Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Saturday, November 30, 2013

It Was a Fine Day!

Rhio and Leo hanging at the hitching rail pre-ride.
 Rhio moved to yet another boarding facility today, this one being only 3 miles from home and with direct trail access. It is also owned by an endurance family, and my new riding buddy E. keeps her boy Leo there.  Rhio will be in an individual run with a run-in, automatic waterer, and buddies on either side until a pasture space opens up (they have a herd of 15 on 100 acres with shelter and hay - sounds pretty much like pony heaven, wouldn't you say??).  I feel so much better having him here - closer to home, I'll be able to see him every day, and the riding opportunities are so much better.  Also, I was just a little uncomfortable with his last place (he was there 2 months) - nothing I can truly put my finger on, but he wasn't happy.  He lived with a mare who pushed him around a lot - not in a mean way, but still a stress, and way too frequently I found him still in his pen after several days in a row (I was lead to believe his group would get turn out about every other day when the weather was good).  He seemed quite happy to go into his run tonight after our all-afternoon ride, and he had all the lush grass hay he could eat, all to himself!

The weather was fine, and after E. trailered Rhio to the new place for me, we saddled up and took off across the pasture to the far gate - which lets us directly onto a trail, part of the Reservoir Ridge trail system.  This is a multi-use single track trail for horses, hikers/runners, and mountain biking.  It is steep and rocky - quite a challenging climb after a little warm-up trot across the grassy area at the base of the ridge.  Behind this ridge is a massive (over 500 billion gallons of water) reservoir (Horsetooth Reservoir) filled by a huge tunnel through the Rockies bringing water from the headwaters of the Colorado River on the Western Slope of Colorado to the eastern side, and therefore counteracting (and traveling beneath) the Continental Divide. Much as I hate to admit any admiration of a man-made body of water (I am a native Minnesotan, after all!), this thing is pretty dang impressive.  The drive around it is spectacular, particularly at sunset.

Horsetooth also forms a big barrier between the trail system we were on, and the trails at Lory State Park, which sprawls along the northwestern side of the reservoir.  Lory's trails are pretty great for trotting, and its a big treat after the long, technical climb to get to move out on them.  We work hard to get there, including some terrain I would not have thought possible to travel on horseback.  We cut down the west side of the ridge, cross the road and ride across one of the four dams that contain all that water.  This gives us access to a small parking lot, from which we can head downhill to the northern shoreline.  Now, the water level in the reservoir is fairly low and leaves this end with some exposed bottom and way to get between the cliffs and into Lory.  Large sandstone boulders and blocks lie in our way, plus a descent to an innocuous-looking dry creek bed, which we then go up to reach the Lory trails.  This whole route will be under water during higher water levels, but for now we and our trusty steeds can adventure our way to the reward that is a loop of trotting and cantering on the smooth trails of Lory in the late afternoon sun.  Ahhh!
Entering Lory from the east, after we've come up the little dry creek bed.

E. and Leo lead the way home, in the super technical middle section where we're heading cross-country around the northern end of the reservoir.
On the west side of the Reservoir Ridge trail system.
A nice mule deer buck, which we accidentally separated from his ladies, on the west side Reservoir Ridge trail. Lots of mule deer around - Rhio doesn't bother to even pause to look at them, though stopping dead and staring intently at people or bikes on the trails in the distance is a specialty of his.
We have just crested the top of Reservoir Ridge, about to begin the descent, gazing out over Fort Collins spread in front of us, with the sunset glowing upon the city. (It was really more impressive in person!)
I have been a bit dubious about multi-use trails, at least in such high-use areas.  We saw uncountable numbers of hikers, and several heaping handfulls of mountain bikers, in our 14.3 mile trek today.  For the most part, interactions go well and everyone obeys the rules of yield - all yield to horses, and bikers also must yield to hikers.  However, the nature of these trails (especially Reservoir Ridge, which is so steep and rocky) means that depending on whether the various user types are ascending or descending, their rates of speed will vary dramatically.  On horseback, we may overtake bikers going up, while coming down, they are definitely faster than we are.  Some folks seem knowledgeable about horses, and realize that its not just a matter of yielding the narrow trail so that we, or they, can pass - but also about the fact that we ride conscious beings who have their owns senses, drives, fears, and desires.  For Rhio, bikes are not an issue.  He is not afraid of them. E.'s boy Leo loves to chase the bikes and gets all excited when we see them.  But many horses are freaked out by bikes, and I worry that the directive to 'all yield to horses' does not give enough information to the inexperienced or uniformed.  So far, it hasn't happened, but I also worry about bikes coming down hill at a high rate of speed, meeting us as a corner or switchback when we haven't seen them coming.  I find riding here to be utterly exhausting - not physically, but mentally.  I am constantly looking everywhere for other trail users, so I can plan the best way to pass them, be passed by them, or otherwise interact.  At the same time, I really want to be a good "PR" person for equestrians, and have good, positive interactions with everyone we meet.  For instance, today I overhead a young girl ask her mother if she could pet the horses, as her hiking group was moving off the trail preparing to allow us to pass (we were going up, they were going down).  I stopped near them and said hello, then asked if she would like to pet the horses.  I have always been a rider that feels that anytime I am in public with my horse, it is my duty to leave a positive impression, if at all possible.  And, I was once one of those horse-crazy little girls dying to pet the pretty horsie.

It was a fine day.  It was a good ride with great trail buddies.  Rhio is all settled in and happy at his new home.  I get to see him again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the one after that, too! 

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