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.