Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Most Difficult Ride

I've been going to write about this ride since October, when it occurred, but I had a hard time (and still am) gathering my thoughts about it.  It was perhaps the most frustrating ride I've ever been on, though Estes came through like the Queen she is.

Compass wanted to make a commercial for her livery and get some promotional pictures, so she hired a photographer/videographer and invited people to come participate in exchange for a free ride.  Deejo, Mrs Deejo, Mrs Junior, Mr Nebalee, and Autobot went along for the ride.  I actually started out my ride NOT with the group, but met up with them at about the halfway point when I went to talk to College Boy.

Let me tell you about College Boy.  Her Highness loves him very much.  When she likes someone, she makes up her mind and that's all there is to it.  I don't know what it is about him that she likes so much, but she immediately bonded to him.  Whenever I had her out and College Boy was around, she would bury her head in his chest and just sigh.  For a very stand-offish horse, that's saying a lot.  Granted, he's a great guy, good looking, and has a naturally easy way with horses, so I guess it's not really surprising that Estes developed such a crush on him.  He's never even ridden her, though I wouldn't hesitate for him to do so.

Last summer it was very hard for me to deal with the livery.  If it wasn't for College Boy, I wouldn't have ever set foot on the property.  Really, it was a lot of little things that made me insane and created a lot of resentment and anger on my part.  Mom and Bill are so much better at taking the high road than I am and are much better people. Once I'm done, I'm d-o-n-e.  And last summer, I was d-o-n-e.

So it was probably my frustration with the entire summer that made the final livery ride so difficult; take this post with a grain of salt, for it probably wasn't *as bad* as I thought it was.

I've worked on Julie Goodnight's TV crew for a few years now, so I had a fair idea of what it was going to take to get the pictures and videos needed.  I knew there would be a lot of "hurry up and wait", which is fine.  It was a beautiful day and I had no place I needed to be except on the back of my mare.  When we ran into the livery ride, I headed over to talk to College Boy and no surprise, Estes buried her head in his chest and decided we'd go along and help out, which really meant ponying and holding the photographer's horse.  Not a big deal, Estes is experienced at ponying and the photographer's horse, RC, was one that I'd known forever, so I didn't think twice about the fact that we were bareback.

RC, Estes and I stood around and talked to College Boy while the photog did his thing.  He wanted some shots of College Boy galloping along a trail.  He got some excellent pictures, but I was unhappy that these pictures were going to be used for advertising.  Guests are absolutely NOT allowed to gallop along those trails, it's a safety issue.

I do actually love the pictures, though.  This one is my favorite.  Not many people have a professional photographer clicking away the very first time they gallop.  College Boy had a blast.

Photo cred: Allenspark Livery

After the running like their tails are on fire shots, we moved on to the trench trail, where I got twitchy all over again.  They wanted more pictures of horses and guests running.  Off trail.  In the direction of home.  Who else thinks this might not be a good idea?

It turned out okay, they did it a couple of times and got some good footage to use, but I really, really was unhinged by the fact that they were videotaping a business breaking the rules they were bound to by their permits.  All commercial rides must stay on the trail and must stay in control.  Oh, and the dog off-leash?  In direct violation of Boulder County's leash laws. (And I'm the one who went to jail for a loose cat!)

As we moved on, College Boy forever earned a place in my heart when he told the photographer that my mare would do anything I asked.  And he's right, Estes is pretty much the bomb (and bomb-proof).  So Estes and I ponied RC back and forth across Fox Creek for some really pretty footage of a water crossing.  By that time, I'd resigned myself to just getting through the ride.

We got everyone across the creek and headed back to the picnic area, which is rarely used, but there are some hidden waterfalls back there that would have made for beautiful pictures.  The trail isn't used very often and can get kind of narrow.  In fact, there are pictures around here somewhere of that trail - it can get pretty gnarly in areas.  Nothing high or scary, just tight quarters.  We had along with us, the livery's two new mules, Mike and Ike.  They were bought for packing, but didn't have much training on them.  We got to a particularly tight section of trail and realized that we couldn't get them through with their packs on, so the decision was made to reverse course.  The photographer, College Boy, and I were kind of in the middle of the line, so when we had to turn around, they ended up ahead of me.  This is important in just a few minutes.

Since we had to reverse course, the decision was made to send College Boy and the photographer up the Goat Trail, which we would have to pass anyway.  The views from the Goat Trail are stunning, there's no doubt about it, so of course, there had to be pictures taken up there.  However, the Goat Trail even from the "good" side is not for beginners (or intermediates), so the plan was for the rest of the riders to wait at the bottom of the trail while College Boy and the photographer went up for some quick shots.  Again, they were astounding.

Photo cred: Allenspark Livery
Yeah, the plan was to wait at the bottom of the trail.  But remember that crush that Estes has on College Boy?  I let my guard down as he and the photographer headed up the trail and Estes decided she was going too.  I can't even tell you what happened; I was ponying the mules (oh God, a whole OTHER story), waiting on the trail and then suddenly Estes and I had hopped up on a boulder and she started scrambling after them.  I got her stopped, but we were on shale and there wasn't any way to turn her without falling to our deaths.  I wish I was exaggerating.  The mules had not followed her up the boulder, so I dropped the lead rope and veeeerrrrryyyyy slowly slid myself off her her back, feeling with my toes for the ground.  College Boy and the photographer had stopped on the Goat Trail ahead of us, mostly, I think, because the photographer dropped his tripod.  Since I was on the ground, I could easily get the tripod.  That was the only easy thing.  They went on to the top while I figured out how to get us out of our little predicament.

I finally told Estes to stand, picked up the tripod and squeezed by her with it.  I didn't have a good angle to put the tripod in one of the mule's packs, but I leaned off of the boulder, out over the open space and just jammed the damn thing in, figuring I could fix it once I got my horse back down.  Standing behind her on the trail, I looked at our options, which were very few.  I had to take her up the trail ten yards or so before there was any space wide enough for me to turn her around.  The old girl can turn on a dime, so I didn't need a hugely wide spot on the trail, but I did need something more than I had.

I squeezed by her again, aware of the shale slipping out from under my boots, picked up her reins and lead her up to the wide spot to spin her around.  In order to turn her and stay out from under her hooves, I had to scale some loose rock, but we managed to get her turned around and headed back in the right direction.  We descended the trail very carefully.  My boots were slipping on the rocks and I was afraid that if I fell, she'd step on me or slip and fall herself.  We weren't very far up the trail, but it seemed to take forever to get back down.  Of course, while I was getting us situated, the rest of the line had bunched up and there wasn't any room for us to get back in line.  I had the front of the line move up, I think by that time Compass had the mules, to make room for us.  I perched on the boulder above the trail, extended my hand with the reins in it and told Estes to step down into the trail.  And then I held my breath just in case she jostled me on the way by.  I have a severe allergy to falling under a horse's hooves.  I should have never doubted her.  She stepped down into the trail and looked at me like I was an idiot for doubting her.  There wasn't any room to mount, so I slipped down into the trail ahead of her and led her for a few yards until I could find some place to mount up again.

Hell, after all of that, the rest of the ride went smooth-ish.  We had no sooner lined up and started out and College Boy showed back up.  Either they were very fast moving up and down the Goat Trail or it took longer than I thought to get Her Highness back on the trail.

For some reason, I had to move up and take the mules from Compass, though I don't remember what the reason was, but I ended up leading the ride with two pack mules who didn't have much training on them and were not very good at being ponied.  It took a bit to get them lined out properly and they'd stay in position for ten or fifteen yards and then get all jacked up again.  It was very frustrating, but Estes was amazing.  She didn't even bat an eye when I grabbed the "string" (two still counts as a string, right?) of mules, though she did get annoyed when they didn't stay lined out like they were supposed to.

Eventually, the mule string went back to Compass and we headed home.  I was never so glad to be headed back home as I was that day.  Nor was I prouder of my mare.  It wasn't an easy ride, I asked a whole lot of her and she did it all (and then some, if you count the Goat Trail debacle).

We did end up with a beautiful picture of us with College Boy and Fancy.

Photo cred: Allenspark Livery
The videos turned out beautifully, even if my nerves were shot by the end of the day.


~Allison said...

Wow! So scary!! But Estes is amazing! What a good girl. I kinda can't blame her for wanting to follow college boy... he is a cutie!
And I do agree with you on the misleading photos for the lodge. You will always get those few people who will say "But I saw the pics of people galloping horses here so I can do it too." Frustrating, especially if you have to deal with them!
Estes rocks! And you help yourself together much better than I would have!

Momma Fargo said...

Great post! I love the pics and gallop. Did he fall in the creek> LMAO. That's the art of marketing.

Shirley said...

Way to cowgirl up!

Rachel said...

I don't even know where to start. I'm sitting here all nerves reading this!

Are you telling me there's something SCARIER than the first trail we went on??? Was ours a BEGINNER trail? Because the sliding shale was only moderately terrifying, ha!

So I'm super happy they got footage of you crossing water - because that might have been my favorite part ever of Colorado - other than the people!

And I totally agree with you on the "breaking rules" thing. That would annoy me to no end and I probably would have been a killjoy onsite if I'd seen that. I can totally vouch for some of those trails being dangerous to even trot on... I cannot imagine galloping out there like that.

And Estes. Rocks.

Tj and Mark said...

Sounds sketchy. I feel for you. We took a full moon ride in Costa Rica and while I felt pretty safe, there were beginners who were not. 20 of us all together with a drunk uncle bringing up the rear with a piece of leather he used to slap the horses who fell back. Then the horses would take off into the group. At least you got some good photos.