The day started off with playing "horsey dress-up", but I can't tell that story ... yet. Next week, once we've got the all clear from the folks at GISH, I'll post more stories and the corresponding pictures. Suffice it to say that our day started off with a ton of laughter.
We planned to trailer the horses in to Wild Basin for a short ride up to Copeland Falls for another top secret story that I can't tell you about ... yet. I should have been more nervous about the trip than I was. Two things kept my nerves in check: 1) despite walking half of our "ride" last week, I was completely relaxed when I did ride and I realized I finally trusted Skeeter to take care of me; 2) the excitement of our top secret mission had me focused on that instead of wondering what could go wrong.
Skeeter and I have a somewhat ... contentious ... relationship when it comes to trailers. However, when it was time to load her up, she followed me right on in like she'd been doing it her whole life. I hadn't actually expected her to load up so quickly or easily, so once we were in the trailer I didn't really have a plan. I'm too short to tie her in the trailer, but I didn't want to just leave her loose while I closed the gate, either. She quickly figured out I had no plan and asked to back out. Read that again: she asked to back out. She did not panic and bolt out. She asked.
Well, one of us had to make a decision, so when she asked, I agreed and she backed nicely out of the trailer. Mom came out of the lodge just in time to see us come out of the trailer and gave me an important piece of information that would have been helpful: she and Bill always work together to load Skeeter. Skeets loads in nicely, but then tries to follow the Bill out when he steps back to close the gate, so he threads the lead rope through the window bars to Mom, who ties her up while Bill closes the gate. Since they do most of Skeeter's hauling for me, I hadn't realized they had a whole routine.
Even with that little hiccup, I was feeling pretty good about our upcoming ride. The haul to the trail head was short - only two miles - but it marked the first time Skeets has been trailered to a new trail, one that she'd never seen before. Even if our top secret mission was a bust, we could call the day a win.
It's been years since I've ridden at Wild Basin and I was looking forward to it - I have great memories of riding those trails when we ran the Wild Basin Livery in 2004.
I thought we might have a problem when it was time to put her boots on, but while she wasn't perfect, her fight was only half-hearted. A ranger stopped by to chat us up and once the focus was off of her, she offered up her hoof. We're not dumb, if she's offering, we're taking it. 3 seconds later, she had her second boot on and we were ready to go.
Horse parking is more than a mile away from people parking, so we had to ride in to the actual trail head. Mom and Bill got mounted up easily, but Skeeter and I still have discussions about mounting. She thinks I should be able to do it from the ground anywhere, but my wee legs don't work that way so we always have to find a rock or something to give me a couple of extra inches to reach the stirrup.
|Mare face says, "learn to mount from the ground!"|
As soon as I was up, we were on our way. Skeeter took the lead for the first half mile or so, walking out confidently, as though we'd been doing this forever. She had one big spook in place; she had been watching a fisherman in chest waders walk along the trail when a car popped up on the road next to us. She shook off her spook and continued on.
After a bit, she decided that she didn't want to lead anymore, so Bill and Alloy hopped out front until we got to the actual trail head. The horse trail to the trail head is better maintained than I remembered, despite its lack of use, so once Bill and Alloy were in the lead, I just sat back and enjoyed.
There is one stretch of trail that always reminds me of Lord of the Rings - the trail is fairly steep, but has steps carved into it, and the trees just tower over us. The only thing missing is fog rolling in. It's one of my favorite stretches of trail.
|Pictures just don't do this stretch justice.|
The stairs were new to Skeeter and she did pretty well with them.
But there was one ... had she not been riding Alloy's cute little butt so closely, she would have seen that it was a taller than usual step, and not as deep, so she really needed to place her feet well. The LotR stretch of trail is a long, somewhat steep uphill, and she still gets tired on long uphill climbs, so she was rushing up on Alloy. He saw the weird step and hopped up it like a mountain goat. Little Miss My Head Is Buried In Alloy's Butt did not see the weird step until it was almost too late. She got her front feet up, but found the step wasn't deep enough for her to get her back feet on the step as well. There wasn't anything I could do to help, so I just had to sit and let her figure it out, which she did. I'm not quite sure what she did, but it felt like she just hopped all four feet at the same time, then we moved on.
Though it's a very well maintained trail, there are parts that are rocky and tricky and she navigated them all like a pro. Well, except for the weird stair. In order to get to the people trail head, we had to cross a couple of different types of bridges: concrete road bridges and wooden pallet-type bridges. It made me thankful that we have a pallet "bridge" that we use at home for training.
The bridge at the people trail head was different from any she'd seen before and she didn't really want to cross it, but then neither did Alloy or Washoe (and Washoe's done this trail many, many times before). It's a narrow wooden pedestrian bridge with railing on each side. Having people clustered up on each end of the bridge added to the degree of difficulty, but we knew if we could get one horse to cross, the others would follow right along.
I volunteered to lead Skeeter across. Our ride had been so freaking amazing that I didn't want to ruin it by fighting with her over a bridge. I dismounted, grabbed a rein and walked across without an issue. Washoe and Alloy followed along when they realized the bridge trolls weren't going to eat them.
I looked for a place to mount up, and found a rock that would suffice, but Skeeter was not interested in standing while Washoe and Alloy were milling around, so I decided to just walk to the hitch rail. It was only 3/10ths of a mile and I was feeling good. Picking my battles - I'm getting better at it.
Skeets had been so light when I was leading her across the bridge, and was so tuned into me, I thought I'd give liberty work a try. I threw the rein over her neck and walked on. I expected, with so much activity from the hikers and all of the lush green grass growing up on both sides of the trail, plus Washoe and Alloy behind us, that she'd only be "with me" a few steps before I'd have to take her lead rope and physically lead her along the trail.
Once again, she surprised me. She stayed at my shoulder completely at liberty the entire walk up to the hitch rail. There were just a couple of times when I touched the rein to re-direct her, and once I had to lead her across a trickle of water, but otherwise I left her completely alone. She stayed hooked on and with me the entire time.
|My new favorite picture of the two of us.|
I know I'm completely anthropomorphizing this, but I swear she does better when she feels like we're equal partners instead of me telling her what to do. She stayed with me because she wanted to, not because I was making her. (Though I could have, and would have, made her stay if necessary.)
We made it to the hitch rail and completed our top secret mission. All three horses were amazing throughout our top secret mission and a half hour or so later, we all mounted up for the ride out.
If the horses were great on the way in, they were dang near perfect on the way out. I kept exclaiming to Mom and Bill, "I have a TRAIL horse. And honest-to-God trail horse!". It's one thing to ride across the street in Roosevelt National Forest, but that's basically our back yard. Skeeter's been on those trails quite often - sometimes successfully, sometimes not - but the Wild Basin trail we rode was completely brand new to her and she loved it.
I kind of hate to think of it as a training test, but it was. I expected to have to lead her to our destination by necessity, not by choice. Instead she far surpassed any expectation I had of her. In retrospect, coming off of her three weeks ago did wonders for my confidence as weird as that seems. The fact that she stopped dead when I fell instead of panicking and stepping on me, or going over the edge of the trail again helped me get over any trust issues I had with her. Though I'd been told that she was taking care of me, I didn't quite believe it until then.
And just because the ride was beautiful, here are some gratuitous pictures: