Monday, May 5, 2008

Easing into the Trails

This past weekend my husband and son took me up a trail in the Eastern Sierra on foot to see if I'd want to try riding the horses there. My only experience with trail riding includes riding stable horses who know their trails inside and out, and one lesson on a school horse. When 10-year-old Bombay was 5-years-old, I had a trainer work with him on the trails. She said he did fine, however I haven't had the time nor the company to be able to take a trail ride since then.

At the beginning of my horse ownership, I imagined my entire family trail riding together, however I'm the only one who ended up having any interest in horseback riding whatsoever, which can get lonely at times. I have the option of joining a trail riding club, but I don't need one more responsibility. These riding clubs spend very little time riding and a lot of time in meetings and at fundraisers. I don't want to put on trail riding competitions -- I just want to go on a nice, relaxing ride with experienced trail riders who can teach me a thing or two. That shouldn't cost anything, nor should it require weekly meetings.

Trail riders are a funny bunch. Once they find their group, they won't let anyone new in out of fear that an inexperienced horse or rider will jeopardize every one's safety. It's certainly an understandable fear, but how is a person supposed to get started? It's not wise for a beginner to trail ride alone. Anytime that I meet someone who trail rides, I tell them I am interested in learning the ropes. At that point the subject changes. Not once has anyone said, "Please join us."

So, my husband has offered to walk with me while I ride Bombay. If we get to the trail head and discover that Bombay is nervous, my husband will lead us with a rope. However, first I needed to hike the trail on foot to see what kind of hazards I was up against. The trail turned out to be deep sand with sage brush on both sides. My first thought was whether it would be better or worse for my horse to be shod in that deep sand. (I know I'm opening a can of worms, but I'd appreciate some advice on that one.)

My husband warned me that we would see a lot of loose dogs on the trail. We passed one lady carrying a Papillon, but that was it. Eventually, I spotted something over the horizon that would have sent Bombay flying for home: A flag that was bobbing up and down. As we drew closer, we discovered a Boy Scout troop marching with their flag held high. Just last weekend I had to wrestle to keep Bombay's attention on me, because a neighbor was having a party and had tied helium balloons around his property. Though this was way off in the distance, it still worried my horse.

Eventually during our hike we met up with a lone horseman who told us all about the trail and the various paths that can be taken. He was riding a 9-year-old Tennessee Walker. He did say that you have to make sure your horse is well-shod in the higher elevations. We went to the location he said he normally rode, and the trail was extremely thin, winding along a cliff. There wasn't room for my husband to walk beside us with a lead rope. We opted out of taking that route, and decided to stick to the sand.

We also asked the rider about a sign we had seen at the trail head telling riders to clean up after their horses. The forestry service provided a plastic baggy dispenser and a trash bin for dog owners, but we just could not picture carrying a manure fork with us, shoveling the poopsident into one of those plastic baggies, and slinging it over the saddle horn to carry back down the mountain. He said that they just want horse owners to keep the parking lot clean, but no one is expected to clean up after his horse on the trail. It might be nice to back the horse into some bushes once it lifts its tail, but that's one more art of horsemanship I have yet to learn.


Jessie said...

I am sorry you haven't had much luck finding a group to ride with! If you lived near me you could join the Hags on Nags, they are a wonderful group of trail riders, who welcome all experience levels. I really hope you can find someone to ride with.

When you mentioned the boy scouts it reminded me of a time when myself and a group of friends were riding our horses down a creek. Around the bend came a group of boy scouts learning how to canoe!! That is one scary site to a horse, most of them wanted to spin and bolt. Those boy scouts must have looked like they were riding crocodiles...

photogchic said...

I just hope off and kick the poo off the path of the trail just to be courteous. I don't want to give hikers or cyclists any ammo for trying to keep horses from park and rec areas. Most of the trail riders at our barn use Old Macs or Boa Boots on their un-shod horses for the trails. They work great.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jessie - Yeah, it's kind of hard to expose your horse to Boy Scouts in canoes ahead of time! LOL.

Photogchic - Great point about the ammo. Thanks for the tips.

Pony Girl said...

Good idea to hike the trail first to scope it out. My mom is going to do that with the trails at her new barn...she found out they are also open to bikers and ATV's, which adds and interesting element with horses! Having your husband walk along with you is a wise idea, too. Can't wait to hear how the first ride goes!

Flying Lily said...

Trail riding alone is not the best but you can do it, once your horse is a bit acclimated and you know your area somewhat. Remember that horses can always find their way back the way they came, no matter how twisty or windy the trail; they have a great sense of "back thataway is my comfort". It's great that your DH is walking along with you! And: some horses are braver when alone than when in a group; strange but true. My Johnny prefers the solitary trail ride and finds other horses mostly distasteful on the trail; he perks up and takes pleasure when on his own. I hope you get to enjoying the trails, such great exercise for the horses. And: my lifelong ambition is to join Hags on Nags; what a great bunch of ladies who know how to have fun!!

Lulu said...

You must be in the wrong area....Trail Riders around where I live are more than welcoming. In fact, I belong to a Yahoo Group of Trail Riders....and any given point I can find any number of folks to go ride with.

Personally, I would not put shoes on for deep sand. Rocks? Yes. Sand? No. Just not necessary.

Victoria Cummings said...

What a good husband! But don't give up on finding a riding buddy, NM, there might be someone in the neighborhood or in that trail riding group who just clicks with you. It's smart not to go out by yourself, especially when you are just starting out. I always ride with my cell phone too.

Emma the Golden Girl said...

I guess we are pretty lucky that we have an extensive network of trails on our property so I usually trail ride alone. I can't imagine riding alone though if I were in an unfamiliar place.
I'm sorry people weren't more willing for you to join their groups but I hope you get to keep experiencing the joy of being on your horse out on the trails. It's quite a wonderful experience.
Thanks for sharing your adventures.

ranchette said...

Sorry that you're having such a hard time finding an "open" group to join. If you were here in MN we'd be out together in a heartbeat. It's sweet of your husband to offer to walk along with you.

I just took mine out of the arena for the first time and although he was a bit hesitant (he's a worry wart) he did fine. It helped to work him a bit before hitting the trails; might help yours to be a little tired the first times out as well.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

pony girl -- I really wish that those who control public trails would separate out the horse trails from the motorized vehicle trails.

flying lily -- That's a good point about some horses doing better alone.

lulu -- Thanks for the footing advice.

victoria -- I won't give up.

emma -- Living near trails is the ultimate. Having to trailer to the trails can get the horses (and me) so stressed out that the ride ends up being a bust.

ranchette -- Maybe I should move to MN. Ha ha! Yes, my husband is a sweet man.

Twinville said...

I've been invited to join a local Riding group, but am not sure I'm ready for that yet.
Baby Doll still seems a little too spooky for trails and I still need more saddle time before I'm ready to take her in mixed group of other horses on mountain trails and trailering to and from.

For now, I plan to just ride her on my 3 acres and ride my neighbor's older horse in our 'back-40' area with trails and dirt roads.

I love your idea of taking your husband along during these early rides to make sure you are safe.

I think sometimes we riders get more nervous about unexpected things happening on the trail, and then our horses end up reacting to us instead.
Of course, noisy boy scouts waving flags would be pretty nerve-racking anyway.

How funny about the woman taking her papillon for a walk by carrying him. hehe

Can't wait to read future trail ride updates.
I'm excited for you!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Twinville -- I agree that our fear of our horses' reactions to things on the trail just convinces the horse there is something to fear. I tend to spook bigger than my horses. If a rabbit burst forth from the brush I'd jump and scream.