Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rocky Mountain Fall Ride

Each year in the fall we try to take a ride in Rocky Mountain National Park to view the colorful aspens and listen for the elk bugling, hopefully catching the glimpse of them.  Last year we were at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (without the horses) and missed our ride, but we enjoyed a beautiful ride this week.  We didn't see any elk, but had a wonderful, relaxing ride with our great horses and perfect weather.

We did the Twin Owls, Gem Lake Loop trail, riding part of the time on the Black Canyon trail.  We parked at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead parking lot, where there are two spaces for horse trailers.  It was a little confusing to find the correct trailhead from the parking lot.  We wanted to take the loop clockwise, but the trail leading from the horse parking area only mentioned Gem Lake, which led to the right and would have taken us counter-clockwise.  When we went to the trail heading to the left, to Twin Owls, there was a sign indicating horses were not allowed.  We are generally respectful of signage, but we knew we could take the trail, so we took it anyway, thinking we would meet up with the proper horse trail eventually.  We saw no signage at the lot to indicate where horses were to go.  A little ways up the trail, it was clear that horses weren't really supposed to be there, as a zig-zag gate required us to squeeze our horses through.  They are very obedient, and went without a hitch.

We traveled along this trail and saw beautiful aspens in the morning light, with Longs Peak in the background.  Probably a mile or mile and a half later, we squeezed through another zig-zag gate, and looking back, saw a sign saying "No horses beyond this point" which was where we just were.  The trail did lead off to the right, and was probably the trail we were supposed to have been on.  Oh well.  Sorry RMNP, we didn't mean disrespect, but you need better signage at the parking lot, particularly near the bathrooms where the informational signs and maps are located.  On our return, we did see where we should have gone to get the clockwise loop, but it sure wasn't clear from the parking area.

Finally on the approved trail for horses, we continued on through the MacGregor Ranch property, which was a beautiful valley setting with yellow aspens here and there.  We then headed uphill through a pass to the other side of the Lumpy Ridge.  Essentially this loop encircled the ridge.  We often looked backwards, to see the views behind us, which were often stunning.  Tim took lots of photos, these are just a few.

We had seen a description of this loop in a horse-oriented trail guide, which indicated that the trail should be ridden counter-clockwise, as there was a difficult, steep section that should be ridden uphill, not downhill, as horses would have difficulty slowing their pace and making the switchback turns.  The author was thinking of safety, and for good reason.  Our horses are good, well-seasoned mountain horses, and did just fine downhill on the steep section, but I could see how other less trained horses might have a problem.  Even uphill would be difficult for many horses and/or their riders.  My buddy Brego did just fine on it, even downhill.  Tim and Strider were ahead, and I noticed Strider really thinking through each of the short, steep steps, to decide where to put his feet.  I'd stop Brego until Strider was safely through, then we followed.  Brego is shorter, and I think his stature makes it easier for him to maneuver.  He's also very sure-footed, and we did just great.  He doesn't seem to think as hard about each step like Strider does.

Brego has become a wonderful partner and pal.  I still make mistakes at time, by giving wrong or ineffective cues, but he's very forgiving when I do.  On this trip, Tim had wanted me to pose for a photo.  I was asking Brego to go a few steps backward, then turn to the right.  He kept going the wrong way!  Finally Tim urged me to make him go in circles and work a bit, but he still kept turning his head the wrong way.  Tim was shouting "pull, pull, pull his head to the right".  I WAS pulling to the right, hard.  Even though Brego was walking in a right circle, I didn't understand why Brego kept his head to the left.  Finally, I realized I'd had his reins crossed under his chin!  Oh, no!  Poor horse.  I was actually pulling his head to the left, by tugging to the right, while my leg cues were asking him to go to the right.  Amazingly, he was turning to the right, with his head to the left.  I felt badly about this unfortunate event, but I doubt I'll ever do that again.  Here's the picture to remind me of that dreadful moment.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Ride Out

My, oh my.  I haven't kept up this blog.

Brego is doing great. Yesterday we trailered out for our first ride of the season.  It's late.  We've been so busy with other projects, we just haven't had the time to get away. This year's horse vacations will be later on, so we haven't had pressing needs to get them conditioned.  We've had the horses out around the house a bit, but this was the first longer ride with hills.

But, yesterday was the day. Early in the day, we went nearby to Red Mountain Open Space. There are nice trails there and it gets high enough to enjoy cooler temperatures and a nice breeze. We enjoyed a beautiful, relaxing day, and rode about 10.5 miles. I think (or like to think) that the horses enjoy getting out and enjoying the different scenery as well.

It was quite a different ride from the first time we took Brego there!  He was still new to us and a bit untrained.  Of course, I've gained a lot of confidence, too. Yesterday's ride was quite comfortable for me, with never a worry or fearful or nervous moment. Brego was responsive to my cues, and was a real trooper for the first long ride and a challenging uphill climb. He just bears down and goes for it. On the uphill sections, he likes to just keep pushing, usually pretty close to Strider's rear--it seems Strider isn't going fast enough on the uphills. At other times, particularly when Tim & Strider are going at a good speed on the flats either walking or gaiting, Brego seems to take 3 steps to every 2 of Strider's just to keep up, with his shorter legs.  He really gets a workout, but seems to enjoy it.

Great day.  I look forward to more, now that some of the projects are getting done.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wild Weather!

Yesterday a friend came to visit, so we saddled up and took off from the house for a short ride. It was a bit cold and windy, but not too bad. As we rode along (mostly away from the wind) I wondered what it would be like when we turned into the wind to go home. It seemed to be getting colder and windier, so we turned back. Looking to the northwest, it sure looked nasty, like something was headed our way. We were about 3/4 mile from home.

I had no idea it would hit us so fast, but all of a sudden the wind was coming almost right at us (as we headed north, it was coming from the northwest). It began to feel like my face was being sandblasted by something--not sure if it was dust or sleet or what. Tim and his friend, on Cody and Strider, had gotten a bit ahead of me. We were all just doing what we had to, to get home. The horses were fantastic. They just put their heads down and kept going. At one point I tried to get Brego to speed up and catch up to the others. He did a little crow hoppy thing like he didn't want to go faster, and I decided "no problem--just get me home". A couple of times the wind gusts were so strong Brego seemed to have difficulty walking forward straight. I was afraid we'd go into the wire fence just downwind. It began to rain, and the rain was hitting us hard from the side. A couple of times it felt like Brego was shivering by my calves.

Brego did great. I was so proud of him (and me!). I really wasn't "freaked out", I was just uncomfortable and wanted to get home. There was nothing else we could do. As we got to the lane headed home, we all sped up, Cody trotting or cantering, the other horses gaiting, but none of them out of control. I kept my hand to my face just to keep from getting "sandblasted", which turned out to be rain, not sand. As soon as we got home and dismounted, we walked straight into the barn, and boy was that nice! We just stood there a couple of minutes to relax. The horses (and us) were much wetter than I'd imagined. It was so windy and visibility was so bad, it was hard to tell we were getting wet.

We survived. And I was very impressed with how well Brego did. He sure took care of me!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Years

We've had Brego two years now! He's a great horse, and our partnership is coming along nicely. Sometime this year I began to canter with him more, and being more comfortable with that has really helped me turn a corner to be less fearful and more relaxed in other situations as well.

We're able to do many more things with ease, such as side-passing to or over objects, going through tight spots, opening/closing gates, etc. We've also been working on his gait, to get him to be less pacey-bumpy. He's getting better, but we still have work to do.

He likes to "play games", or do ground exercises. I think he'd rather do that than be bored. Yesterday I went out with the carrot stick and lead rope, and he came to me from the far corner, then walked at my side at liberty (no halter/lead rope) into the round pen for work. When we began working, he was quite responsive to cues and did well. Now that's a horse that enjoys the work and partnership! I also can frequently walk him to the mounting block at liberty to stand for me to mount. It's fun to try new things and see what we can do.

It's been a great two years, and I've learned a lot! Now I want to go further and learn to do much more with him, refine my cues, and easily deal with any issues that arise. I'd like to do more with him at liberty, and see what we can do.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Summer Review

It's been a long time, and I haven't been posting. Over the summer we went on three horse-camping trips. First,we went to the Black Hills again in June with the South Dakota Paint Horse Club. This was Brego's first time out this season with a large group of horses, and he did much better than last year. Or perhaps I should say that WE did much better, because it truly is a partnership of him feeling more confident in my leadership (and me feeling more confident in my leadership). Brego had some trouble staying behind the slower horses, and had a tendency to get too close. He was kicked at once, and perhaps that helped him get the picture to stay back. He also doesn't like it when another horse comes up alongside from behind, especially if his buddy (in this case Cody) is nearby. Brego's back seemed to be bothering him after the first long ride, when we experimented with a new saddle pad. We gave him a break the next day while I stayed at the trailer and Tim went out on the ride bareback, on Cody. Tim wasn't doing photography this time, and needed a little challenge to keep from being too bored. We had a good time, but wondered whether these large trips are not for us. Riding slowly in line just isn't much fun, now that I can do more with my horse.

Next we went to the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Cotopaxi, CO, to visit Don & Debby, who we met last year on the Fort Robinson ride. They graciously invited us to park our trailer on their property. We had a great time riding out with them each day and joining several of their neighbors. Our friend Trish joined us too, so we took Cody along for her to ride. It was nice to have all three of our horses there. Don & Debby know all the property owners around, so we rode on a combination of private property and BLM land. It was beautiful, secluded country and great company, with lots of laughs and a good time.

The third trip was again to Wyoming with Dale & Sue, Gari & Mona. This year we went to Hunter Trailhead, outside of Buffalo. We had a nice time with our friends, and some nice riding. The first couple of days we rode into the Cloud Peak Wilderness area, via some not-so-nice 4wd roads. The only way to get to the wilderness trails was via these roads. They were well-worn and rocky. Another day, we were on a wilderness trail, but it was also very rocky and steep in spots. Not so much fun. Later in the week we found our way around the private property of a guest ranch, to some nicer riding areas. We had trouble with inadequate maps as well, and our GPS was on the fritz. We had some interesting riding, at times wondering where we were or how to get back. All in all, it was a good trip, but next year we'll probably choose another location.

So, we had a great summer with lots of riding. Brego still has occasional issues with other horses, but we're doing much better. I'm more confident, and able to handle him better to show him I'm in control and he doesn't need to worry about those other horses. It's good to ride in smaller groups and with people who will allow us to work on horse issues, and sometimes do a do-over to correct a mistake, or ride side-by-side to teach Brego it's ok to do that.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Red Mountain

Yesterday, for part of our conditioning, we took Cody & Brego to Red Mountain. Since Tim was on Cody, who walks much more slowly, he had me in front all day. Brego didn't like being in front, and I had to keep his head pointed forward and his pace up. After cantering the past few days with him my thighs were a bit sore, so it wasn't fun squeezing him over and over to make him go. I wasn't feeling relaxed, being in front, with him not responding well. I was gaiting him up the hills when the trail was nice, then later in spots a little more challenging. Tim was prodding me to make him go and give him a good workout. Finally, at the top, we rested a bit, got off and let them eat some grass. After that, Brego was much better about being in front, and I was taking more initiative to gait and canter him in spots. He was good and not nutty about cantering. At one point Tim went in front and sped Cody up to see if Brego would remain in control, and Brego did fine, staying in a gait as I asked, and not trying to catch up with Cody. This is good. We had a good day, rode about 11 miles, and we all got a good workout--including our butts!

This week we will see our saddle maker, to see if he can make some adjustments on our side of the saddle--where we sit. He's got some new kind of chushy material he can add for comfort. Hopefully that will help.

This Thursday we leave for the Black Hills, and look forward to the ride and seeing the friends we've met the past couple of years.

Friday, June 18, 2010


We are conditioning our horses to get ready for the ride we'll be doing next week in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Tim has given me the responsibility of being sure Brego is ready for three days of riding, one of them possibly an 8 hour ride. So, I've been getting out on him alone (without Tim) a few times. It's been a little challenging, but I've done it and am becoming more relaxed.

One day I took him on Tim's favorite loop, which includes riding on CR 64, a paved road where people drive faster. We managed that just fine, although Brego was edgy, being without his other horse pals. We went down the irrigation ditch along 11, just as Tim and I have done before, but Brego was still edgy being alone, so I was, too. I didn't canter him there as planned, I just wanted to feel more comfortable.

One day around the backside of Smith Lake, Brego didn't like the equipment at the inlet, where they let water in from the irrigation ditch. He's been there before, so I wondered if there might be an animal nearby, but nothing was moving and I didn't see anything. Something must have smelled different, I suppose. Brego did NOT want to go near it. He stopped, snorted, veered to the side and backed up. I was nervous, partly because there were people nearby watching. I tried to get him to go over it, but same thing...stop, snort, veer, backup. I was feeling "unsafe", so I went ahead and got off of him and led him across (just after the people waved at me and left in their car). We walked back and forth a couple of times, then I rode him back and forth over it, and he was fine.

Another day I went down 66E to 11 and along those irrigation ditches again, but rather than go up 64, I turned around and came back. We had a good time, and cantered almost all the way down the irrigation ditch and back, with a few stops at the inlets and to cross the road. It was nice! Brego was calm and comfortable and did what I asked. He slowed down nice and stopped nicely. We gaited up and down 66, so he got a nice workout that day.

All in all, he's getting better about being alone, and so am I. And we're both getting stronger.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Riding Alone

Today I took Brego out by myself, while Tim was at work. We went from the house down to Smith Lake and back (a little under an hour). I did this once before, I think last fall, and was nervous the whole time. But today I was quite relaxed and enjoyed myself. I think Brego enjoyed it, too. He got to gait and canter a bit, and basically enjoy the ride. He was a little hesitant to leave the other horses at home, but not much, and obediently went on as I asked.

Again, it is so nice to finally feel relaxed and enjoy this. Brego is great, I don't think I could have asked for a better partner. (We still need to see how he will do with a large number of other horses on the trail ride we plan to attend the end of June. At that time, Tim will ride him the first time out and be sure he knows not to worry about the other horses or being separated from Strider.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ride at Cherokee Lone Pine Unit

Today we took the horses up to the same place we were last May. I guess this is an annual ride! Again, Brego was great. I was relaxed and enjoyed the ride with my good horse. It's so nice to finally be getting over the hump of fear or intimidation and feel comfortable with my horse. It's not that he's been bad, it's more me. It just took a long time to feel like I know what I'm doing and can handle my horse if the unexpected should happen.

This trail has several stream crossings. With spring runoff, the stream was just about up to Brego's belly & my feet, and running fairly swiftly. Each time, I watched Tim & Strider cross first. Sometimes Strider would stop in the middle and play in the water with his nose and paw with his feet. I was mostly watching the water level on his legs, concerned knowing that Brego's legs are shorter, but each time, we were good. Brego was a champ, going right through the stream. He seemed to look forward to it and was ready to go each time without hesitation. Bravo, Brego.

As Tim said, the thing that seemed to help me turn the corner and feel more relaxed was probably the time I've spent (finally) cantering and knowing I can turn, slow down and stop. It has taken some practice, but I'm finally feeling comfortable with these things, and know I'm more equipped to handle him if he should take off for whatever reason. Also, Brego is much more responsive to my cues, and I suppose I'm better at giving them. We seem to have a good partnership going. Sometimes when Tim & Strider were a bit ahead of us, I'd ask Brego to gait to catch up, which he seemed to enjoy. At other times when they were ahead, Brego would turn to look at me as if to ask, "Is it time to run and catch up now?" He did not take his own initiative to do it without being asked, which is wonderful.

I'm really enjoying this life of getting out and riding! I'll post photos when I have a chance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Spring Ride at Soapstone Prairie

Yesterday we enjoyed a break from our garden work and took Strider & Brego up to Soapstone Prairie. It was a beautiful day after a long, cool spring with not so many nice days on the weekends.

I enjoyed being relaxed and riding a calm, relaxed horse. Brego kept up with Strider nicely and did what I asked. Since there are several wide, open, flat spots we did some cantering here and there and it felt very good. We kept Brego in the lead, so he wouldn't get nutty, and after the first little run when he didn't know quite what to do or think about being out front, he did great. He wasn't quite sure what to think about Strider catching up to him and would look over and slow down, but after a few times he kept going without being bothered. He was really having fun, and began going faster at times, and I was having fun, too, and quite relaxed. We still need to work on stopping--sometimes he stops better than other times, and sometimes I had to resort to one rein, but we'll get there.

Brego is now getting quite slick around his shoulder area, and gradually near his rear. I suppose the mid-section will lose the winter fur last. He still has a bit of a dark beard, but it's getting smoother, too.