Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"My Cup Runneth Over" Ride (7/29/19)

Yesterday's ride was so amazing, I'm not sure I can put it into words.

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!"
She circled the rock a few times and my frustration got a hold of me for half a second - just long enough for me to practically leap from the rock to her back. I hooked the toe of my left foot in the stirrup as she moved past and threw myself up. Thank goodness for all of Queen Estes' running mount training.

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:

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A Misadventure-free Ride(ish)

I was sure today was going to be one hell of a hot mess. I completely overslept, so I quickly threw on some clothes and jumped into the car. Halfway up the hill, I realized I'd left my cameras and my spare set of reins. I was afraid that didn't bode well for the ride.

When we got to the lodge, Mom told me that Skeeter was on her shit list. Skeeter is super pushy on the ground, which I hate, and it's an ongoing fight with her. I'm thinking that she's so pushy on the ground, because Karma heard me complain that I would never tolerate a pushy horse. You know how a childless adult bitching about misbehaving kids, ends up with feral children and are forced to eat their words? Yeah, it's *exactly* like that.

Ugh. Not a great start and we hadn't even pulled the horses.

Skeets was a rock star while getting all tacked up, though Alloy was being twitchy and a bit of a spaz. He threatened to blow up several times while getting tacked up. At one point, I mentioned that I hoped that oversleeping and forgetting stuff was all of the misadventure we'd have. Then Beel spoke up and said that is was probably his turn for a "misadventure" (read: fall, since Mom and I had each hit the ground). I told him that we don't take turns. I know that's against everything we learned in kindergarten, but when it comes to horse misadventures, we don't take turns!

Mom and I both had passing thoughts of booting Skeeter, but since we were just riding in town, I passed on fighting over the boots. The ride started out better than any we've had this year - even though Alloy was kind of being an idiot during the tacking up phase, as soon as Bill mounted up and started moving his feet, he settled right down.

Because of last week's fiasco, we planned a short, successful ride in town. It was all going well until about half a mile out, when Skeeter just stopped. She just refused to take one more step on the gravely, pokey road. I pointed her to the grassy area along the side of the road and she stepped right up and we moved along nicely until we had to step back down on the road to cross a driveway. She stepped down, took two steps and stopped, which confirmed my suspicion that her feetsies were still tender. I mentally cursed myself for not putting boots on her, then stepped down.

Thanks to my mapmyrun app, I know that when we're riding, we average between 24 and 25 minutes a mile, but I also know that when Copper and I are walking, we average between 19 and 20 minutes a mile. I wasn't going to let her meander along at a 24 minute per mile pace, so I kept her moving along faster than she wanted. She might have gotten out of carrying me, but she wasn't getting out of working. For a mare that is usually very difficult to lead because of her pushiness, I had to do a surprising amount of driving and dragging her along. There's a reason she hasn't graduated from the 15' lead rope to a more manageable length one.

Mom and Bill happily rode along behind us while I dragged Skeeter a long. At one point, after having to drive her to speed her up, I looked back and she had the best eff you and eff this look on her face. I couldn't help but laugh at her. She thought she was going to get to go home once I dismounted, but the joke was on her.

You know the problem with forcing your horse to walk with you at a 19-ish minute mile? You also have to walk at that pace, so maybe the joke was on me. I know exactly how slow my walking pace is, but I figured I was making her move a good bit faster than her riding speed.

Ski Road meets up with Business Hwy 7, which is paved, so I mounted up again there and we rode happily back to the lodge.

We're calling today's ride a huge win. No one came off their horse, and though I walked, I chose to, plus she still had to carry me about half of the ride. Next week, the boots are going back on. I think we'll probably stay in town, just to see how she's doing, but by August we should be back up on the mountain.

You're welcome for the fancy artwork :)

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Birthday Ride That Wasn't

Alternatively titled: Another F*cking Misadventure

Despite last week's misadventures, we had a really great ride and I couldn't wait to get up there for my birthday ride.

Skeeter was easy to catch, and stood at the rail like a broke horse. In fact, I was so proud of her, I had to take a picture.

Look at that broke horse!
The trouble started when I went to put her boots on. She's never been great about putting her boots on, but it's usually not a huge fight. Last week, since she'd lost one of her boots on the previous ride, she went out barefoot. I was actually pretty excited about it, because I hate putting on her boots as much as she does. They're easy to put on, but it's just an extra step and I'm lazy. Unfortunately, she was too sore after our barefoot ride to take her out barefoot again, which meant we had to put her boots on.

I started with her right front, but she kept offering her left front, so I switched up. Getting her boot on her left front was a breeze (relatively), so I was confident that I could go back to the right and it would go on as easy. Silly me. She wanted nothing to do with lifting her hoof, going so far as to lean her right shoulder onto my back. Bill came over and attempted to lift her foot. After a couple of tries, she gave him her foot, but then set back and sat on her ass. Such a mare!

Eventually, between the two of us we were able to get her hoof cleaned out and her boot on. I was starting to get frustrated and wanted to just say "screw it, if she doesn't want to go out, we won't". However, this was my freaking birthday ride and I'd just driven an hour and a half to get to the lodge so we could ride. By God, we were going for a ride.

Last week, I attempted to ride Skeeter up the switchback and it didn't go well, so this week I decided I was going to lead her up it and then mount up. I really hate having to hand walk her from the lodge to the top of the hill, but it seemed like a lot of work to mount up, ride to the switchback, dismount, lead her up the switchback, and then re-mount. Copper and I have been walking a mile or so each day for the last week, and we didn't walk that morning before Jay and I headed up the hill, so I thought I'd just suck it up and walk.

Skeeter was being pretty good as we walked toward the switchback. She only snatched a couple bites on our way up to the road and was walking very nicely behind me. About halfway to our crossing point, I felt her head go up and a pop. I was turning to see what had happened when Mom said that she'd stepped on and broken a rein. As I usually do, I had crossed her reins over her neck and just let them be while I was leading her.

I stood there, along the side of the road, just looking at the broken rein.

For the second time in less than ten minutes, I considered aborting the ride. First her refusal with the boots, then the rein. A smart woman would have thought maybe God was telling her something and listened. But I'm not a smart woman. I mean, clearly, this was a sign that the ride was not to be, but this was my freaking birthday ride and I'd just driven an hour and a half to get to the lodge so we could ride. By God, we were going for a ride.

We use scissor clips on our reins so we can quickly switch them out if necessary. Mom suggested I take one of her reins from Washoe and move her lead rope to her bit. It was a reasonable, and easy, solution to now being down a rein. I didn't want to mess around with it right then and there since Alloy was getting antsy and we needed to get across the street.

At the base of the switchback, while I caught my breath from hauling my own body up the hill, Mom and I made the quick tack switch. Skeeter led up the switchback nicely. We avoided making the sharp turn and opted for going straight up to the upper trail. She hesitated just a moment when I didn't make the turn, but followed me up to the upper trail without a fight.

The fight started when we reached the actual trail at the top of the switchback. Skeeter parked herself. Just stopped and said, "no" *. No, however, was not acceptable to me, so I swung my lead rope and drove her forward until she was moving nicely. After about 50 feet, she stopped again and said, "no". Again, no was not acceptable to me, so I drove her forward. After another 50 feet she stopped and parked herself.

This time, I saw the big flashing neon light from God telling me to abort the ride. A smart woman would have paid attention. I am not a smart woman. This was my freaking birthday ride and I'd just driven an hour and a half to get to the lodge so we could ride. By God, we were going for a ride.

When I was done swearing at Skeeter, I realized that what I was doing wasn't working. Over, and over, horse trainers say not to fight with your horse, and not to work them when you're angry. It's the kinder, gentler method of training**. However, I also knew that she shouldn't be allowed to "win" by being stubborn. I looked up and saw Mom, so I had a brilliant solution: Mom and Washoe could pony Skeeter while I got my anger under control.

Mom agreed and rode up to take Skeeter's lead rope. I stomped walked up the trail ahead of them to give Mom room to get Skeets straightened out and moving. I heard Mom say, "oh", and turned in time to see Washoe broadside to Skeeter and Mom hanging off his side like a slow-motion trick rider. Skeeter had set back and sat down on her ass, head in the air, and Washoe was struggling to keep his footing. Mom made the wise choice to let go and fall. Unfortunately, she fell flat on her back with an "oof", but Washoe was able to get his balance and did not get pulled over on top of her.

As soon as Skeeter felt the pressure give, she stopped and parked herself. Stupid mare.

The fall hurt, but Mom is the Bionic Cowgirl, so she got up and dusted herself off. After I made sure that she wasn't dead, broken, or bleeding, I grabbed Skeeter's lead rope and said, "That's It! We're not freaking riding today!"

I'm pretty certain I heard God's eyes roll and a muttered "about time".

Mom mounted back up and I stomped my way back down the hill to the lodge. Funny thing, as soon as we aborted the ride, things quit going wrong. There were no more "misadventures". Mom took stock of her injuries once we got back to the lodge. She landed on two rocks: one at the back of her head, and one at her tailbone. Currently, the knot on her head is mostly gone and it only hurts when she pushes on it. The tailbone is still pretty painful. She thinks she might have broken it, but there's nothing to do even if she has broken it.

Throughout all of Skeeter's silliness, Alloy was a rock star. He's a pretty impatient horse - when he gets moving, he wants to stay moving - so this is good patience training. It's not maybe the way Bill prefers to teach him patience, but we take the opportunity when we can.

Bill and I have plans to ride again on Thursday, but we will just ride Ski Road instead of trying to go up on the hill. It'll be boring (hopefully), but it's a good "remember your brains" ride.

* Ironically, I just wrote a blog post titled "No Means No. Always". Should have taken my own advice.

** Next time I'm mad at Skeeter, she's going to know it. Kinder, gentler works for a lot of horses, but a stubborn black mare like mine? Sometimes shes need to know when she's in trouble. If I'd gotten after her instead of trying to look for another solution, Mom wouldn't have been pulled off of her horse.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Misadventures in Trail Riding

This riding season is starting out as in interesting one. Nothing horribly wrong has happened, but they haven't gone quite *right* either.

While I'm down to just my part-time job, and looking for a new primary job, I decided I'd go ride once a week with Mom and Bill. Yesterday was our scheduled ride day and I happily loaded my butt into my car for the drive.

After my ride last week, I knew I had to repair my HellHat and I needed to add a breast collar to Skeeter's saddle. She's filled out a bit since last year, and riding her is almost like riding a barrel. Her prominent withers aren't quite as prominent and she's a touch overweight. I spent a significant amount of time last week centering my saddle because it kept slipping.

Mom helped me quickly repair my HellHat while Bill went and pulled Alloy. I debated whether or not to slip my GoPro on, but was afraid that it would slip off since I hadn't taken the time to secure my hatband to the HellHat. 

By the time we were headed out to pull our horses, Alloy was practically dressed and ready to go. Talk about pressure! Not that Bill was in a hurry, just that I'm not used to being "behind" in getting ready. I was a bit discombobulated trying to get Skeeter ready. Had to add and adjust the breast collar, then realized that her cinch was too far back, so had to loosen everything and start all over. Then realized I needed some water and to put sunscreen on. It was just one thing after another. Getting ready for the ride, for me, was like herding cats, only I was the damn cats. 

So much stuff on my saddle horn: horn bag; water bottle; lead rope.

Finally, I had all of my poop in a group and we were ready to go. Throughout the whole getting ready mess, Skeeter was a rock star. She really is becoming a good horse. While she's not quite as "fun" to ride as Estes was, she's pretty darn solid.

Most of the time.

Unlike our last ride, I decided to ride Skeeter up to the switchback and then lead her up. What can I say? I'm basically lazy and didn't want to make the hike up there. She was going so well, and willing to attempt the switchback that I didn't think twice about aiming her toward it. I had a plan, which was to take the upper trail, so she wouldn't have to make the sharp turn. My thought was that she didn't have any bad experiences with the upper trail, so we wouldn't have any problems.

When we got to the point where I intended to steer Skeeter straight up the trail to avoid the tight turn of the switchback, but she was plodding along behind Alloy and just made the turn without hesitation. I hadn't yet committed to forcing her to take the upper trail, so I thought I'd just enjoy the ride up the trail she'd chosen. I even mentally congratulated her for just marching on past her trouble area.

Between one step and the next, it's like a flip switched in her head and I felt her freeze up. One second, we're moving along like a confident, broke trail horse and the next her brain vapor locked. She came to a complete standstill and I tried to encourage her forward, but then she remembered that bad things had happened at that spot and started to back up. Afraid that she'd back her butt off the trail like she did with Autobot last year, I slipped my feet out of the stirrups and prepared to dismount. I swung my right leg back to clear the back of the saddle just as she spun in that direction. I was left hanging in the air like Wile E. Coyote. I reached for my stirrup with my left foot, forgetting that I'd already kicked my foot out.

Down I went, my feet hit the ground (boy, that first step was a bitch!) and I rolled ass over tea kettle down the trail, hoping that Skeeter wouldn't back off the trail and down the hill. When I realized that she hadn't backed off the trail, I started hoping that she wouldn't freak out and step on me. It only took a roll or two for me to stop and pop up to my feet in the event she was headed in my direction.

Mom missed the fall, but managed to catch me just as I got to my feet. I'm calling it a win, since I still had a rein in my hand when I got up. This is one reason, though, that I prefer riding in split reins. 

I did call Skeeter a bad name, and then gave her lots of love for being so good about stopping when I went down. You can see that she's parked solidly, but worried. It took some encouragement to get her up the trail - we took the upper trail where Alloy and Beel are standing.

I lead her up the hill to the rock I've been using for the past two seasons to mount. It was just the perfect height and we've never had a problem. Mom looked at the rock and asked, "why do you use that one, doesn't it roll?"

"Mom, don't jinx me. I've been using this rock for two years!"

I checked Skeeter's cinch, stepped up onto my reliable old mounting rock, lifted my foot to the stirrup and I'll be damned if that reliable old mounting rock didn't roll right out from under me. I ended up on my back under Skeeter's belly. I could almost hear Skeeter rolling her eyes at me.

I may or may not have grumbled at Mom for jinxing my rock and continued leading Skeeter up the trail until I could find a new mounting rock.

The rest of the ride went beautifully. Beel tried to get a nice picture of Mom and I together in a field of flowers, but Alloy hasn't quite gotten the hang of standing still for him to take pictures.

Not bad for taking them from the back of a moving horse.

We retraced the beginning of our ride from last week, and Beel managed to find the boot Skeeter lost last week. We just needed to come from the correct direction - it was hidden in grass that covered it when looking at it from the opposite direction. We strapped the boot to Washoe's saddle and continued on.

The lost boot on Washoe's saddle.

Here are some gratuitous ride pictures, just because I think they're gorgeous. We're awfully lucky that we have these trails just across the street from us.

Skeeter has never given anyone trouble going down the switchback, so I didn't give it any thought. However, this time she balked at the top. It wasn't a big deal, all I had to do was point her to the upper trail, which would give her a straight shot down the hill instead of the switchback. Only, she hadn't gone down the hill that way before and had to take some time to figure out where to put her feet. I gave a passing thought to dismounting and leading her down, but one look at the rocks I'd already become intimately acquainted with made me think twice. I just sat quietly and let her figure it out. By that time she was tired and her feet were getting sore (she couldn't wear boots, because she'd lost half of her pair), but she did eventually figure out how to pick her way down the trail.

Despite our rocky beginning, the ride was awesome. I didn't get hurt in either of my falls, other than a couple of bruises on my hip/butt and a bit of road rash on an elbow; I wasn't afraid to climb back up on Skeeter; we found her lost boot; and I got to spend the afternoon riding with my parents.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

First Trail Ride 2019

The day after the parade, I again headed up the hill to go for a ride. Mom had taken Skeeter out on a ride with J and her horse General the day before the parade, then we had the parade, but I hadn't yet been on the mountain. Since Mom got to ride two days in a row, it was Bill and Alloy's turn to ride with us.

Skeeter was apparently kind of a shit for Mom when they went out with J and General two days before, but then took a shine to General and claimed him as her new boyfriend, so we had no problems going out with them.

Ever since Skeeter backed off the switchback last summer, we haven't been able to ride her up it. We have to get off and lead her up the switchback. It's rather annoying, but if I fell off the trail it would take me some time to gather the courage to attempt it again. Knowing that she still won't ride up the switchback, I decided to just walk her from the lodge to the top of the switchback. Good Lord, what a mistake that was. She was excellent for the walk. However, my lungs and legs reminded me very quickly that I'm sadly out of shape.

The ride started out beautifully. You know, after I huffed and puffed my way up the switchback and to the top of the hill where I could find a place to mount up. Skeeter's only an inch taller than Estes, but that one inch really makes a difference when I'm trying to get my leg up into the stirrup. There is a rock at the top of the trail that is just the perfect height for me to climb up.

And that was about the last thing that went smoothly for a while. As we were riding down toward the trench trail, I snagged the brim of my HellHat on a branch and popped it loose. The more I tried to fix it, the worse it got, until I finally gave up and took the damn thing off.

In the background, trying to fix the brim.

Nope, no fixing it, so I removed the whole thing.

The problem with taking off the brim of my HellHat was that I hadn't put any sunscreen on my face and we were just starting our ride. I anticipated getting burnt to a crisp, but the helmet alone offered more shade than I'd anticipated. I still ended up sunburned, but not crispified. I tried putting the brim on Skeeter while we were riding, so she could carry it, but I couldn't quite get it.

Bill and Alloy lead us down toward the trench trail and up through the aspen grove. Man, I love riding through there. Not ten feet up into the aspen grove, I felt Skeeter stumble and looked down in time to see one of her boots go flying off. I called a stop to the ride so I could climb down to recover it. The trail at that point was mostly sand and I knew I'd never be able to get it all brushed off and cleaned out of Skeeter's hoof, so I didn't put the boot back on. Also, Alloy doesn't do well with sit and wait, so I figured the sooner we got going, the better. J offered to tie it to her saddle, along with the brim of my HellHat. I took her up on her offer and mounted back up, leaving Skeeter's other boot on.

Picture taken *right* before Skeets threw her boot.

We continued up the trail, heading toward the top of the ridge, so we could ride above the beaver ponds. Our order changed a few times - it's good for the horses to learn to ride in any position in a line, so we encourage swapping places. Because of this, I ended up in the middle, with J riding drag. It's a good thing she was, because another 3/4 of a mile up the trail, she noticed that Skeeter had thrown her other boot and was now completely barefoot. Ugh, that mare! I probably wouldn't have noticed until Skeets started tippy-toeing on the gravel road.

We turned around and J lead the way back down the trail in hopes we'd find the other boot. No such luck. But since we were back at the trench trail, we took it over to the creek. I was a bit nervous that more things would go wrong. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is it that my hat brim came off, and Skeeter lost both boots? I squelched my nerves because nothing that had gone "wrong" was bad, just kind of "OMG, really?".

It took about three steps on the trench trail for me to forget my nervousness. Skeeter was doing amazing and the scenery was breath-taking.

We struggled last year with getting Skeeter to cross the creek, but I figured out a way she would enter the water without balking and was confident we wouldn't have any problems. And we didn't! Well, other than her snatching grass from the bank when I gave her the opportunity to drink.

I was super proud of Skeeter not giving me any grief about crossing the water. It's fairly shallow, but we definitely had issues last year, so it's progress. Since the ride was going so well - we had all of the "bad" stuff out of the way - Beel decided that we'd head up to the pond to check it out. Normally, in July, it's starting to dry up, but thanks to the long winter, it was still very full. Sadly, there weren't any "Rocky Mountain Alligators" (frogs) singing, but it was still astoundingly beautiful. The pond is one of my very favorite rides. (I know, I say that about a lot of our trails, and I'll continue to, probably.)

Just as we got to the pond, I took a look at my clock and realized that we needed to head right back to the lodge. As much fun as wandering was, I had a posse shift to cover and I needed to leave around 1:00 p.m. to make briefing. We headed back and arrived at the lodge just at 1:00, but I made Beel take a picture of me and J. It's not every day I get to ride with someone who not only is a member of HCTAA, but who has read my book. You know, besides Mom and Beel, and they don't count.

Thanks for riding with us, J and General!

Monday, July 8, 2019

4th of July parade, 2019

You know, at one point, I used to be really good about this blogging thing. Now, I'm chronically behind, for which I apologize.

Last year, Autobot rode Skeets in the Allenspark 4th of July parade for me, because I didn't think I'd be able to get up the mountain in time to participate. This year, I made sure not to schedule myself for any posse duties on the 4th so I could ride my own horse in the parade, instead of watching her be ridden. I'm forever grateful to Autobot for all of the time and effort she put into Skeeter last summer, and it was heartwarming to watch them in the parade, but I wanted to get back at it. I hadn't ridden in the parade since I put Estes down six years ago (it seems like yesterday, but FB memories tells me it's already been six years). With Autobot in the Army, I didn't even have to arm wrestle her to see who was going to ride.

Getting Skeeter up the mountain took some finagling since our trailer is broken, but Mom and Bill sorted it out to pick her up a couple of days before the parade to let her get settled with Washoe and Alloy. Mom was kind enough to take her out for a ride the day before the parade as well, just to remind her that she's a broke mountain horse (I'll hound Mom into writing up that post on her blog).

On parade day, Jay and I made it up to the lodge in time for breakfast (because it's a sin to miss one of Mom's breakfasts). I decided I wasn't going to do much as far as decorating Skeeter, but at the last minute I did attempt to put a pretty bow in her mane. She managed to shake it off twice before the parade even started, so I'm glad I didn't attempt more beautification.

Autobot's ex-boyfriend, who has become a friend of the family, came up for the parade and helped Mom out by giving Washoe a quick bath and prettying him up. I'm fairly certain Washoe still has the red and blue handprints on his booty.

Additionally, we had the pleasure of riding with a new friend, J. She is a fellow member of Horse Camping and Trails Across America which is cool enough, but even cooler is that she's read my book, Tales from the Trail. She reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, asking if I'd be in the Allenspark area while she was up there, so it was a no-brainer to ask her to ride with Mom and me in the parade.

Even though I haven't done much riding recently - we're talking just a few times since February, with weeks, if not months, in between - the riding that Skeeter and I did over Christmas break paid off. I'm gaining a lot more of my confidence back, which I really needed, because I was beginning to think I'd never get it back. I wasn't at all nervous about climbing up on her, even though it had been a few weeks, and Mom had reported that she'd been a bit of a pill to ride the day before.

The parade went off without a hitch, but I have to admit that I was fighting back tears as our turn came to enter the parade route. There was the band on a trailer in front of us, barricade ropes with flags on them on either side of the road, and hundreds of people lined up. Skeeter hesitated, but didn't try to fight me. She took a deep breath, let out a big sigh and took a tentative step, then another and another. Next thing I know, she's walking the parade route with our new friend J next to us and Mom and Washoe riding drag. Even when the crowd of kids surged into the street after candy, she stayed steady. In fact, I had to keep checking her speed, because once she relaxed, she decided that she needed to help the band and kept creeping up to their trailer.

As usual, we peeled off at Ski Road instead of going down into the madness of Ferncliff, and we finished our parade with an easy ride. We got lots of compliments from people walking home from the parade about how well-mannered and beautiful our horses were. And, well, that made my cold, dead heart grow three sizes.

The comments also reminded me of how far Skeeter and I have come. Five years ago, she was an untouched mustang from Canon City and we've had our fair share of issues. It took us a long time to get where we are, and a lot of people bring their 'stangs on a lot faster and go a lot further, but we're finally becoming a pretty good team.

She didn't bat an eye at the flags, the people, the noise of the trucks, the band, kids yelling and screaming. Other than her brief hesitation at the very beginning, she was amazing.

Damn, I love that mare.