Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Monday, December 2, 2013


Mane blowing, heading out on the 1 mile flat trail.

You are an endurance rider if...you decide 20-25 mph sustained winds with gusts to 40 mph is decent enough weather to ride, because, hey, the sun is shining, the trail is dry, and the nasty winter weather is coming in tomorrow!

E. and Leo were brave enough to join us on an adventure, exploring new trail.  We set off the usual way, crossing the pasture and out the back gate directly onto the trail.  This lets us have about a mile of perfect trotting (or cantering) along the flat, until we reach the base of the ridge.  Today we ran into C. on his run, and he took a quick picture before heading back to the trailhead (the wind was at his back, but in our faces at this point - he was making better time than we were!).  Once we reached the rocky ascent, Rhio happily led the way, albeit at a very sedate walking pace.  The trail is rough - though in comparison to the rest of the ride, it seems almost smooth!  The wind was ferocious, and a few gusts threatened to knock me off my pony.  I was very happy to have a nice snug chin strap keeping my helmet on my head, a bandana beneath it to cover my ears, and a windproof jacket.  It was 56 degrees with a bright blue sky and warm sun, but that wind made it feel 10 -15 degrees colder than that.  Several fellow trail users warned us against cresting the ridge, as we were actually slightly protected on the eastern side of the ridge, once we were on our way up, since the mighty wind was blowing from the northwest. 
In case the subtle differences between our rhyming boys deceive you - E. and Leo are on the left, and me and Rhio are on the right.

Just shy of the top, we took a left turn down the Foothills Trail, which neither of us had ridden before.  It luckily stays just below the top, and in parts was so protected from the wind we could even have a conversation!  Eventually, what went up must come down, and we started down the steepest, rockiest, narrowest trail I've ever ridden in my life.  No joke.  Rhio kept on leading, confident as always, and took every new challenging bit in stride like he'd been a mountain pony all his life.  I was amazed at how well he negotiated this trail, and how strong he was doing it, never losing balance or rushing down or feeling (to me) unsure of where to put his feet.  He stopped to consider a few spots, but then picked his route and my job was just to stay out of his way.  This trail, although designated for horses, was definitely not designed for horses.  The switchbacks are very narrow and very tight, as well as being ridiculously rocky - our little, flexible, sure-footed Arabs handled them, but I can't imagine riding this trail on a big, clumsy, inexperienced, or timid mount.  At one point, there was a sign warning of difficult terrain and recommending that riders dismount.  We did not and the horses handled it like the pros they are - but we laughed because we're not sure why the sign-placers singled out this particular section as opposed to the rest of it. 
One of the least technical bits - on the most technical bits, I was too busy riding to take pictures!

The view from the Foothills Trail - the green area is a wildlife research center and we were pretty sure we saw Bighorn Sheep and Elk down there.  Next to that is a water treatment plant.
We made our way all the way to the bottom of the ridge, along the bottom of the huge dam (one of the four mentioned in my previous post, holding back the massive Horsetooth Reservoir), and a little bit further along the trail, before deciding to turn around and head home.  Once again, up-up-up we went, back along the ridge, and then down-down-down again.  The wind was worse than it had been when we'd started, and our jackets were whipping around us like snapping flags.  The horses' manes and tails were streaming out horizontally, and all four of us, horses and humans alike, instinctively ducked our heads as the worst blasts of air hit us.  But those boys just kept on trucking down the trail, not balking or rushing or spooking or fussing. 
They had so many excuses to act up today, and almost nothing fazed them.  I have ridden Rhio in wind before, at home in Minnesota.  We have trees in Minnesota - lots of them.  No matter how hard the wind blows, it is always somewhat ameliorated by trees in its path.  Not so here - I have never experienced wind like this before, especially when I have willingly chosen to put myself out there in it.  As E. said, it was "OMG - this is insane!" wind.
Just happy to be riding!
Traveling back along the 1 mile flat stretch to the pasture, we allowed the horses to pick up a trot and wondered if that was a good idea (going home + insane wind + been walking a lot + horses that love to go = out of control mad dash for home?).  As we crossed beneath some high powerlines, the moaning scream emanating from them did give us a little extra boost of speed, but overall the boys were beyond stellar all day.  In just a few rides, Rhio has learned so much about negotiating these extremely technical trails.  His easy boots are a great thing out here; their traction on the sandstone is excellent and he has a lot of confidence because of it, I think.  Unfortunately, all this rock is wearing his boots out very quickly - so I doubt I will make it through our time here with just one set, as I'd hoped.  It's a small price to pay for secure footing and protection against these rocks, though.  I see why so many people out here ride in them. 
E. and Leo lead the way.
Tomorrow the winter weather sets in, going to lows below zero Wednesday and Thursday.  And so we rode, despite the wind and the challenges, and had a great day of it.  I think we all gained a lot of confidence in ourselves and each other on today's ride, and deepened our bonds.  Endurance is so much about being a team and trusting each other - we riders have to trust the horses to make good decisions about where to put their feet, and the horses have to trust us that we are going to keep them safe. 

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