After a fairly interrupted night’s sleep, purely down to the time change, I surrender to wakefulness and start reading my book at 5.30am. I could see through the gap at the bottom of the window blind that there were blue skies outside. The sun was coming over the top of the mountains to our left as it was just clipping the top of the birch trees on the hillside on my right. A trip to the loo necessitated some shoes and clothing and on return to the cabin the trail ponies were all leaning expectantly over their fence. I suspect that one of the first jobs is to feed them but not usually this early and it wasn’t on our list at the moment so I just went to talk to them. They are beautiful, alert and inquisitive if a little wary.
By 8am we were sat outside having breakfast at our little picnic table; the sun hadn’t quite reached us but we resisted the urge to move the table forward into the driveway. Bailey arrived with a cheerful greeting and went off to help Ray prepare for departure. I joined her whilst she groomed Topaz who was looking very handsome, ready for the show. We had watched Ray put him through his paces yesterday which was quite amazing. Reining is like dressage, cowboy style. All the movements relate to how you would need your horse to move if it was working steers. These animals are quite stocky, very strong and particularly fast over short distances. The other corale holds these horses, some retired and a couple too young to start training but will do.
After Ray left Roger and I started our tasks for the day. First on the list had been a request to clean out the jeep, which was in quite a state, but that would also provide us with transport during our stay which is great. With petrol at about 60p a litre (which Bailey considered extortionate as it had recently doubled in price!) this could be fantastic for exploring the area. The jeep was caked in mud, full of hay and generally very dirty but it didn’t take long to get it to a reasonably respectable state. Our next job was to start cleaning the kitchen tent which has open sides so a whole variety of pine cones and needles had blown in over the winter. There were also remnants of previous BBQs as well as the shredded bag of last night’s with sharp little teeth marks all over the polystyrene plates. Whilst Roger got on with that I started cleaning the floor of the canvass roofed cabin which will become our room. Again the floor needed sweeping and washing as the next job was to be to varnish it.
We hadn’t quite finished either job when Bailey announced that she needed to pop into town, did we want to come? After the couple of hours cleaning we were only too willing to accept her offer. She dropped us off near her Mum’s health food shop and massage therapy practice (this is your world Mandy!) to see if we could pick up some gluten-free bread but we ended up getting it from the local supermarket. We arranged to meet her in half an hour at the mall so went for a wander around there, not so big. At the end was a B&Q type shop with one major difference, it had a gun section! It seemed very strange to see a wall covered in rifles and what looked like AK47s on display on the counter. I tried not to stare but it really is the first time I’ve seen anything like that not on the TV.
When Bailey brought us back she asked us if we wanted to join her on a ride as she had to look for a new crossing of the creek on the 2 hour trail as the other was getting too muddy and the horses sinking in too deep. Did we?! She selected a couple of sedate ladies, I rode Mitsy and Roger had Musketeer. She got us to tack them up ourselves, with which Roger is quite familiar using English saddles and I’d had my lesson yesterday so we weren’t too incompetent. The main difficulty was lifting the weight of the saddle up and onto her back but she was very tolerant. We scrambled on, no mounting block, and tried to get used to the long stirrups, one of the main differences. The saddle itself was quite comfortable and encourages you to sit back onto your sacrum rather more than upright on the ischial tuberosities so feels more relaxed.
Mitsy followed Sonny, Bailey’s mount, with her nose almost up her bottom but wasn’t too happy if Musketeer got as close. We climbed up though the birch woods in the dappled sunshine which was a little cooler than the tents. We came off the ranch land fairly soon and entered the wilderness where the only sign of mankind was the slightly worn trail we were able to follow. The noise from birdsong echoed around the trees as they flitted from branch to branch, not objecting to our presence but certainly seemed to be noting it. Even down at the ranch I had noticed the profusion of butterflies, mainly tiny ones but also some huge yellow ones with black markings which I will have to look up. There were many of these chasing each other under the canopy similar to a butterfly house but this illustrated captivity emulating nature, wonderful.
Whilst I was loving the ride, my attention was continually diverted to the surrounding flora and fauna. Minature sunflowers, 6-8 inches high lined our route, Indian paint brushes poked through the undergrowth and tiny wild strawberry flowers emerged through the green carpet. Bailey is so looking forward to the fruit ripening. On two occasions my gazing around observed young bucks, statue like under nearby trees, their first year antlers just beginning to emerge over the height of their pricked up ears. I was a little disconcerted to see definite claw marks well up the trunks of some of the trees. Bailey said that it was where the moose rubbed their antlers but those were different, less specific marks on the bark. When we had another look she agreed that they could be bear claws but later Brenda told us that they were cougar scratchings! Although it appears that bears do not present a significant danger she did tell us to get some bear spray, like pepper spray, and get hold of a whistle if we can!!
We continued to climb, really testing the horses’ fitness as they hadn’t been out much this season but also Brandy’s who had decided to join us unusually for her, she seems to have latched onto Roger and I and has been in attendance in all our jobs. We emerged into a clearing at the top with amazing views both ways along the valley. It was quite a relief to dismount and get hips and knees realigned which fortunately seemed to recover quickly, some minor adjustments to the saddle and stirrups also made for a more comfortable descent.
On the way down we needed to try to find a trail along the bank and an alternative crossing point which was easier said than done in the dense woodland. As the forest is entirely natural there is a lot of dead and fallen wood in this cycle of life. Some of the deadwood was easily removed as we wended our way through the trees. Bailey had some flourescent orange tape to mark the new route and I came through on horseback to check the width and footings, leading her horse that was behind me. Roger followed on braking off the branches at eye level to reduce injuries. We could leave some of the fallen trees for the horses to step over, apart from Mitsy. She decided that they were much better jumped except didn’t tell me! She could even do that from a standing start. For an old lady, she’s 20, she is remarkably sprightly. We were supposed to be going at a walk as our riding capabilities hadn’t been assessed but Mitsy broke into a trot every time any space appeared between her nose and Sonny’s bottom regardless of me it would seem. When we spotted an alternative crossing point down quite a steep bank Bailey walked down to check suitability, she thought it might be ok so we were to test it. To my great consternation she asked me if I thought that Mitsy might jump the stream!! It was probably only 3-4 foot wide but my only jumping experience had been years ago (when Christopher Reeve broke his neck!) and even then less than 12&. The prospect of jumping over a stream on my first day back in the saddle was quite horrifying, at least I didn’t still have Sonny on the lead rein at this time. Very very tentatively I allowed Mitsy to approach the water and with much relief she did walk through it. The moss covered steep ascent on the other side was a bit of a challenge but a switchback route resolved that.
We joined up with the original trail then turned round to retrace our steps to develop the path a bit more and then finally came back again. Some of the gradients were quite steep and the turns sharp so although Western riding only requires one hand on the reins (the other free to lassoo) we needed to use both which didn’t leave an option to push away from trees. Horses know their own width but have no concern to take into account the extra dimension of riders’ legs and feet. So a few bruised and grazed knee caps later we emerged from our third passing and started the route home. We encountered an area of several broken branches so Bailey got off to clear those and passed Sonny to me again. I took the opportunity to take my legs out the stirrups for a bit of a stretch, looping the rein round the pommel pommel in the process. At this point Mitsy decided to follow Bailey but Sonny chose not to as the lead rein had been caught round his stirrup. I had no control over Mitsy by either rein nor stirrup so couldn’t stop her so Sonny’s lead rope zipped through my hands, nearly pulling me backwards off the saddle resulting in me sustaining a not insignificant rope burn. I feel to have started my initiation as a cowpoke, well horsepoke.
We’d been out for over 2 hours and our unaccustomed bodies were beginning to object strongly so despite our pleasure at the ride we were mightily relieved to dismount back in the yard even if my left foot did get stuck in the stirrup and my right leg wouldn’t support me so I ended up in the dirt with my leg in the air and a very tolerant Mitsy looking at me pityingly. Bailey suggested a cold drink as we were all parched. We didn’t realise that she was going into town for them but were very grateful for them on her return although instead of getting out of her 4×4 flat-bed truck she asked if we wanted to jump in to go and round up some nearby horses who had got out and were heading for the road. We duly did so but then couldn’t find the horses, only an open gate and empty paddock. We did locate them wandering up the track away from the road but with Bailey acting as a pied piper with her bucket of oats we enticed and herded them back to safety and closed the gate. Whilst the mechanism was just about adequate this was the second successive day they’d been out so we wondered if they’d actually managed to work out how to open the gate. Never underestimate a horse!
On return we were completing our morning jobs when Brenda arrived, making it look like we’d been slaving away all day. If this is what the work will be like then I don’t mind ‘slaving’. We collapsed for an hour or so, finding it difficult to adopt a comfortable position. We decided to defer tea until later as Brenda was taking a group lesson of good intermediates and we were welcome to observe and duly did so as she’d offered to let us join a beginners lesson the following day. We managed to stay awake until 10pm and then collapsed gratefully into the large cosy comfy bed. We weren’t ‘on duty’ but were aware that we were the only people here at the ranch over night!