Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trail Ride Adventures

                                    by Laura Crum

            After reading Linda’s post about her adventures riding the Tevis, my trail ride adventures seem pretty tame (!) But as a middle-aged mama riding with my kid, well, tame is us right now. We still have adventures—but they’re not like a horse balking in the midst of doing Cougar Rock. But for what its worth, here are some of my current trail ride mini-dramas.
The other day my son and I decided to go for a ride. Since we were in the mood to be “adventurous”, we decided to ride a trail we hadn’t ridden in six months—the swing set trail (this is a trail that plays a starring role in my 11th mystery novel, “Going, Gone”). This trail isn’t particularly difficult overall, but all our local trails have become very overgrown and aren’t much used—perhaps because of the proliferation of big houses that don’t like horses. Nonetheless there is still wild land out there outside my front gate and we rode for two hours without seeing another human on the trails. We did see lots of other interesting things.
            First we had to get across the busy road. Have I mentioned that I hate crossing the busy road? We stood by the side of the road for many long minutes as the traffic whizzed by. Every time we saw a gap and started to cross, another car would zip into view, speeding merrily along. We must have started the poor horses forward, then stopped and backed up, maybe ten times. They are such good horses—they stood quietly and obediently, alternately stepping forward and backing up, and ignoring the noisy traffic rushing by about four feet away from them. Finally a kind motorist stopped and indicated he would wait for us. Unfortunately this is also problematic, as one must study the cars stacking up behind said motorist and be sure that none of them, unaware, decide to zip around the stopped car. Yikes.
            Finally we got across the road. Next up, pushing our way down the narrow, poison oak-draped singletrack trail that winds along the steep sidehill. Besides the poison oak and brambles, we discovered a newly tipped-over tree. Fortunately we could hop over it at the low end—which was about two feet high. But the very solid overhanging branches—the headbonker trees—are getting harder and harder to get under—every year those branches grow in girth. These trees are impossible to detour around, due to the steepness of the slope and the heavy brush. One must go under. The lowest branch whacked me hard in the shoulder. Ouch.
            Once we got over the ridge onto easier trails, I started to relax. Eventually we reached the swing set. This is an old swing set which appears to be abandoned in the woods. The ruins of a house and an abandoned car are nearby. The whole place is kind of ghostly (again, it features in “Going, Gone”), under the right circumstances. On a sunny day, not so much. Here’s the swing set. Look past the window made by Sunny’s ears. Its there. Somewhat buried in the brush.

            Not far after the swing set, we met another tipped over tree. I elected to ride under it. Poor choice. It was pretty low and whacked me in the shoulders again. Double ouch.
            The trail is kind of pretty through here in a narrow, sun dappled way. It isn’t difficult to ride, so I took photos. I never have any photos of the places where mildly exciting things happen, because I am always too busy riding and paying attention to take pictures. So here we have peaceful sun dappled woods.

            I took all these photos as my horse was walking along, so they are a little blurry, but I think they capture the feeling. Now we’re getting to the redwoods.

            After this we reached a section where the middle of the trail had become a deep ditch. The horses are used to this, and plodded reliably down the ditch until Sunny somehow slipped and scrambled for a minute, clambering up the steep sides of the ditch and generally staggering around and making me nervous. But he straightened himself out and was fine. No harm done. Henry never put a foot wrong.
            Finally we reached pavement. Here is where, in the past, we rode down a narrow, seldom-used paved road until we struck a trail that would lead us back towards home in a pleasant loop. Unfortunately, someone has recently built a big monster of a house where that trail used to be and fenced it off. So now we just turn around and go back. Sad.
            But the trail back was pretty and had different views. Isn’t it interesting how different a trail looks when you ride it in the opposite direction? It was pleasant under the redwoods.

I love the quiet sun dappled woods and the aromatic summer smell of trail dust and oak leaves mixed with sage.

 We rode without talking for the most part. Once my son said to me, “Its good to have friends to trail ride with. And it’s best when that friend is your mom.”
I was just basking in this sweetness, when my stirrup caught on the outthrust branches of a dead sapling lying beside the trail. Before I realized what was happening, the sapling (which was about eight feet long and five feet wide at the crown), became thoroughly tangled in my saddle. Ignoring/pushing through it was not an option. It was too big; I didn’t want to puncture Sunny or trip him. I wasn’t, in fact, sure how Sunny was gonna feel about having this largish dead tree attached to him.
I said, “Whoa.” Sunny stopped. He didn’t seem bothered, so I took my time and untangled us from the tree—or tried to. The tree was persistent about staying attached. Eventually I had most of its claws pried off—I asked Sunny to sidepass away from it. He complied readily despite the narrow trail bounded by thick brush. Good horse. Finally we were free. No big deal. No drama. It’s a joy to ride a solid horse.
 We had a peaceful ride the rest of the way back. I went around the one low tipped-over tree and led my horse under the lowest headbonker tree, so I didn’t get whacked again. Perhaps I’m getting a little smarter?
            Eventually we crossed the busy street and headed back up the hill to my front gate. The whole ride took us a little less than two hours and we probably covered five miles—which is a typical ride for us. Go ahead and scoff, endurance riders.
            But there were plenty of hills and the horses cracked a light sweat and puffed a little here and there. Just enough to be exercise, not enough to be hard work. Their ears were forward and they were marching out the whole way. We did some trotting up hills. Mostly we walked and looked at things. Both horses and riders had fun.
We saw two spotted fawns and three other deer that were just moving shapes bounding away. There were few other horse hoofprints in the dust, but some. No people to be seen. I noticed that the patches of wild iris along the trail, though not in bloom now, are spreading and apparently thriving. It was fun to ride a trail we hadn’t seen in awhile. The redwoods were, as always, beautiful. The temp was about 68.  Other than my sore shoulders, it was a just-right trail ride adventure.
And when we got home, I saw this.

A bobcat mama has, for the second year in a row, raised her family behind my barn. It is great fun to see the kittens, but the whole process can be hard on my chickens. Still, isn’t it worth it?

I hope you all are having a fun summer with pleasant trail ride adventures of your own. I very much enjoy reading your blogs and your comments here and hearing your stories. Cheers--L

PS--Since a couple of people have asked, the above photos are a bobcat kitten--I think about three to four months old. Here is a photo of the mama, taken last year. I have seen her often this year, but not gotten a photo. It is definitely the same cat--she is distinct in being very tall and spotted for her kind. They can be solid tan, and other variations--range in size from only slightly bigger than a domestic cat, to this gal, who is as tall as my thirty pound dog.


Shanster said...

Ahhhh what a great trail ride... bobcat mama, the very coolness of your son's love, the solid horses... wonderful!

Linda Benson said...

Laura - This looks like a perfect trail ride to me, and the one thing that scares me anymore (and it didn't used to when I was younger) is riding on roads with traffic. I just cannot do it.

But the bobcat. Oh gosh ,how adorable. Even though we now live surrounded by woods and forest, I have yet to see one. Is that the mother in the picture, or one of the kittens? I would love to see one of those! ;-)

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--Yeah, I love my pleasant trail rides with my kid. Don't need anything more.

Linda--I hate the traffic, too. I would not ride ALONG this road, either--I think its way too dangerous. But we make a straight crossing, standing in my neighbor's field that would allow us an easy and safe retreat if something scary came along. I keep my son's horse on the pony rope for the crossing. It is relatively safe if you're patient and your horse is not scared of vehicles. And believe it or not, our horses have never flinched at anything while doing this road crossing. I have to admit it kind of surprises me how unconcerned they are--given how tense I am (!)

And that is the kitten. I just posted a photo of the mama, so you can see what she looks like. I see bobcats a lot--at least a couple of times a month. They are very common in these hills. (And we have chickens.) Perhaps they are not so common where you are? They are creatures of the brush country more than forests.

AareneX said...

I'm not scoffing. I think your trail is beautiful and your ride (and your riding partner) is enviably pleasant.

Go, Laura!

On the matter of horses and cars, I'll have a blog post up soon. Nothing scary, just something cool I saw last weekend.

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--Well, I never thought you would actually scoff--you're too kind a person. But I do sometimes kind of laugh at myself. We did a seven mile ride in the mountains and we all thought it was plenty long enough. Five miles is us (!) Then I read about you endurance riders and your regular rides of much longer distances and I sort of giggle. Endurance riders we are not...

Martine said...

It sounds idyllic! Apart from the having to turn around and come back, I always prefer to do circular rides.
The swing-set lost in the woods is really sad - you've left me wondering what happened to the family that lived there :-(

Laura Crum said...

Martine--I actually made up a story about the family that lived there (complete fiction)--its in my 11th mystery--"Going, Gone".

Laura Crum said...

Oh, and yes, I very much prefer rides that make a loop. Both my son and I were quite sad that we can no longer ride the swingset trail as a loop, thanks to the lovely folks that built yet another big monster of a house (that is already up for sale) and fenced off a trail that we had all been using for many years. Thanks a bunch.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

Over here riders have been taking to buying hi-viz jackets that are designed to look like police uniform. That tends to gain a little more respect from road traffic, not least because some police officers do ride.

Can you cut a new trail through the woods to make a look, or isn't that kind of thing allowed?

One time I came across an abandonned horse plough in an overgrown field. I wonder what became of the family that used that implement however long ago?

Laura Crum said...

whp--We could possibly build a new trail--its getting harder to avoid the houses, but, as I said in the post, there is still wild land. The big problem is that everything is steep and very thick with vegetation--it is not easy to build a trail. Most of the trails we use are old road beds--built long ago for logging or ranching--the local hikers and riders keep them cleared as we can. But building a truly new trail would be tough, due to the terrain and trees/brush.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Love the sweet comment from your son - did that not swell your heart?! Also how cool to snap a bobcat momma.

Your trail rides sound just right to me. (excepting poison oak) :D

Laura Crum said...

CFS--Yes, that comment was so heart-swelling that I wrote it down in my diary when I got home. I'm not sure what good that does, but as a writer, I tend to fixate on words.

Alison said...

Love the bobcat pictures. How DO you protect the chickens??

Gayle Carline said...

We take trail rides when we go to Carmel and to Gold Lake (rental horses from the stables). In both cases, we have to cross a few streets. Nothing too busy, but I hate it each time. I'm worried about them slipping on the pavement. I also worry a little that the strangers I'm usually on the ride with don't understand the possible danger of a horse being frightened by something.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I keep the chickens locked up in their run while the bobcats are around. Other times, I let the chickens out in the garden during the day. The run is bobcat proof.

Gayle--I think many people underestimate how dangerous the combo of horses and cars can be. I worry about the horses slipping on pavement, too, but in many years of riding, where we are sometimes on pavement, and sometimes its on hills, none of mine have ever slipped significantly.

irish horse said...

Your ride looks lovely, especially through the redwoods, but sad about the development cutting off trail access. I deal with that here too, and will be sad soon when a big new house under construction finishes and fences off the access equestrians have used for 30 years.

For traffic, I always have some sort of crazy bright shirt on. People know me as the "orange lady" even if they don't know my name. For the road it is great, but even in the forest I know people can see me (and find me if I've fallen!)

And the bobcats are adorable, what great photos! I saw one hunting and catching a ground squirrel the other day, but not as large as yours (and not nice photos, must carry an actual camera and not just the phone one day!). Sorry about the chickens, but I'd think it was worth it too.

Laura Crum said...

irish horse--Those new McMansions are such an eyesore No one needs that big of a house (!) And mostly they seem to be up for sale as soon as they're built. And after they've fenced off the trails we've all been using for many years. Boo. Hiss.

HHmstead said...

I really enjoyed your post Laura, so similar to experiences I've had in recent years - riding from home... The views were so beautiful & riding with your son - how good does it get? Love the Bobcat too! Lucky you don't have barn cats - whoops - you do! BIG ones! :-)

Laura Crum said...

HH--and I have a domestic barn cat, too--and in ten years the bobcats have never bothered my feral, but domestic, barn cats. Go figure.

lmel said...

Nice trail--once you get off the busy road! Always my least favorite thing about trail riding. Cool shot of the bobcats! How neat is that?

Laura Crum said...

Imel--I think its neat, too. Thanks for the comment.

Val said...

The bobcat is smaller that I realized. She is beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us!

Laura Crum said...

Val--The mama bobcat is about as big as my thirty pound dog.