Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn Ride

By Laura Crum

Ok, I’m going to start out by apologizing…its another trail ride post. I know I write a lot of these, but hey, its what I mostly do with my horses these days. And I just went on a spectacular ride this last weekend. My son and a friend and I rode the trail we call the “swingset loop”; this trail actually figures in my forthcoming book, “Going, Gone”, due out next spring.

The swingset loop is so-named because about halfway around the ride, way back in the woods, the trail passes an abandoned swingset, near the ruins of a little old house. It’s a bit eerie, in a way, and I thought it made a perfect feature for a story that involves a modern version of a haunted house.

Back to reality….I hadn’t ridden the swingset loop in a long time, over six months, because Henry, my son’s horse, colicked at the end of January and had to go to colic surgery to have a very large stone removed. For three months I was busy rehabbing Henry, and all my trail rides were short solo loops. Then for the next three months we were legging Henry back up, sticking to the easier trails and shorter rides. So its only been for the last month or two that my son and I have been riding the steeper, longer trails.

The swingset loop takes us about two and a half hours to ride. We go out my front gate, cross the road and start up the ridge we can see from our porch. The trail is narrow, steep in places, winds its way along a wooded sidehill, and requires one to dodge some knee swiping trunks that lean into the trail, and duck for some very solid “head bonker” boughs. There are brushy detours for downed timber, and, in general, a fair amount of pushing through brambles and bush. Then we drop over the ridge onto more open trails, and ride along a long valley on the other side, passing through huge redwood groves, by the abandoned swingset, past big views of the coastal mountains, and, finally, overlooks where we can see the whole Monterey Bay. After this we start back up the ridge, clambering up some very steep spots, and come to a bluff above the bay that I call “the Lookout”, where the view is spectacular. And then we wind our way back down the ridge on a gentle, pretty trail and strike the route for home.

Imagine all this on a crisp, sparkling autumn day when the sun is warm and the shade is cool. The leaves are turning to gold on the broadleaf trees, and the sky is that impossibly deep violet blue. The distant ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains is sharp and clear, and the bay, when we see it, is such a brilliant shade of aquamarine that its hard to believe. It looks as though we could see all the way to Japan.

The horses are steady, alert, and seem happy. They’re legged up enough that they don’t sweat much, even on the steep climbs, despite their developing winter coats. My son chatters happily to me and whistles as he rides along, I listen to him and enjoy the scenery, my friend brings up the rear, happy to ride quietly along. We pass a young deer grazing in the dappled shade of a liveoak grove. For whatever reason, the animal is not afraid of us, and merely lifts his head to watch us as we pass not twenty feet from him.

The trail seems a bit overgrown since we rode it last, but we have no problems. We see where someone is building a new house, and I hope they won’t decide to interfere with the access. Its always a nerve wracking business, wondering if the next new resident in these hills will prove to be a horse hater and try to ban equines from the trails. It has been an ongoing battle over the years, and one that makes me very sad.

But on this day we see no one but the deer; no other horsemen, no hikers, no residents, either friendly or irate. We ride for two and a half hours through the hills near my home and we might as well have been in the wilderness far, far away. It was truly a lovely afternoon.
I realize that not seeing this trail for six months or so makes me appreciate it more. The views are fresh and new to me, each redwood tree, each grove of liveoaks, seems different somehow. I notice that the big madrone trees near the Lookout are showing young green bark under their peeling red outer skin.

As we arrive back home, I think, as I always do, how grateful I am for our two steady trail horses, Sunny and Henry, who make all this possible. Without their unflappable composure, I would probably be afraid to take my nine-year-old son across the busy road and along trails where in the past I have met dirt bikes, all sorts of wild critters, odd hiking parties (including one with a tiny pony on a very long leadrope and a goat following along loose, complete with a collar studded with jingling bells), not to mention the day some resident or other was clearing brush with chainsaw and wood chipper right by the trail and did not seem inclined to pause while we passed. I could go on and on. But Henry and Sunny have weathered every obstacle with perfect aplomb, and I’ll always be grateful for what they’ve done. Our two little trail horses have a permanent home.

I’m even more grateful since I perused a few horse blogs yesterday, and was shocked to hear how many people have been badly hurt lately in horseback accidents and are afraid to ride, or are trying to ride and struggling with health issues from previous falls, or are just plain struggling with fear issues to do with riding. I know all about fear issues, and if it weren’t for our two steady horses, I know I’d be struggling with fear a lot, too. Especially on the trail. Especially taking my son out on the trail. And I have to say that I’m also grateful that I have, to put it plainly, been lucky. As Janet once wrote on this blog, any horse, even a “bombproof” one, can dump you. Stuff happens. Unpredictable stuff. So my gratitude goes out in a big way to the two little horses that have come through for us every time, and also that fate has not tested us too severely (we haven’t been stung by bees, for instance, or a host of other disasters I’ve seen…I could go on and on). And to those whose heartfelt comments I read on other blogs, some of whom have commented here before, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles and injuries. I know I could easily be in your shoes. I hope horses return to being a pleasure for you.

Here’s to Henry and Sunny—thank you so much.


Mrs. Mom said...

That sounds like a fantastic ride, and I bet you'd be able to craft an amazing story around that swingset.... ;)

Slip those wonderful horses a carrot from me please!

OneDandyHorse said...

You have the bestest horses!
I have a mare that can stand dirt bikes, ATVs, cars, trucks, dump trucks, tractors, timberjacks, chainsaws, snowmobiles (that are not too loud), falling trees, ground birds taking off, deer taking off, gun fire (not from her back!)... but somehow, she managed to spook and unseat me. I sprained an ankle and had a sore back and neck for day. It was the first time that I fell off of her and I was probably as surprised as she was. I got back on her from the off side (what a pain!) because I could not walk.
I still think I have the best mare on earth and I love her to death. Took a while to regain confidence... but that's a long story...
My advice would be to stay confident and trust your horse as much as he/she trusts you (if that is even humanly possible) ;)

Laura Crum said...

Mrs Mom--yours was one of the blogs I read the other day, and I was so happy to see a photo of you on Sonny. Also some photos of him running around feeling great. It looks like he's recovered from his ordeal and you two are having fun again. Congratulations!

Some of the other blogs had some stuff that wasn't so happy, and I really felt for those folks.

I'll send you a copy of the new book when its out. Would you be interested in doing a review on your blog?

Laura Crum said...

OneDandyHorse--The thing about Henry and Sunny is not so much that they trust us, but that they trust themselves. They've been around awhile and seen a lot, and both are solid-minded, confident horses. Yes, we could mess that up by treating them poorly, but since we don't, they remain confident and are calm in virtually any situation. That's what makes them so great. They take care of us. I didn't train either one of them and take no credit for the way they are. I was smart enough to pick them out...that's it.

Your mare sounds pretty darn bombproof. I think if I came off Sunny, for whatever reason (and I know it can always happen), it would take me awhile to regain confidence, too.

horsegenes said...
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horsegenes said...

I want to do the swingset loop! I am sitting at my desk turning green with envy that you are out riding. I want to be there!

I am happy for you or anyone that enjoys and appreciates good trail rides and great horses.

Laura Crum said...

kel--well, I'm not out riding today. Yesterday we got ten inches of rain here in Santa Cruz County, California. My corrals are mucky and the trails are wet and slippery. I probably won't get out there for awhile. But we had some great rides while the good weather lasted.

Didn't you say once that you are in California, too? Have you been out on the trails much lately? Did it rain where you are?

horsegenes said...

I live about 3-4 hours north of you in Oroville. Yes we got tons of rain and wind yesterday. It is supposed to be in the 70's today but I haven't seen it yet.

I moved to a new boarding facility with 200+ acres of trails to ride on. It is really nice not having to haul to get in a quick trail ride. I ride the Lake Oroville Recreation area trails alot in the spring but didn't get out much this summer or fall. I am going to the Ride and Dine this Saturday. It is a fund raiser for a new equestrian park that is going in up here. Check it out at It is very exciting to have such a nice riding venue in our area.

OneDandyHorse said...

Glad you could pick them! I love reliable horses on the trail... I do like a little challenge, which is why I am always starting new horses and foals. My Dandy Girl has not yet turned 4, so in my mind she is doing great! I can't scold her for what happened... I should've paid attention where it was due.

Instead of looking for a needle in a hay stack, by aware of its presence... by that I mean... instead of looking back at what spooked my ex-racer, I should've only kept in mind that something might just spook her. I was convinced that she wasn't going anywhere and she sure prooved me wrong! OUCH! I don't even think she spooked, I only think it was a baby thing, where she decided to follow her friend.

She looks out for me, as soon as I fell, she stopped right there and waited for me instead of bolting back to the barn... but we were in a field where alfalfa was growing... might've helped!

Anyways, you have great horses and what a beautiful way of introducing children to horses with a calm, light, babysitter of a horse. Your son will always love horses because of Henri and he certainly will never forget him!

Laura Crum said...

OneDandyHorse--I sure agree with you about being aware, even when riding a very steady horse. I am hyper-vigilant by nature, always looking out for possible "issues". Riding with my son has just increased this tendency, because, of course, I want above all to keep him safe and happy. So, yeah, I am always aware that Sunny could dump me, he does spook and crowhop on occasion, and I am very alert to feel something coming and do what it takes to remain in charge and in the saddle. Its just helpful that even when spooking and/or crowhopping, Sunny remains calm and is not overly fearful. I have never known him to panic (knock on wood).

I think my son will always remember both Henry and Toby (the pony that taught my little boy to ride). Whether my kid takes up horses as an adult or not, the happy memories of these childhood rides will always be with him (I hope).

HorsesAndTurbos said...


I finally get a chance to read this blog and find this post :) You have inspired me to do more trail riding, and post about it. While we are a long way from your two horses, my mare and I are getting there, slowly! What is funny is that I am having the exact opposite experience, yet am loving it still!

And I get to see the beauty of the "wildness" around us!

Okay, my word verification is pinetrees :)