Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trail riding adventures wherein Bar impresses Katie

Katie and I took the horses out to Armstrong Redwoods again and ended up having quite a bit more adventure and challenge than we anticipated. And at the end of it all, Katie admitted Bar had both impressed her and gained a level of trust with her none of us quite expected.

We headed up East Ridge trail, like Steve and I had before, but instead of turning around at the bridge and fire road, Katie and I kept heading up the trail. It was a beautiful day and the horses were feeling strong and healthy. We did stop to let Bar rest a little, but he seemed pretty happy and nothing seemed to be bothering him except not being in front.

We got to the top of the ridge and had a spectacular view all the way down to the coast. We kept going up the trail a little ways, found a nice redwood grove (which Lena fertilized), and Katie and I were enjoying the sun, the horses, and the trail immensely.

We got to a narrow spot on the trail that had a trickle of water and some mud and Lena balked a little bit over the scary mud, so Katie had to work with her to get her to go forward. All of a sudden, Bar dropped his head down and started rubbing his face on his front legs and tossing his head up and down. I looked down and saw a swarm of yellow jackets flying around his head, going for his eyes and nostrils. I looked up at Katie and Lena, still in front of us on the trail, and said "Go!!" Katie looked at me a little confused, hesitated for only a split second, then urged Lena up the trail. We kept moving, me talking to Bar the whole time, until we were well past the nest and I could get off and check him out. Katie said she saw him rubbing his head on a tree, then tossing his head, and thought he had gotten his bridle caught on something. When I told her to "go" she couldn't figure out what was going on--knowing Bar hates to have Lena too far away from him--but recognized the insistence in my tone of voice and responded.

It could have been a train wreck. Bar and Lena both could have taken off up that narrow trail at a gallop, not paying any attention to either of us. But they didn't. He heard me the whole time, reacting to both my voice and my body, and stopping as soon as Katie and I felt like we were a safe enough distance away to check him out and figure out what to do next. I'd gotten stung, too, but just once, and had watched one yellow jacket work its way out of Bar's mane as we trotted up the trail to safety. Ugh.

Going back the way we came wasn't really an option, so we headed up the trail and ended up at the Bullfrog Pond campground, with what looked like a paved road as our only way down again. So, as a ranger drove by, I stopped and asked if there was another way and she recommended East Pool Trail, so we headed down the road with me walking Bar and Katie riding Lena, until we found the trail head. Which was downhill off the road. With steep stairs and steep slopes next to the stairs. Not to mention horses and riders that were already pretty tired.

But, what goes up must come down, so down we headed, on one of the most challenging trails I've been on. This trail would have been tough for me as a seasoned hiker, let alone an ex-racehorse still working on his downhill trail skills. It was was steep, narrow, and slippery in places. There were waterbars across the trail with foot-high drops to negotiate. It might not have been so bad coming up the trail, especially when we were all fresher, but it is definitely not your run-of-the mill trail in either direction. Downhill being tougher for horses than up, however, the difficulty was definitely ratcheted up a few nerve-wracking levels. Maybe seven.

And it wasn't just physically challenging, there were mental hurdles to get past, too. We got to a switchback over what is probably a creek in the rainy season which not only had a bridge (well, planks over the gully), but also had yellow caution tape to keep you on the narrow bridge. Katie and I both took a deep breath. Lena hates yellow caution tape. Katie had to use a little extra encouragement to get Lena over it (spurs, that is), but over she went, snorting the whole way, with Bar right behind her.

Did Bar get grumpy? Did he rush or do anything that made our journey more dangerous? Nope. He carefully negotiated every obstacle and kept going, one foot in front of the other. Every now and then he'd slip--they both did--and he'd stop for a second to make sure his long legs were still firmly underneath him before moving forward again.

Finally, though, the length and strain of the ride started to take their toll on him and he started to stumble a little more than I was comfortable with so I got off and walked next to him the rest of the way down. I noticed he was favoring his right hind, too, like he had a hitch in his hip, so he and I took it nice and slow down to the picnic area. He got to see me slip and slide a couple of times, too. Definitely not an easy trail for horse or human.

But we made it. And both horses performed above and beyond what we've ever asked them to do before on one of the most challenging trails we've ever been on.

Best of all, Katie agreed that Bar is not as crazy as she thought he was. At least not on the trail. He impressed her, and that's hard to do.

I am just glad we all made it through--even if some of us are a little sore today-- and that I got to experience such an interesting adventure with my horses and my daughter.

Life is pretty good, I'd say.

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