Wild yahoos echoed below us, followed by sounds of crashing brush and thundering hooves.
Nate and Cowboy, our 6-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter geldings, shifted their feet, ready to flee any predators, real or imaginary.
On the trail below, a group of horsemen loped along, hats pulled low, kerchiefs streaming, laughing, riding the wind. We knew how they felt.
A crystal-blue sky, 75 miles of marked, maintained trails through varied terrain, an equine partner, and a picnic lunch ? life is good at the 20,250-acre Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands in north-central Texas, near the historic town of Decatur (and within an hour's drive of Fort Worth).
The term "grasslands" is misleading. The riding country here is not flat and bland. Trails meander up and over hills, through forests, valleys, and across mesas.
Prairies, covered with tall, native grasses, are punctuated with three small lakes and more than 300 ponds.
Birds are everywhere ? singing, chirping, flying to and fro. Trees, ponds, and lush greenery make this area an avian paradise.
Cattle and other livestock graze on these lands, which are managed by the United States Forest Service, Caddo-LBJ Grasslands District.
All five color-coded trails in the LBJ National Grasslands (www.fs.usda.gov/detail/texas) loop from Tadra Point Trailhead Camp in the center of the park. Horseshoe signs along the trails indicate whether you're riding toward or away from Tadra.
To get to Tadra from Decatur, follow Farm to Market Rd. 730 north 10 miles to County Rd. 2461, and turn left. Proceed on CR 2461 and turn right at the fork onto County Rd. 2560. Go three miles, and turn left on Forest Service Rd. 900. Go two miles to Tadra Point.
Tadra is a great example of what can be accomplished when volunteer equestrian groups work together. This spacious trailhead and campground is used throughout the year for equestrian events and camping.
There are 34 trailer sites at the trailhead. Both pull-through and hike-in campsites are available. Some trailer sites might be difficult for large living-quarters trailers.
This primitive camp offers outhouses, drinking water for horses (not for people), shade trees, and hitching rails.
Cozy Bed & Barn
Grasslands Bed n Barn (www.grasslandsbnb.com), a cozy, comfortable, getaway, is conveniently situated just across the road from the grasslands' entrance.
In a gorgeous setting, owners Jerry and Christy Thompson have created a unique bed & barn where you can de-stress with or without your four-legged friends (horses and/or dogs).
Rent the private 1,000-square-foot apartment with a full-size kitchen, large living room, fireplace, and two bedrooms with queen beds.
Or, stay in a traditional B&B setting, which offers three bedrooms, each with a private bath, and a central room for visiting.
On the porch, soak in a hot tub while watching a panoramic sunset followed by countless stars fizzling like champagne bubbles against a black sky.
Huge shade trees hug the outside of the ranch house. A fire ring and firewood await folks ready to spin riding tales, roast hot dogs, and relax by a flickering fire warding off the evening chill.
If you'd rather stay in your living-quarters trailer, choose from among 15 sites with electrical and water hookups. Future plans include more sites and sewer hookups.
A wide variety of activities abound here, including group rides, training clinics, and mounted shooting. (For a listing of upcoming events, see the Grasslands Bed n Barn website, above.)
The B&B is also a safe, comfortable place to leave your dog behind while you hit the trail.
The next morning found us saddled up with the North Texas Range Riders. Our ride followed the Yellow Trail. According to the trail map, this is a 10.4-mile trail. However, riding it from the B&B adds 1.3 miles each way, totaling 13 miles.
The grasslands trail maps are simply excellent! We got ours from the Thompsons. The color-coded maps list landmarks and the mileage for each trail loop. They also name each gate you'll find along the trail and even show the location of first-aid stations.
On the Yellow Trail, we rode by ponds, across bridges, and over grasslands, then picnicked in the Piney Woods.
Eventually, we found ourselves at the Tadra Point Trailhead, a good place for the horses to drink while their riders visited the outhouses.
A couple days later, we did our own grasslands ride. We chose the Red Trail loop, as it was on the opposite side from the Yellow Trail that we'd ridden on previously.
The Red Trail offered many gaiting opportunities as it wound around, up, and down gentle hills, through shaded areas, and stretches of sun-kissed grasslands.
A special feature of this ride is beautiful Cottonwood Lake, located about halfway around the loop. This good-sized lake attracts a great deal of birds ? on the lake, around the lake, and flying overhead. We paused to listen to their trilling symphony.
The entire trail is about 11 miles long, but the miles go quickly, because the trail is so easy and well-maintained.
Texas has something very special and precious in its LBJ National Grasslands. Throw in Tadra Point Trailhead and Grasslands Bed n Barn, and you've won the equestrian lottery!
Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses.?They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada.?During riding season, you can usually find them on the trail, checking out new places to ride.