have time to be bored and depressed. My horses are my incentive to get things done.
Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is made up of more than 170,000 acres of forest and wetlands located on a peninsula between Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake. It is one of the largest sections of undeveloped land in the eastern United States and a diverse biosphere, home to red wolves, bison, elk and hundreds of migrating birds. For more information on LBL and other riding trails in western Kentucky and Tennessee, check out the links below.
Kristi Shanks contacted WARHorses and suggested we do a story on her friend Lola. In her own words, Kristi tells about their bond.
Tammy Strong and I first met Lola when we stayed in a cabin next to her camp site in the spring of 2015. I have to be honest and she knows this truth. She asked us to go riding and we purposely came back late from breakfast because we judged. We thought she wouldn’t be any fun to ride with due to her age. We could not have been more wrong. A month or so later she asked us and we went. It was truly an amazing experience to witness her riding skills. Here she was on this young horse who would go into fits on a whim. Arizona would start bucking up and Lola would just laugh and ride it out. She never came off him. We were all instant friends as if we had known each other a lifetime. We drove her crazy that first day singing ” her name is Lola she is a show girl! ” She got us back good one night and put a hay bale in front of our camper door while we were sleeping. We couldn’t get it open the next morning.
We became family. All three of us gals had been and have been through tough times. We’ve shared stories, tears and laughter. I’ve become stronger from witnessing Lola’s strength and perseverance!
We’ve had many talks about what riding does for us. To best sum it up – when we ride, we are free. We talk about being free from past pains and present pressures. It’s just us on our horses relaxing and making memories. Lola is a special lady whom I am blessed to to call my dear friend.
Thank you WARHorse Contributing Editor, Karen McPeak for proofing and editing this interview. And thank you Kristi Shanks for the introductions!