Hoofprints is a record of my horse-life since I came to meet Solo, AKA "Cut a Rug," in January of 2014.
The "Trail Notes" below are blog-esque entries. They are posted with the most recent at the top.
Most postings have a related collection of gallery photos. Enjoy!
I was invited to return to Fiesta Island to take advantage of the warm weather and opportunity to play with our horses in the water. Running into some traffic, we were nearly the last to arrive. I saddled up but when getting ready to mount, Donna Hein had noticed Solo was feeling a little left behind with the others riding by. Donna thoughtfully asked if I wanted her to wait for us which I really appreciated. Once in the saddle I realized Solo was more relaxed on this visit than the last. He walked along in the water more willingly, even though it is more work than on dry land. When overcast skies began to burn off we decided to remove tack and take the horses out into the deeper water. Of course, Solo spent some time in the shallows, rolling in the water. Alternating between rolling in the sand and the water, Solo looked to be enjoying himself. The last time I was there, I had a little pack of low sugar treats on my waist. Once the pack filled with water, the treats started dissolving. On this visit, I improved it by adding drain holes to the pack and using carrot pieces. Solo responds will to this kind of encouragement. We worked our way out to deeper water and then I swam out a ways. Happily, Solo followed me. He swam out and around me. He actually did this twice!
Just as we were winding up the equine water play, Bob rode out into the water bareback and with only a halter. We were all impressed and cheered him on. After our water play, there was a yummy potluck lunch. Our horses rested by the trailers and ate their lunch while we enjoyed ours. Meredith took a photo that I have added to the gallery. Our group included Bob & Donna Hein, Bonnie & Alan Conway, Julie Nesseth, Laura Kendall, Diana Buchanan, Tanya Snyder, Meredith and I. They are experienced horse people, considerate of of each other, generous and fun to spend time with.
Elaine and Kathy joined Solo and I for a ride at Santa Margarita, Fallbrook. Elaine was riding her Rocky Mountain mare, Joy whom is aptly named. I just met Elaine at the Cuyamaca a couple of weeks ago. Kathy and Dakota are also fun to ride with. That pair really burns up the trails, especially on the down hill. It was great getting to ride with Elaine and Kathy as we all like to gait our horses and we did just that.
While I know the trials fairly well, Kathy led us on a route that included a couple I had forgotten. Santa Margarita is a complex weave of paths that offer quite a variety of challenges and experiences even for the regular visitor. Shady paths and the many river crossings made it a very special place to ride, especially in warm weather. The water flow of the river is constantly at work usually making small but sometimes big changes in the trails. The depths, width of crossings and vegetation growth all contribute to the changing character of the landscape. The well maintained staging area on De Luz Road is only about 30 minutes away, another plus for Solo and I.
Since I am still training Solo to only roll in the water when I allow him to, I am still quite careful on crossings and ride deliberately. So far, he seems to understand. Still, I do not let him stand around in the water while I am mounted on him. On this ride, Solo was allowed to roll in the water at our half-way point, near the Willow Glen staging area. This was a wonderful ride and lasted nearly three hours. I so enjoyed every minute of if! Gallery
September 12 - 16
This is one of my favorite horse camping experiences of all time! The Los Vaqueros Equestrian Group Camp at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park has become my favorite. I was treated to the perfect location for my tent, in the shade, just next to Solo’s corral. Our group, which was probably about 35 people proved to be exemplary company. I met some wonderful new friends and went away with some great memories.
Wednesday: We arrived just after the gate was opened by Rangers at 2 pm. My camp set up fairly easy and after pizza, provided by Gnni, the organizer of the event, Meredith and I went for a ride at dusk. With just a sliver of a moon, we took a short trail loop as it grew dark.
Thursday: We had been divided into groups of eight and took turns with providing breakfasts. That morning it was our turn. My favorite part were Meredith’s muffins. Later on, she and I went on a ride that allowed for some gaiting following the California Hiking and Riding trail. With just two horses, its easier to manage faster speeds. RD came up in the afternoon and later on he took me to dinner at the cafe by Cuyamaca Lake. The group was mainly women, making his visit even more special for me. Gallery 1
Friday: I took a nice ride with my new friends around Stonewall Mine and Lake Cuyamaca. In the gallery, there is a group photo of us lined up overlooking a valley. With Laura’s help, we took some photos and I Photoshopped Solo and I in. From left to right: Solo & Peggy, Remy & Laura, Joy & Elaine, Jesse & Julie, Shady & Meredith, Fancy & Tanya. While Solo was in the lead at one point, he was startled by some turkeys but took it in stride. We also passed some deer at a distance but our horses only raised their heads in response. The rest of the day our group enjoyed Margaritas thanks to Laura’s hospitality. We partied in her RV which comfortably holds a surprising number. I guess I was still pretty relaxed by the time I worked on my contribution for the potluck dinner. I forgot to turn over the camp stove grill (which made the pot sit rather low on the burner). Fortunately, I was keeping a close eye on the stove, and I only scorched the tablecloth! Happily, the mac & cheese was a hit at dinner. My little air mattress seemed particularly comfortable that night and I only woke once which is rare even at home! Gallery 2
Saturday: After delicious breakfast burritos, we planned a ride that Meredith suggested, up to Azalea Springs. Before we were ready to leave Kim and Stephanie rode out in that direction. We soon learned that they had encountered trouble. Laura and Tanya went out on foot in their direction. Apparently, their horses spooked and Stephanie’s saddle slipped. After many phone calls, the rangers and paramedics finally got to her. Unfortunately, she had sustained a very painful broken arm from the fall. Later in the day, Julie, Meredith and I went ahead on our ride up to Azalea Springs. At one point, Solo was in the lead as we climbed up the trail along Azalea Creek. Up jumped two deer right in front of us! They were only about 20 feet ahead and scrambled in our direction before heading up the slope to get away. I only had time to yell “watch out” as it all happened so quickly. Solo and I just stood and watched in surprise. Since he didn’t bolt, Jesse and Shady stayed calm as well. I was so proud of my wonderful trail horse! Gallery 3
Sunday: There was a plan to take a short ride before we had to leave at noon. I woke up about 5:30 am, very uncharacteristic of me, worked on packing up and managed to fit in another ride around by the lake. It was a group effort to make sure we cleaned up the camp, including the bathrooms. I forgot to mention that the facilities were quite nice. Solar headed showers were delightful and made tent camping much more comfortable for me. There were quite a number of tent campers overall. I am so glad I was able to join this group and hope to camp again soon.
September 6, 2018
Fiesta Island is one of the few beaches in Southern California that allows horses. Meredith and I planned our visit after school started and on a week day. As you can see by the gallery photos, the beaches were practically empty. I was glad it was not on the weekend with hundreds of people, kite surfers and Sea-doos racing around. That would be a zoo and probably way too much stimulus for a fun ride.
We decided to let the horses play in the water first. The lagoon is fairly clam in terms of waves unless a Sea-doo passes nearby. Using long ropes we tried to figure out how they would react to riding into the deeper areas. Solo rolled in the shallows a number of times and finally seemed satisfied. When he tasted the water he didn’t seem too bothered by the salt content. Fortunately, he didn’t drink too much of it.
Next, we tried riding bareback around the edge of the lagoon. Meredith had read about how some people tie a rope around the girth and leave it loose enough allow your knees to be stabilized by the rope. That technique didn't work for Meredith and I found that a wet horse is very slippery. Solo showed he was a little nervous by chewing on his bit and with other subtle behaviors I recognized, he put me on alert. This was not his normal layed-back attitude. When Meredith suggested we give up on the bareback idea, I agreed immediately. Feeling more secure, we rode along the edge of the water but had to work at keeping the horses walking in the water. They usually like to conserve their energy and it was obvious to me that walking in the water was more work. Still, with some encouragement, we splashed along the edge most of the way.
We rode back along the the lagoon, and thought we would try to swim the horses over to the little island. One of the photos I inlcuded of Solo looking across to the island makes it look farther away. Meredith and I both thought we could get across. I often hear people talk about how, when they were young, they swam with their horses. What Meredith and I found was neither Shady or Solo wanted to cross to the island. Even with their tack removed, we were not successful in leading them. Meredith got out a little further first, but once Shady started swimming, she was coming toward her and struck Meredith with her hoof. While she was not hurt, that was one of my concerns as the water is not clear enough to see just where the horse's feet are. When Solo decided to go back where it was more shallow, I realized I was no match for his power in the water. At that point I decided to return to the shore.
Did I say that probably one of the reasons why Fiesta Island was so deserted on our visit was also due to the cooler weather? Overcast and with a good breeze, our wet clothes made it a bit chilly. We ate our lunch in the truck while discussing what we had learned that day. I will certainly return sometime to continue our education. Perhaps someday Solo and I will take a swim, and then again maybe not... Gallery
Julian, CA Monday June 18, 2018
Solo and I invited Kathy Cooksie and her new, Tennessee Walking Horse to Santa Ysabel East. He is a handsome golden buckskin gelding, with an amazing mane. We met Peggy and Lina at the East staging area located near Julian on River Road. There are actually two staging areas for this tract of land. The other is down on Highway 79 but it is little more than an access gate along the road. I like where we met for a number of reasons including: a better place to park trailers, latrines and you start out at the higher elevation. There is no drinking water provided unless you count the water trough for the cattle that our horses drank from. The trail leads past grazing cattle, crosses a couple of streams and includes rolling grasslands. Our horses tasted the stream water as well. From high points, we could see the Palomar Mountain and the Observatory at a distance. The weather was perfect that day, with a nice breeze. The ride was a little less than three hours and when we returned Kathy shared some wheat bran mixed in water with Solo. He seemed to enjoy the taste as you can see in the final gallery photo : ).
Fallbrook, CA Friday June 15, 2018
We are especially lucky to live so close to the Santa Margarita River Trails. Alisa, Meredith and I rode there last Friday and from what I can tell, Solo had the most fun of us all. I must remind you that Solo has laid down in the water twice with me in the past. Training him to not lay down with me and still allow him to enjoy a dip in the water has been my goal for the last two years. So far, we have been successful. When we approach a water crossing, I make sure we are not in the middle of the group. We don't want to have to stop and wait for the horse in front to drink or play. I don't trust him that much yet. We ride with purpose across the water and I say "walk on". Then, when we find a perfect location with a sandy bottom, I take off Solo's tack and give him permission to play. As you can see by the gallery photos, Solo is a sea horse.
Lake Perris State Recreation Area May 4 - 6, 2018
It was about 4 pm on Friday when Meredith, Alisa, and I left the horse camp and headed NE on a trail that eventually overlooks the valley and beyond to the San Timoteo Badlands. At first, we thought we would just ride to where the trail ends at the edge of the recreation area. Along the way we asked some hikers about the dirt road that loops around Russell Mountain. They told us it wasn’t that far. After a bit of debate we decided to try it. Some years ago I had ridden out the east entrance so I thought it couldn’t be that far. We left the well groomed trail along the housing track and followed a dirt road.
The landscape is looking pretty dry out there for early May. We we were entertained by big hawks flying overhead and calling to each other. A coyote sat and watched us as we passed by. The ground was pretty hard so we kept the pace to a walk. Alisa and I got off and walked a while. Finally, we reached the East entrance and headed back. Once we climbed over the ridge the grasslands have a double-track, dirt road that is relatively flat and goes on for a good mile and a half. The horses were feeling good and since it was nearly dusk, we gaited along the road. Alisa had Andante in his little canter part of the time and we made short work of the distance. What fun! By the time we returned to our campsite it was nearly dark. We had been out for more than three hours and decided that everyone would sleep well that night.
The loop trail around the lake, which is about 10 miles total, was finally open again after two years. Our camping neighbors told us they rode on the damn, which in the past has been prohibited. We headed out early in the morning. Well, we tried to get an early start but ended up leaving around 9:30 am. The weather forecast predicted it would reach 92 degrees so Meredith loaned me her extra cooling vest and Alisa, her cooling scarf. They are garments that absorb and retain water for keeping cool. I had never ridden on the damn before and found it both cooler and a great vantage point. At the SE end of the damn is a short distance of steep trail that pops over to where rock climbers are often seen. We were glad that Meredith had suggested we ride the loop in this direction. The first part was very steep and eroded in some areas. Its easier to go up a trail like that than down.
We reached the picnic areas on the far side of the lake and decided our horses might need to drink. Unfortunately, piped water is not turned on so we tried to get the horses close to the edge of the lake to drink. That proved to be difficult due to branches and rubble being washed against that side of the lake. Then boats go by and create a wake that moves the rubble. There were some pretty big stumps of wood that didn’t look safe to me. We finally found one place that was promising. Knowing that Solo was hot and might want to roll in the water, I took off his tack and let him go in. He did roll but none of the horses drank much.
Lunch in the shade under the trees was most welcomed. Solo got a few carrots I had brought along. At that point we were about half way around the lake. The rest of the ride was pretty hot. We never did find water available at any of the troughs or drinking fountains.
Saturday evening we had a party. Millie drove out to join us and brought a salad and cupcakes she made for dessert. Sharon and Ben, a couple we met at Pioneer Town last fall joined us for dinner. It turned out that this was another birthday party for me plus retirement party too : ).
Great food and libations. Thanks for the gifts too!
Later that night, Meredith rode Shady around after dark near the campsite. There was no moonlight. Alisa and I walked our ponies behind her. I knew that Solo could see much better than I. Holding on to his mane, he led me. I might as well have had my eyes closed for how much I could see. This experience ended up to be another highlight of the camping trip. It was like one of those trust exercises couples sometimes engage in. Being in his presence, trusting that Solo would take care of me, I felt in awe of this big, sweet animal. It was a very special moment for me in our relationship.
Our morning went by fast and we only had time to ride for about an hour before packing up. All and all, it was a great ending to my 3rd Annual Lake Perris Campout.
April 7, 2018
This is a nice ride along the valley between the 78 highway and Bandy Canyon Road in Escondido, CA. Alisa, Meredith and I staged at the area closest to the east end of the valley. When we were tacking up, a couple of riders told us about their ride in the river bottom. Their horses looked very fit. Because riding in sand is harder on horses tendons and legs we decided to stick to the main trail.
The weather was perfect. Along the trail, we passed by orange groves in bloom, full of that wonderful scent that always reminds me of my Mom. This trail skirts a huge turf farm and then joins Bandy Canon Road for a short ways. Riding along even a country road with little shoulder to ride on can be challenging when the vehicles don’t slow down. A bunch of balloons were tied to a mail box across from the old dairy which might cause fear in some horses. The trail then crosses a bridge on a wood walkway just prior to getting on the single-track trail that winds through the valley. I am always happy that Solo can calmly negotiate these kinds of obstacles.
My riding endurance has been less than optimum recently. The plan had been to ride up to the hills and have lunch, then return on the same trail. When we passed the small staging area that is at the dirt road about at the half-way point in the valley, wise Meredith suggested we stop there for lunch to give me a break. That ended up a wise choice. We decided to see if we could explore the river bottom on the return trip. It was a little adventure to add to our ride. After a time, we ended up on the opposite side of the river bottom. It became choked with scrub and rubble preventing us from getting back across to where we would pick up the trial. Up at the bridge we found the trail that comes from Bandy Canyon Ranch and were able to cross.
On Thursday Dec. 7, during particularly strong Santa Ana wind event, a fire started along Interstate 15 near Old 395 highway. My friend Alisa was leading a group text to arrange a get-together for the holidays. Suddenly, the topic changed to fire. I turned on the TV news and saw how close this was to Saratoga Estates, where Solo is stabled. The wind was fanning the fire as it raced down the San Luis Ray river valley. There was only one small mountain, if you could call it that, between the fire and Solo. Quickly, I realized that I needed to take our truck out to Thompsons Ranch and hook up the trailer in the event we needed to evacuate. RD took the Mazda and headed out shortly after I left home. It was lucky that I took Buena Creek Road to the 15 instead of through Vista. RD never made it to the ranch that day. After hours getting to the 76 highway, he was turned around due to road closures. The fire was headed that way.
When I arrived at the ranch at about 1pm, I learned there was a mandatory evacuation for Saratoga Estates. Packing up Solo’s most important tack, I proceeded to hook up the Brenderup. There was talk of a different way to get out, so I loaded Solo up with the intention of adding Cupido and driving out to Camino Del Ray through Moody’s property. Millie loaded the back of her truck with hay. Unfortunately, Cupido was unwilling to load in with Solo. We were forced to come up with an alternate plan. Horses would be walked down the trail to the rider’s field where trailers would wait to load up. I unloaded Solo and drove the trailer up Thompsons steep driveway to the ring road. This is what I normally have to go through to trailer Solo somewhere. The driveway is too steep to pull the trailer out with a horse inside. At the top, Solo showed what a smart and calm horse he is by walking right in the trailer for me and we drove down to the Riders Field. At this point, I would like to add there was no evacuation plan and things were pretty dicey. Some residents were evacuating their horses but others ended up staying. The wind would only have to change directions and the fire could have quickly been there!
The afternoon was turing to evening. At Riders Field, there were cars and at first only one stock trailer that a guy named Rod, from Temecula had shown up with. Rod had heard about the fire on Facebook and came to help. While I parked my rig up on the ring road, I opened Solo’s side door so he could look out. Meanwhile, as time progressed, trouble loading horses showed us how difficult and potentially dangerous a situation like this can be. Horses are very sensitive to not ony smoke in the air but sense fear in humans. I watched nervously as scared horses refused to load. Then, another trailer showed up pulled by Krystal Jenkins, who has friends at Saratoga. This was her second trip over to rescue horses. Finally, Cupido got into Rod's trailer and Krystal loaded Red into hers, just as a huge cloud of dark smoke passed across the sky. It looked so close! Krystal invited Mille and I to evacuate to her ranch in Escondido. Red was brought along as his owners were not there and Krystal said she had room for one more horse. As we hauled out to the frontage road by the 15 fwy, I noted an escort of about 5 trailers heading back to where we came from. Up ahead, I saw the road block to Camino Del Rey. Beyond it was a very long line of horse trailers in both directions, trying to get in to save horses. We would learn later, they would be too late for many of the horses that perished at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center only about a mile west of Saratoga Estates. The other end of Camino Del Rey had been completely closed where the fire had crossed the road and jumped the 76 Hwy.
It was a good thing that MiraCosta College was closed that afternoon, or I would never have made it to class. It was dark by the time we unloaded at Krystal and Marty’s home in Escondido. After the horses were unloaded and safe in corrals, Millie and I were invited in for a much appreciated glass of wine. We met Krystal’s dad and her two children, Annie and Mars who welcomed us as if we had been long time friends.
Millie and I met each morning at the Jenkins’ ranch to clean and help where we could. While Krystal had to leave for the weekend, Marty, her husband, stayed home with Annie to be there if we needed him. That is one generous family! Oh, and Solo had fun chasing the ducks out of their corral.
On Monday, the power and water were back on at Thompsons. With the danger of fire past, I picked up Solo and returned him to Saratoga. My takeaway is this. We were lucky the ranch was spared. We were lucky that we were rescued by some generous and loving horse people. We were lucky the fire didn’t come over the hill. We were lucky to make new friends. We were lucky.
Its been a couple years since Solo and I have been out to Pioneer Town. We joined friends and other members of the Vista Palomar Riders who planned a long weekend Nov. 10th - 12th at the Pioneer Town Campground. Solo and I left Bonsall about 9:30am on Friday morning making the trip in about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Happily, it was uneventful. When we arrived, Meredith and Alisa pulled in about 5 minutes behind us. The weather was mild for our weekend with highs in the 60’s.
After sorting out the logistics, we settled in with a plan to take a ride later in the day to show Alisa around. For our first ride, we rode out of town. With the short winter days, by the time we returned it was growing dark. We saw a very bold Coyote on our return. Gallery Day 1
The second day, Saturday, our new friends, Sharon Saidi and her husband, who have a house out in Pioneer Town, showed Meredith and I a trail I had not been on. It led us up into land protected by The Wildlands Conservancy. Near the top, the trail was washed out, forcing us to turn around but afforded us views of the valley as we made our way down. At one point, Meredith dropped her glove. At that point, the single-track trail was steep. We stopped and watched Meredith as she prompted Shady to pick up her glove. All of us were so impressed!
Later that day we rode through the main street of Pioneer Town. The old movie set is a draw for tourists and horse riders alike. That evening Alisa treated Meredith and I to a delicious meal at Pappy & Harriets, the famous desert restaurant that hosts live music as well as excellent BBQ.
Gallery Day 2
Sunday morning, we headed off towards the Sawtooth Loop Trail. Instead of going on the nearly ten mile loop we headed south at the trail marker. Since we only had the morning to ride, we took what I think is the south entrance to the Sawtooth trail that leads to some shorter trails through striking rocks and hills. We had heard various talk about the “technical difficulty” of this trail and the Sawtooth loop. Our horses took their time on the steep parts and carried us safely through. This was my favorite ride of the weekend. Gallery Day 3
Our (Solo and I) first horse camping trip after my total knee replacement took place last weekend at Caspers Wilderness Park on Ortega Highway in Orange County, CA. On Saturday, October 10th, Meredith and Shady picked us up at Thompson’s Ranch in Bonsal. We hit some traffic through San Clemente traveling north, but still arrived before the 2pm check in time. At that point it was Red Flag due to Santa Ana winds, and hight temperatures which meant no campfires and possible windy conditions to deal with. The good news was the ranger told us that no one had been in campsite # 1 on Friday night so we were able to pull right in and unload.
Camping with a horse takes some planning and preparation. Along with the usual amenities of a camp site, what you get at a horse camp is usually a couple of pipe corrals and hopefully a water hose bib close by. Some of the things you need to bring along are large water buckets, plenty of hay, feed bags and bowls, tack, saddle packs, helmet, gloves, a first aid kit, hoses, and grooming tools come to mind. As I was sleeping in a tent there are all the things that go with tent camping. Counting on the fact that Meredith camps often her bins of cooking pans and utensils were appreciated. This trip I didn’t bring the correct charging cable for my phone and Meredith’s truck. Gladly, with the reception poor, I just turned my phone off and barely used it. That made the weekend even better without news broadcasts and emails!
As we unloaded all our gear, we noticed that our immediate neighbors were a couple of guys. We soon discovered that they were father and son. The son is a farrier who lives in San Diego, and the father lives in L.A. They met to get together for riding and the father’s horse conveniently got new shoes. We enjoyed their music and were sorry to have them leave on Sunday. In fact, by Sunday afternoon, most of the camp cleared out and left us with just our friends the last night and Monday.
Saturday, we headed out on the Juaneno Trail for a ride in the afternoon. I discovered reading the history of Casper’s Park that the trail was named after the Juanenos who were native American Indians. They lived and prospered within Bell and San Juan Canyons thousands of years prior to the 1700’s. The Juaneno is one of the trails that has trees that provide shade. I have been to Caspers when the San Juan Creek had water running but this visit found it dry. The weekend being a hot one, with highs in the 90s, horses and riders enjoyed the shade.
Solo loves Meredith’s horse Shady. They are the same breed - Rocky Mountain horses. The last time I rode with Meredith, Solo called and called for her as I rode away from them. Solo is a pretty quite boy. He rarely whinnies for any reason. So the fact he whinnies for Shady is impressive. Not long after the horses were side by side in their corrals at Caspers, they were mutually grooming. And then there was the love making. Solo being a gelding makes it just PG but the braid in Shady’s tail kept mysteriously becoming undone.
Saturday evening, we joined our neighbors, some of whom are members of Vista Palomar Riders group. At one time I was a member and knew a couple of the women in the group already. I won’t list all their names here but it was really fun to have them there at the camp ground. The park rangers came by and told us we could have a fire after all. I was especially happy since I had brought firewood. The evening was filled with horse stories and lots of laughs. Allen, the only husband / guy in the group and a gregarious sort, seemed to enjoy himself and told stories about his homeland, Ireland. As a young man he raced steeplechase.
On Sunday we had two rides. Meredith and I just rode as pair that day. We went out in the morning and then again later to avoid the worst of the heat. I was introduced to cooling vests that day. Meredith brought two and let me wear one of them. They are quilted with special interior fabric that retains moisture after the vest is soaked in water. With the heat they slowly evaporated, keeping us cooler. I am definitely going to add one of those to my riding gear. One of the rides was on Bell Canyon Trail which passes by the day camp and a red wooden wind mill that pumps water. Meredith noticed that Shady was not very energetic, especially on our afternoon ride. By the evening we were concerned about her. She didn’t eat much in the afternoon, nor did she drink much water. We dug out my first aid kit with a thermometer and book to remind us what a horse’s normal temp is. Shady was a little hot but only by 1 degree. Meredith made her a sloppy mash for dinner. Fortunately, by morning she was back to normal and eating again! I know Meredith was more worried than she shared and was so glad Shady was good again in the morning.
Late Sunday evening, Meredith and I were watching the stars come out at our campsite and we heard a curious sound. “Is it a bird?” I asked “No, I don’t think so.” Meredith replied. “Wow, maybe it is a Cougar?” I remembered that in the past, Caspers Park has had trouble with Cougars. Then we heard the sound again. “I think it sounds like a cat” I said. After more of those sounds, Meredith offered to sleep in the back of her truck and said I could take her bed in her trailer tack room. “What about the horses?”I cried. She assured me they could take care of themselves. At that point, I got up and found my big flash light and headed over towards the bushes where the sounds were coming from. All of a sudden, Heidi, one of our neighbors jumped out from behind some cactus and roared like a lion. We all burst into laughter. I have to admit, I think I would have slept poorly if we had not found out it was all a joke.
Our last ride, Monday morning, ended up on Bell Canyon Trail again. We ran into the rest of the group and joined them. Most of my riding is with one or two other horses. With Meredith and I, we were 7 horses and riders. I had just heard Meredith talk about her last ride in Garner Valley with 20 riders! That definitely sounded like too many for me, especially on a narrow trail single file. At one point, Solo was lead horse in the group, and he was last position for a while as well. Some of the time he was near the middle. Happily, Solo’s manners were excellent. I found myself energized by the group ride and thrilled to have such a sweet and willing parter. I am also grateful to have friends who share my passion for horses. What a gift.
Just before my birthday this year, my friend Alisa and I traveled out to Lake Perris for a weekend of horse camping and riding. Andante, Alisa’s beautiful American Saddlebred gelding, has ridden with Solo many times. In fact, Andante used to be a ranch mate of Solo’s. Even though we nearly have to shoe-horn Andante into the Brenderup, his previous years of being a show horse makes him a pro at trailering.
We reserved site # 7 at the horse camp, which has a wonderful view of the lake. Once we arrived and turned our horses out into their corrals, Solo wasted no time rolling and then found his spot looking out over the valley. I noticed he spent much of his free time there. I have concluded, Solo loves a view.
Alisa and I set up camp and then went out for a ride. Currently, the Lake Perris dam is being reinforced.They are blasting rock from the south east end and have temporarily limited the trails to the northern end of the park. While we couldn’t ride the 10 mile trail around the lake, we found that they have groomed some of the double track trails very recently. The footing was perfect and so we gaited and even cantered a bit. One thing about Perris is that the temperatures can be quite hot much of the year. We were happy to find gentle breezes in the low 70’s. It was perfect weather!
When we came back from our ride, we asked one of the women who were horse camping near us to take our photo. We were a little curious about the fact that by Saturday afternoon there were only two horses, two women and two very large motor homes. We learned that these women come each year at this time. Their husbands drive the motor homes out, level, and set them up and then leave! On Sunday afternoon we saw the husbands return and take the motor homes away. Alisa and I agreed, these women really have a good thing going.
Even though we only had a tent, it was still wonderful to wake up in the morning and look out at our beautiful horses. Alisa had gotten up earlier and hiked around our camp area taking some photos of the beautiful wild flowers in bloom. They are included in the photo gallery.
On Sunday we took a nice ride on a single track trail at the north end of the park that I had not yet been on. The trail affords a great view of the lake and valley to the east and south. We enjoyed a picnic lunch down near the lake while our horses nibbled on grass. It was a perfect day to spend with a good friend and two most excellent equines. Campout Gallery
On March 2nd, Meredith, Susan and I trailered our horses for the weekend to ride Cuyamaca Sate Park equestrian trails and camp at Boulder Oaks Campground. Our horses were well matched as they are all Rocky Mountains. Above left: Susan on Arwen, Peggy on Solo, and the right: Meredith and Shady. Riders of gaited horses will usually agree that it is most enjoyable to ride with other gaited horses. They match each other’s long strides.
Saturday we staged along the 79 highway which runs through Cuyamaca State Park. The space along the road is rather limited. Hikers and bicyclists also park their vehicles there. When we arrived with our two trailer rigs I noticed a man with a bicycle preparing to leave. If he only moved his vehicle up 10 yards, we would be able to park in one of the empty areas. I jumped out and politely asked him to move his car up. At first he seemed rather put out but grudgingly did so. I thanked him more than once. Susan was able to park at the other end. There is a photo in the gallery of Solo and Shady. Meredith was kind enough to let me try her saddle on our ride that day so we had switched saddles.
When we were all tacked up, we crossed the road and headed for the Blue Ribbon and Merigan Trails. The Merigan Trail is actually an old, dirt fire road. The landscape is mostly chaparral and from the higher points there are wide vistas to enjoy. As we traveled toward the south we turned off on to Blue Ribbon Trail. This is a single track following down into a canyon that joins back into the Merigan further south. At one point we stopped for lunch near a tree and sat on a log in the shade. Our horses munched on carrots while we enjoyed our lunch.
The Three Rockies seemed to enjoy our ride as we took turns leading. It is always nice to be on a ride where everyone gets along. There were areas of trees and even a water crossing. At one point we were passed by a couple of endurance riders. I noticed Solo picked up his pace. He wanted to keep up with them as they cantered by. The Merigan trail ends at the Descanso staging area. We stopped just short of it and surveyed the valley as our horses grazed on green grass and rested.
On the return ride we looped around on Sweetwater Trail. At one point we passed the man on his bicycle I had talked into moving his car earlier that day. His demeanor was completely changed. As we said hello, he greeted us with a big smile. I thought about what an attitude adjustment nature and open areas of land can provide. Whether one walks, rides a horse or a bicycle, the experience is good for the soul.
Our campsite was only about 20 minutes away once we loaded up and got back on the road. I had enjoyed Boulder Oaks Campground when Meredith and I spent the night there before our Pacific Crest Trail ride last year. It was fun having Susan and her horse, Arwen there with us. We chose the very same camp. With two sites across from each other our horses could be together. I set up my new tent with a little help from Susan just before dusk. Our campfire, dinner, excellent company and the stars overhead were a perfect end to the day. East Mesa Gallery
In the morning, we packed up our campsite and headed back into Cuyamaca. This day we planned to ride the Harvey Moore trail. We staged from Sweetwater parking area just north of the Green Valley Campground. We would have stayed at Green Valley but they don’t open until April 1st. We saddled and headed up the trail. At first, I was not too thrilled with how rocky and narrow the trail was. In some areas, the erosion was so deep I could nearly touch the sides with my feet from the saddle. It seemed like we climbed for a very long time but the further we went the better the trail became. We passed through some beautiful areas that were untouched by the last two devastating fires that burned so much of Cuyamaca. It was so good to see the Pines and Oaks still standing. We were headed for Dyer Springs trial. At the furthest point, there is a spring box and water for the horses. We lunched nearby in a beautiful area of trees and rocks. There were even pipe hitching posts for the horses.
Of the rides I have taken in Cuyamaca, the Harvey Moore trail may be my favorite. The rough beginning could be a deterrent for some, however, once we were in the back country, it was absolutely beautiful! We nearly had the trial all to ourselves. Interestingly, on the way back down the most rocky part, it seem much shorter and not nearly so difficult. Our two days of exploring new trails in Cuyamaca State Park had a happy ending. Many thanks to Meredith for trailering Solo and I on another great adventure. Harvey Moore Gallery
On Saturday morning, I received an invitation from Meredith for a moonlight ride that evening at Lake Hodges. Even though I was participating in a weekend photo conference, I replied "yes"! After the last presentation, I raced home from San Diego, made a brief stop to change and drove out to meet Meredith by 8 p.m.
The only time Solo and I had been on a moonlight ride was a year earlier when a few of us rode around Moody's ranch from Stenerson's. I was most impressed with how confident Solo had been on the night ride. He quietly led part of the time and behaved just as if we were on a regular, daylight ride. This evening with Meredith and Shady, Solo once again proved his worth as a willing partner. As we saddled up near the old adobe off Via Rancho Parkway, one of the access points to the San Deguito Trial, I wondered how Solo would do on the first leg of the ride. The trail heads south beside the freeway and turns west under the bridge toward Lake Hodges. I was impressed at how Solo handled the noise of the cars and trucks speeding by. We turned on our head lamps in order to see as we went under the freeway. Knowing that Solo can see better than I in the dark,. I still wanted to see where we were stepping. Turning north again we faced a shorter distance of trail once again parallel to the freeway. As the path departed from all the noise and lights of the passing traffic, I began to feel quite relaxed. The weather was perfect and the moonlight bathed the landscape in silvery light. Wishing I had a camera with me to record in low light, I used the iPhone to capture a few photos to remember the ride by.
I knew the trail well from riding it in the daytime. The drought has caused Lake Hodges to shrink but as we rode toward the west we could see the moon reflecting on the water. It was serene. We lost all track of time. I didn't realize we had been out so long. When we returned we were surprised to find it was 11:30 p.m. What a lovely ride! Thank you Meredith and Shady. Gallery
The 4th of July at Santa Margarita, Fallbrook was a blast. We picked up Diane and Scotch armed with her new invention -special spicy vodka margaritas frozen and planned to defrost just at the right time after our ride. Remembering that Solo had laid down in the water when we rode there several months ago, I tacked him up with the “all-weather, water proof saddle”. The G10 camera stayed at home and the iPhone would be my camera. Diane rode Scotch with a bareback pad. About 20 minutes into the ride I was very glad I had a saddle. Solo was feeling good and would make his little squeal as we scrambled up the steep areas behind Scotch.
At each water crossing, I was careful to give Solo my leg and encourage him to move along. The air was warm, with nice breezes and the shallow water was warm as well. Maybe Solo wouldn’t try to roll. When we reached the exact area where he had previously taken a dip with me, I took one last precaution I clipped my iPhone up at my neck. We rode through the middle of the stream by a family sitting at the edge. It is wide there, about 1.5 feet deep, and with a smooth, sandy bottom. I though great, maybe we are good. But in the next moment, with no warning, Solo literally sunk into the water. Often horses intending to lay down will paw the water. I yelled “no” and tried to pull up his head but it was too late. He was going down. I got off still yelling “no” as I watched him roll not just on one side but both. The saddle was completely wet as he stood up and I grabbed his rains. On dry ground, we stood there dripping and I realized that my “perfect horse” loves water a little too much. Clearly, I have some work ahead to stop this unwanted behavior. I found a branch for a crop and remounted. During the ride back to Willow Glen, we crossed water a number of times with no problem. Solo is pretty sensitive, so I only used the crop lightly and would show it to him as encouragement not to slow down as we crossed. I must teach Solo that when I am on him it is not okay to roll in the water! That would not be fun in the Winter especially.
The last of the ride back is on dry ground. As we rode, I considered what had happened. Ever since I saw photos of Mary and Bill’s horses hanging out in the pond on their new ranch in Arkansas, I believed Solo would also love to hang out in the water. This had been my plan for the end of the ride and I didn’t want to change. I rationalized, if Mary and Bill’s horses know the difference between swimming at liberty and crossing water with a rider, I can teach Solo as well.
We returned to the truck to pick up Diane’s Margarita backpack and long ropes for the pond. "Our" pond is the largest and deepest area of water at Santa Margarita and conveniently close to the Willow Glen staging area. We untacked the horses and attached long lead ropes. With two more ropes stretched across the narrow trail to discourage the horses wandering off, we put our saddle pads on the little sandy beach. Diane and I toasted to the 4th, friends, and good times. As we drank and snacked, I watched Solo make his way into the water. First, he was just eating cattails by the edge but the next time I looked he was in the pond. Soon, he was rolling in the water. Over and over! At one point, I climbed on rode my “seahorse” around the pond like a kid. What fun!
On a warm morning in June, I finally took Solo on his first solo ride. Knowing it would be a hot day, I hooked up the Brenderup and headed out at 9:30 a.m. As I tacked up, Solo watched for one of our riding buddies to show up but he would soon learn it was just the two of us. We left the La Honda staging area and followed a couple of hikers up the trail he knows best. I figured that would be more comfortable for him. Some horses really need more of their kind to go out, especially when they are not used to trail riding alone. Solo seemed happy to follow the hikers so we just walked along slowly until the trail steepened. After that he seemed to enjoy the ride out toward the ranch house. Of course it was getting hot by then and there are some steep hills to climb so we walked along slowly. I had decided to bring along some treats to feed Solo as a reward for going out alone. I noticed a small bit of shade under one of the scant trees along the way and headed for a little break. The cantle bag I was using has velcro closures and as I pulled out a treat it made that sound. Touching Solo in a particular point on his neck and saying "Good boy" I offered him a treat. He had reached around for it. On we went and repeated this about three times. By then all I had to do was head for some shade and Solo would turn his head around in anticipation. I realized that he had caught on to the association. He had also heard the velcro noise! Horses learn quickly through repetition. I had to laugh at the way he looked hopefully back at me.
When we arrived at the destination near the ranch house, we headed for shade and the picnic table. I had brought the ultimate reward which I save for special times. The feed bag which is actually a vinyl water bucket. It contained a scoop of Solo's favorite pellet mix. I removed his bridle so he could eat. I was fun to watch him try to get every last morsel he had spilled, even from the cracks in the table. Since it was a hot day, I filled the empty pail with water next and he drank from it. This is something I have been working on with Solo as he doesn't always want to drink even when he should.
Heading back I found that sometimes my reins catch on the velcro closure of my bag and make the "sound". I had taught Solo that he might get a treat as we were riding along. He kept stopping, especially on the steep hills or when ever he heard his new que, and would look back at me. Since we were out of his treats I would just pat him and ask to "walk on". All in all, the ride was a complete success and I plan to do more.
On Saturday, May 9th, Meredith Kifer, and I set out to ride a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail from Lake Morena to Campo near the U.S. Mexican border. It was a little complicated logistically. In order to ride in just one direction, we ended up with my truck at the finish, across from Border Patrol Headquarters in Campo, and Meredith's trailer rig at the starting point near Lake Morena. Our entire ride of 18.4 miles was done on Sunday, May 10. I think I can speak for Meredith that this was a great Mother's Day! The gallery link below, shows us standing by the PCT Terminus with our horses on Saturday, the day prior to our momentous ride.
We spent Saturday night in the equestrian area of Boulder Oaks Campground, in Cleveland National Forest. As we drove up to the entrance I was amazed at the number of cars along Old Highway 80. The sites were first-come, first-serve! Would we have a place to camp I wondered? I soon discovered the cars were there for a 10k run. Following Meredith to the camp entrance, I watched her skillfully maneuver her trailer through a very tight spot. Fortunately, she managed not to clip any cars. There was very little room! As it turned out, Solo and Shady were the only equine visitors in the camp. However, we did meet PCT hikers who were sharing the campground. After setting up camp we still had some evening light so we took a little bareback ride around the camp. It made me fell like a kid again! Dinner, campfire, and early to bed were in order, as we planned to be up at dawn to begin our vehicle shuttling. Our plan was to be hitting the trail at Lake Morena at 8 a.m. And, that is what we did!
The trail began uphill with a view of the lake and valley. We continued to climb after we stopped for photos on a granite shelf, with the lake and valley below. Fortunately, Meredith is willing and capable of making photographs so the gallery includes both hers and mine. We continued to climb steadily until we reached the first summit, elevation approximately 3600 feet. It was then I appreciated the name on my map, we were riding the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. The view encompassed Hauser Creek Road on the far side of the valley. The red rocks on Morena Butte were at a distance. We were going down a pretty steep trail to cross Hauser Creek. It was at that point I thought about Solo and what a wonderful trail horse he is. Sure of step, he carefully placed his hooves as we descended. We passed the first of what we later counted as a total of 36 hikers. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky.
Even with the rains on Friday and early Saturday, Hauser Creek was dry as we crossed it. The ascent up the other side was also steep. We rested Solo and Shady often. Reaching the only part of the trail that would follow a dirt road, Big Potrero Truck Trail – Meredith and I were both ready to walk a while. The ascent was gradual and it felt great to be out of the saddle. Shortly, we met a hiker who took a few photos of us together. As Meredith stood while we took a photo of the hiker with our horses, she didn't know she was standing on a red ant hill. I believe that is the worst thing that happened that day. Those big, aggressive red ants ran up inside her pant legs and bit her several times. One of the little buggers even managed to bite her under the arm! I have to say, my riding partner is pretty tough. I heard little complaints about how painful that must have been! After walking about 30 minutes, we mounted. The trail itself was well maintained, in better condition than I had expected. We passed through a number of metal, pipe gates designed to open for horse and hiker, but with a lower bar to impede motor and bicycles. I was proud of how Solo carefully stepped over, especially since some of them were nearly belly high!
We stopped for lunch along the trail at about 12 miles. Meredith said we were making great time. According to my smart-phone Motion X app that was tracking our progress, we were averaging about 3.4 miles per hour. Since Solo usually won’t drink water on shorter rides, I was uncertain if he would now. I filled his new collapsable bucket (thanks to Meredith) with one of the large bottles of water we were carrying. Solo drank it all without hesitation. His next course was a mix of alfalfa / supplement pellets and chopped carrots with a second bottle of water. It quickly became a soupy concoction that he ate with relish. What he dribbled on the rock beside his bucket, he licked off so I knew he enjoyed his lunch! A hiker went by and we spoke briefly to him. I asked him how far he was going. He said he was “through hiking”. I forgot that Meredith had told me that meant; hiking all the way to Canada. I asked “You are through? Thinking, we are in the middle of nowhere, he can’t quit here. We all laughed as I realized my mistake.
When we finished our lunch, Meredith and I walked again for about 30 minutes. Previously, when we had discussed the ride, I had told her my reservation that the longest I had ridden since my youth was only four hours. She had told me that walking was a great way to want to get back in the saddle. Meredith was right! Each time we walked, I appreciated getting back into the saddle and the effort Solo was making. I would also like to mention what a gentleman Solo was as I led him down the narrow, steep trails and rocky terrain. He never once came close to sliding into or stepping on me. He was very careful. I was proud and appreciative. After mounting up, I noticed Solo had a lighter step and would occasionally even break into his amble, which is his slow gait.
I have to mention a little bit about the weather. This trail has no water for the entire length that we rode. Meredith and I had been watching the weather forecasts. This is essentially a desert area, and the temperatures were predicted to be a high of 77 on Sunday which we felt we could handle. We had already changed our plan to ride Saturday due to unexpected wind and rain. Our instincts had been good for when we camped Saturday night, we spoke with two hikers who told us it had rained and hailed that morning. The earlier part of our ride on Sunday was sunny and soon began to warm up. With the effort our horses were making up and down steep grades in the morning they were sweating. Then we noticed a large cloud that covered the sun and continued to follow us for most of the ride. It made a huge difference. With the cloud, that Meredith told me she prayed for, we enjoyed cooler temperatures and gentle breezes. Without that cloud, our ride would have been much more difficult for both horses and riders.
The trail, while making an overall descent from Morena to Campo, follows the contours of the landscape. In order to keep inclines from being too steep, we would often find ourselves reversing direction and following switch backs that must have added many miles to the distance, as the crow flies. We continued our progress toward Campo. The trail afforded some spectacular views. We looked down on a golden valley dotted with Oaks and ranches that we had driven by that morning on our way to the staging area at Lake Morena. My favorite photo that Meredith made of Solo and I was taken there. It is part of the top banner of this post.
Descending into the next valley the trail grew close to the railroad tracks coming from Campo. We were getting closer to our destination! I was beginning to notice my body’s different aches and pains. I got off for the last 30 minute walk of the ride and hobbled along for about 10 minutes before I could walk normally. The trail crossed a wooden bridge over a dry creek, and climbed up through Cottonwood trees. We heard the train whistle blow. I caught sight of it at a distance. Meredith told me that it runs for tourists from the Campo Museum. We were getting close. Soon we reached where the PCT crossed the tracks and we stopped to make more photographs.
Continuing on, we soon reached Highway 94. Crossing the road, we then mounted up and rode the last hill into Campo. That last mile seemed perhaps the longest but we were elated. The trip had been without any serious mishaps and we had made it in 7.5 hours. As we reached the ridge and headed down into Campo, I spied my truck!
I waited with the horses tied across from the Border Patrol Headquarters while Meredith drove my truck up to fetch her rig. Shady and Solo happily drank a few gallons of water. While Solo ate, I took a wet sponge to his salt and dirt encrusted coat. Soon we were loading our tired horses into Meredith’s trailer for the return trip home. We were tired too and it felt great to be sitting in her cab. On our way to pick up my truck, I thought about how proud I was of Solo. He proved himself to be a most excellent trail horse. I could not think of one thing I would change about him! This ride had tested us both. Meredith and Shady had been great companions. It was a most rewarding effort.
At this point, I would like to offer some words of appreciation. Of course, our horses Solo and Shady deserve much of the credit! To Meredith, thank you for carefully planning the ride with our safety and success in mind. Also, I want to express my gratitude to my husband RD for his support, excellent printed maps, and for trying not to worry too much about me. He followed our progress by the location of my phone. Every once and a while we were even able to send and receive messages. While Meredith and I were in a very isolated area, that connection gave me added confidence that our ride would be a success. And it was!
An opportunity presented itself to visit Lina Mendenhall's ranch on Palomar Mountain last weekend. Several months prior, Solo and I rode Daley Ranch with Lina and her horse, Camelot. At that time, she had told me about Mendenhall Valley and how on occasion she invited friends up to ride and as she puts it, gently move cattle. My friend Meredith told me Lina had posted on Meetup, with an open invitation to come up the weekend of April 18-19. As it worked out my schedule was free!
On the Friday that we arrived, we turned our horses out in the huge grassy pasture on Lina's ranch. We watched as our horses joined Lina's Appaloosa gelding that is permanently pastured on the ranch. It was a thrilling site to see Solo run happily, his tail up like a flag, joining Shady and Camelot to graze on mountain meadow grasses. Another friend of mine, Peggy Reynolds, and her horse Rocks would be arriving later that day.
A late afternoon ride offered us the opportunity to explore a little of her valley and to move some cattle on our return to the stable. Lina and her Appaloosa showed us some basics on moving a herd of cattle without making them run to get away. I think we were all just happy that our horses were reasonably comfortable around the cattle. Solo had previously ridden him through a herd at the Ramona Grasslands without much concern which gave me confidence.
Our evening in the ranch house was most enjoyable. Great food, drinks, and a game filled the evening. Meredith, Peggy, Lina and myself were joined by Lina's son Kelley and his wife Amber. I had prepared to sleep in the back of my truck but ended up with my bag in Lina's sun porch, a far more comfortable proposition.
Saturday was the day for our long ride. We were joined by Bob and Donna Hein, whom I had never met. Unfortunately, Peggy suffered a migraine making our group one short. We rode up the valley, through woods and meadows to Lina's cousin's ranch. As we passed a herd of Angus, we missed seeing the calves. Apparently, they were off with their baby sitter. We reached the ridge and stopped for lunch. On the far side we could look down into Warner Valley. It was a stunning view in all directions. On our return, we passed by the herd. It was then we found the babies had been moved back to the main group for safety. As Lina led us toward them, one little new calf, just days old, stood his ground in curiosity. We learned that we were most likely his first encounter with horse and riders. As we returned back to Mendenhall Valley, we met up with Kelly and Amber taking a hike and shortly thereafter, with Peggy who had ridden out to meet us.
I would rather not mention that earlier in the day, I had accidentally left my keys in the truck ignition. Of course, it had drained my battery dead. Peggy had her own mishap with a leaking tire that was flat by Saturday evening. RD drove up in the Miata to see the ranch and ended up in the middle of it unfortunately. As it turned out, Kelly changed Peggy's tire and helped me jump start my truck Sunday morning. THANK YOU KELLY! I plan to make up a more complete kit
Many thanks to Lina for her hospitality and to my friends and riding buddies for an amazing weekend filled with fun, incredible scenery and great food! Oh, and thank you Solo for being the most wonderful horse partner. I am so lucky!
What a beautiful day to be introduced to the Pacific Crest Trail from Warner Springs to Eagle Rock. My new friend Meredith and her Rocky Mountain mare Shady, showed Solo and I the trails. The weather was perfect, mild in temperature and not too windy. Meredith had warned that the winds could be very strong, making riding difficult. We staged at the Warner Springs Resource Center across from the Cal Fire Station on Highway 79. On our way to cross the highway, we passed hikers who were resting from their travels north on the PCT.
From this point, the trail is a little over 6 miles, round trip. After crossing three gates, we headed through a beautiful canyon of oaks, and sycamore trees. Farther up the stream was flowing enough for Shady to take a drink. Recent rains and sunshine have graced the landscape with grass and even some of the native flowers were beginning to bloom. Climbing east, we reached an area of chaparral and then the trail became more flat through the grasslands. We reached the granite rocks aptly named Eagle Rock, as you can see in the photographs. We stopped for lunch, letting our horses nibble on the grass nearby.
With our two gaited horses, Meredith and I made the made the trip easily with time to spare for a little grazing on the way back. Solo was most happy to be allowed to stop and eat some luscious grass. How fortunate we all are!
Solo and I have been practicing drill team with Amy and a varying group of riders over the last several months. Amy Sheets, our leader, is the resident trainer at Stenerson's Ranch. On most Saturday mornings we meet at 10 AM to practice. The group of riders changes depending upon who is available but one thing remains the same. Drill team is a great deal of fun!
Nearly a year ago, at the Horse Expo in Pamona, CA, I saw a performance by a drill team and became interested. Of course, the young women who performed that day were most accomplished. They cantered and galloped most of their routine with stunts beyond my wildest dreams. Jumping off one side at a gallop and swinging over to the other side, hanging upside down at a dead run, and other exciting, high-speed maneuvers were a few of the things they did. While I doubt if Solo and I will ever try anything that daring, what we have been doing with our drill team has been very rewarding. On a typical practice day we begin at a walk, and then at the trot or in Solo's case, gait. I have discovered that not only is this activity fun, but it has helped my riding and communication skills with Solo. In that respect, I believe Solo and I have improved as a team. We were even allowed to be the leader which was also due to the fact that Solo does well in the lead. Our performance was accompanied by music appropriate for the holiday season, as were our colorful accents.
Many thanks to Jennifer Bramblett, who I coerced into making some photographs, Amy's unflagging patience and good humor, and to my friends who rode in this drill team event.
One of my all-time favorite things is to ride on the beach. I have been to Border State Park, just south of Imperial Beach, CA a number of times in the past, but on this day it was Solo's first experience with me. I don't know if he has ever been to the ocean. If he has, then that would explain how amazing he was, or, that he is simply a horse with a great mind and attitude. Diane and Scotch were our companions. Solo had his new, light-weight saddle on which is mostly synthetic, just for rides like this. It fits him so well, we don't need a breast plate, and at a mere 18 pounds, it's easy and to tack up quickly.
As we rode down the trial to the ocean, I hoped Solo would be brave. He has shown no fear of water so far, but the beach is such a sensory overload. New sounds, smells, and movements of the waves must be intense. My previous desert horse, Delgado, found it scary. The first several times I took Del, he would not even set hoof on the wet sand. It was just too close to the in-coming surf. And, while it was difficult to travel through the deep sand, he would not easily leave it for the ease of the harder packed ground. Solo figured it out right away. He followed Scotch right down to the wet sand and it was not hard to keep him walking there. As the waves came in, he moved out of the way at first.
We rode to the end of the beach, which is probably only about a half mile, and stopped where the Tijuana river meets the ocean. I dismounted, and removed Solo's bridle and attached a long rope to his halter. Working on the ground had been helpful in showing Delgado that the moving water was not so scary. Solo was curious, smelled the water and then allowed it to touch his hooves. Soon we were walking through the shallow waves. On our way back riding along the beach, Solo was able to allow the waves around his feet. I was so proud of him. I think it won't be long before we are riding in the surf! Woohoo!
For my birthday this year, Solo and I took our friends Diane and Scotch to Pioneer Town. Built in the 1940s, Pioneertown began as a motion picture set. Actors lived in the town where a number of Westerns and early television shows were filmed. Our motel was just next door to the popular Pappy & Harriet's, a barbecue, bar and music venue.
We drove out on Friday, May 1st and arrived in time to check in to the Pioneer Town Motel and then take a late afternoon ride out into the desert. There were gentle winds that kept us cool as we re-explored trails we had ridden in the past. However, this was Solo's first time. It was also his longest trailer ride, about 2.5 hours, and weekend away from home. Thanks to Diane for booking us a room and two horse corrals. This visit we stayed in "The Duke" a room named after you-know-who.
On Saturday, we took our longest ride around Sawtooth Loop. The trail officially begins outside of town about a mile. The banner photo for this entry shows the starting point. Along the way we stopped at the OK Corral before heading out of town. Sawtooth Loop would rate about a 7 (from 1 to 10) in difficulty. The single-track trail is rocky and at times quite steep up to the high point over-looking Yucca Valley. We enjoyed the breeze and many wild flowers that were blooming due to rains the previous week. We even crossed a little water at one point on our return. Diane and I were in the saddle about 4 hours that day. On our return to Pioneer town we made it just in time for the performance.
To retain the old-west flavor and spirit of Pioneertown, the re-enactment groups Gunfighter's For Hire and Mane Street Stampede perform a variety of shoot-em-up skits on Main Street every Saturday and Sunday. Diane was keen on our horses getting used to loud noises like the gun fight. After the performance was over we walked right though town. There was a cloth line flapping, and people milling all around. Solo took all the activity in stride. I was proud of him for many things that day but most of all his care on the steep trails. He has the makings of a great trail horse!
Diane took us for a birthday dinner that night at Pappy & Harriets and we heard Jim Lauderdale play. He said he was there to celebrate his birthday as well.
Before we left Sunday, we went on one last ride up to a high point over-looking Pioneertown and enjoyed a champagne brunch. All and all, Diane and I agreed that this was the best trip ever!
See the gallery for more photographs along Sawtooth Loop.
As you can see in the photo, from Mar. 23rd, Solo accepts the bit with his head down. Some horse people say this shows respect. I learned this from Bruce Griffin, when I was on my search for Solo. Bruce had a Rocky Mountain gelding for sale named Zeus. My fortune was to have been given valuable instruction by Bruce as I met and auditioned Zeus.
The technique begins as you hold the bridle in your left hand and reach your right arm over the top of the horses's head at the poll and press your thumb along the jaw. Pressing and then releasing as soon as your horse lowers his head. At that point, take the top of the bridle headstall in your right and use your left hand to guide the bit into your horse's mouth.
The use of your thumb at the horses jaw is another aspect of using pressure to train your horse. An important and challenging part of this learning process for me, is to react quickly to remove pressure as soon as my horse begins to comply. As they learn the pressure is reduced. Solo learned the Bridle technique very quickly and is so good at this now, he often has his mouth open before I am ready with the bit. The other goal I began our training with was to avoid banging his teeth with the metal bit.
Los Penosquitos Canyon Preserve, in Poway, is another of my favorite rides that provide shady trails and many little water crossings. This was Solo's first time and we brought Diane and Scotch for company. As we rode into the preserve, Diane and I reminisced on previous visits, and how much more relaxed we were.
On this warm Spring day, 4/11/14, we headed out the high trail that gives a view of the land. It is a double track, mostly great footing, so we gaited along and enjoyed the air. Our horses are well matched and move along quickly but smoothly. While I enjoy riding with friends that don't have gaited horses, it is always fun to be with someone that can match your speed without having to canter.
Diane and I rode up to the waterfall lookout but the water level was low. We looked down at the rocks briefly and then headed back for the cool trails along the stream. There are a number of wooden bridges made for bikes and hikers that share the trails. We stopped at one and sat on the bridge with our boots off. Even though it was a Friday, there were a number of people crossing so we moved up to a grassy area and sat on the ground sipping our champagne that Diane had brought for us. It was iddlic to say the least. After our leisure time, we rode the single track trail through the trees and meadows slowly, both not wanting the ride to end.
I have ridden the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve many times but this was Solo's first visit. It is located on Espola Road, in Poway. I like riding there weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds, and usually the three official parking spots for horse trailers are available in the staging area. Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is a 700-acre canyon. The trail from the staging area winds through Oak trees providing shade and a cool place to ride. There are two ways you can ride beyond the shady double track. Heading east, the ride continues on a dirt road that climbs up to the top of the Ramona Reservoir Dam. When I used to ride Delgado from Holly's Land Stable, we came down this road and would stop at our favorite picnic table for a midway rest.
On Solo's first ride we decided to take the other route up to Lake Poway. The trail is a steep climb and Solo took his time even though Scotch and Diane were ahead. I like that about Solo. As we reached the top of the dam, we could see across Lake Poway. The trail leads around the lake and at one point we must walk through the parking lot to reach the other side. Solo took it all in stride as if he had been there before. As we headed back around the lake, we stopped for a photo op. Back down at the base of the dam we rested at our favorite picnic table. It was another great ride on my new partner Solo.
The staging area to ride on Camp Pendleton from the Vandergrift Blvd. entrance is located by the Paintball Park. We park our trailers next to what used to be a small arena, corrals and a cattle shoot. My first experience riding there, with Kathy and Peggy, was on Delgado. It had been during a weekend, when there is a lot of activity at the Paintball Park. Del was so frightened by the popping sounds that he wouldn't get out of the trailer.
Solo's first time at Pendleton was a weekday. We were the first to arrive and the park was quiet. I was not sure how comfortable Solo would be by himself in a new place. We walked around a bit and then I tied him to the Brenderup to brush him. It was so nice to have him quietly standing with no hint of nervousness. Shortly after, Peggy Reynolds arrived in her "Solo" Brenderup. Kathy was not far behind. There we were, three women with gaited horses and Brenderup trailers.
The weather was in the 60's with blue skies and gentle breeze. The trails I have been on so far, crisscross the rolling hills with little or no vegetation. Kathy and Peggy like to ride to the club house at the Pendleton golf course and have lunch. There is a pipe corral we use to tie our horses in. After lunch we rode to a two track dirt road where we gaited, cantered and had a couple of gallops up the hill. I was careful not to let Solo lead as when horses gallop it can easily to turn into a race. There is nothing like the rush of a gallop! It was a great day all around with friends and horses. I am so lucky!
Solo and I met Kathy Cooksey and her Paso Fino mare in Fallbrook on February 15th for a ride along the Santa Margarita River Trail. This would be Solo's fourth trail outing. The last time I had ridden these trails was on Delgado. Del had been a hand full on my last ride only a few months ago. But now, I was on my beautiful, calm but willing partner, Solo.
Kathy's mare likes to roll in the water in certain areas of this river so we rode some of the high trails. On my first experience with the "high trials" at Santa Margarita, Diane, and three other friends were showing us the area. We went on the mountain trail. Diane was in the lead and Del and I were second. Someone's horse behind stepped on a bee hive in the ground and what should have been careful riding turned into mayhem. Angry bees were chasing and trying us in an enraged attack. With riders yelling and running up from behind, Diane stopped to see what was going on, and then Del started to step off the trail in an area that was very steep. After some scary riding, we all managed to get past that area without disaster but it was one of the most scary rides I have had. Diane and I later agreed not to ride that trail again.
This is an area that riders tell stories about, as in accidents. But now, some years later, on Solo, I knew we could be safe. We rode the steep trail in both directions and on the return I tried to photograph it but the two last photos in the gallery just don't do the steep trail justice. There are big rocks in the trail and it feels much more like a cliff as you look down than the photographs show. I was thrilled at how different a clam horse can make you feel. And on all the water crossings, Solo went through with care but confident.
It was a great ride, and once again, I knew I had made a good decision finding Solo. At the end of the ride, Kathy confided that if I had been riding Del it would have been a very different ride for me. She observed how relaxed I was. YES!
I wanted to recount my observation of Solo when he was recently "in trouble."
When he was having his hooves trimmed last week, Solo was fidgeting and Claudia had to "school" him (as Monty Roberts calls it). Claudia knows natural horsemanship. I see her have to ask for respect at times, when she is trimming horses. She took the rope and made Solo back up a number of steps. Then she led him up to begin trimming again. Solo had not quite gotten the message so Claudia backed him up a second time, jerking on his lead rope and then made him yield his hindquarters. She lifted the end of the rope and made him circle her. Then, leading him back, she waited and watched.
Solo put his head way down and I have never seen his upper lip so long while his lower one was pulled up. Claudia and I watched as Solo stood there thinking about what had just happened. He knew he was in trouble. In a few seconds he licked his lips. That is usually a sign that the horse has thought about it and relaxed. We tried not to laugh at how cute he was, like a little boy, in trouble. The photo here is a simulation of what he looked like. It was so endearing.
For Solo's third time away from the stable, I trailered out to the Ramona Grasslands Preserve with Diane & Scotch. This was – for a long time, the only available trail ride from Holly's Land Stable back when I boarded Delgado there. When I first began riding the grasslands preserve, it had no designated trails. The area was not open to the public but we were able to ride in from the north-west gate. Cattle were and still are grazed there. A couple of years ago the conservancy decided to open it up to the public for limited use. Trails and a staging area were created for hikers, bike riders, and equestrian use.
The day of this ride, Solo's third trailer outing, we brought champagne to drink at our favorite picnic bench by the pond. In the gallery, I put a photo of what the pond used to look like before the Ramona Grasslands Conservancy diverted the stream that fed the pond. You will also note at the time of our ride (February 2014), these Wintertime photographs of the Grasslands look as dry as if they were taken in the Summer. You can also see we made the best of it.
With no one around and emboldened by the champagne, we took off from the designated trails and explored some of the places we used to ride before the official trials were established. Solo was a little concerned with the cattle but did fine as we passed them. Diane and I ended up having a lively and most enjoyable ride in our "old stomping grounds" before I headed back home for a Valentine's dinner with RD. ♡
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Solo's second trail ride, this time out to Lake Hodges proved he was the horse I had been dreaming of. We picked up Diane and Scotch and headed over to our favorite staging area, across from Hernandez Hideaway.
Heading South-West, we rode past the dam. As we rounded the corner, just past the dam, there was a photographer. It turned out he was out on assignment for the Union Tribune to photograph how low the water level was in the lake. He asked if he could take our photograph and for our names. Then we were asked if we could come around the corner again so he could make another exposure. "Don't look at the camera" he said "just keep riding". It turns out we were photographed by the paper's only staff photographer, Charlie Neuman. Charlie told us it was the best photo that day and we should look in the newspaper the next morning, Saturday, February 8th. If you look in the gallery for this ride, you will see a scan of the photograph. Yes, we made the news!
The rest of the ride was excellent. Solo crossed the long bridge with care but confidence. I included an old photograph in the gallery, taken from Delgado standing in the center of the bridge. We had a gallup up the hill on the other side of the bridge, something we often do for the thrill. I also included one other photograph of Lake Hodges in the gallery for perspective.
When we returned to the trailer, Diane and I loaded our boys into the trailer and went in to The Hideaway for our usual, Cadillac Margarita. A perfect end to a perfect ride.
Just one month after Solo arrived, I planned a ride in Bandy Canyon with Diane and Scotch who live about 15 miles away from the ranch.
The preparation we had done getting Solo used to the Brenderup trailer was good, but when it came time to get Solo in the trailer, he was reluctant. I looked up and there were two men nearby watching. I asked if either of them had any suggestions. One of them, whom I'll call Vaquero, walked over – his demeanor, the clothing, hat and spurs all suggested he had been working with horses for some time. He asked, "do you have a butt rope?" I admitted no. He shook his head a little and returned shortly with a lead rope made into a large loop which he put over Solo's hindquarters. Vaquero then proceeded to turn Solo in small circles using the butt rope to encourage him to move forward. I could tell this either was new to Solo or he was very sensitive to the pressure on his rear end.
Within minutes, Vaquero led Solo into the trailer. I hear him cursing under his breath as he told me to put up the butt bar of the trailer. Vaquero was pinned in between the breast bar and Solo. As he crawled under the bar and out the front side door, he looked at me and said "That will be $30." In surprise, I immediately said okay and went to get the money. Vaquero grumbled something about people who do not have the proper equipment. I found the money in my wallet and offered it to him thinking he was sent from heaven.
I knew I had learned something new and valuable. Before Vaquero arrived, my plan had been to see how difficult it was to get Solo in the Brenderup and then decide whether to just drive down the end of the driveway and call it a day or head out to Bandy Canyon. My concern was getting him back into the trailer after the ride. I called Diane and the manager of her stable said there would be someone to help after the ride.
Diane, Scotch, Solo and I headed out on the San Dieguito Trail that winds through Bandy Canyon. The trail is part of the Coast to Crest Trail, one we have ridden different sections of many times. This was Solo's introduction to the kind of riding I love to do. We rode up to the north east staging area and on the way back Diane even asked to ride Solo after we stopped for a break at the picnic table. She had never asked to ride Delgado : ). Overall, I was very happy with how calm he was, and confident on his first ride. When we arrived back at the stable, Diane wanted to ride up to her look out. It was a steep trail and Solo stopped a couple of times to catch his breath. Each time he stopped, it was only for a few seconds and then he would start again without encouragement. Diane told me later that Scotch also stops and she rides there regularly. The gallery photos were made at the top of the lookout as we rested and enjoyed the view.
Solo easily loaded into the trailer with my new butt rope technique and I drove us home with happiness and new confidence. I was thrilled.
While I was still on my horse search, up in Lompoc – One of the techniques I learned from Bruce Griffin, was how to get a horse to come to you.
Bruce showed me his way: You stand by the gate. If it has been raining, he thinks you should not have to walk into the mud and muck, so you want your horse to come to you. He would slap his thigh and call "Come Zeus." And Zeus would come right to him. I later watched what to do if your horse will not come-to-you. You take your rope and you drive him away. After your horse turns to face you, you ask him to come with a pat on your thigh. They usually do. At some point the horse should learn to come without driving them from you first.
When I first got Solo, I started calling him with the technique. I don't know if the trainer that Solo previously had used the same method, or he just learns as quickly as Janet said; but it only took a couple of times for Solo to get it. Now I pat my thigh and he walks to me. I never before had a horse that would do that!
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If you love horses, you most likely will love to watch them run. They are such amazing animals. When you turn out a horse into a large area, they often run and buck in delight. Watching their power, speed, grace and sometimes crazy gyrations is such entertainment.
The Liberty Gallery has a few photographs I made in the first few weeks of Solo's arrival. Since we have bonded, he already runs up to me after he has shown off running and bucking. Sometimes I look down but often I watch him as he comes towards me. I know that he won't run over me and it is an amazing feeling as all that power comes into your space at a fast pace. Solo will stand beside me snorting from his excitement. I stand quietly and just pet him until he is calm. Then he may run again, or we move on to other things. It's a thrilling experience that I never will tire of.
Our first ride off the ranch was with Jennifer and her mare Ferrah. We rode West, over to Mr. Moody's spread of land. He has generously wide, manicured trails and only asks that we stay on them. The footing is good and there are about three different routes to explore, which keeps the ride interesting.
Solo did very well on his first trail ride. Jennifer was a former jockey and now trains race horses. She bought Ferrah to lead pony race horses but Ferrah is young and still in training. In the future, I will make a gallery showing these trails.
After a couple days, Solo began to lay down more and more. If I had not seen him lay down at the end of the ride in Loomis, when we first met, I might have been more alarmed right away. I checked with Janet and sure enough, Solo was fond of laying down.
After a couple more days, of visiting him twice a day, it was clear he was not well. The day I called the vet, he was laying down and getting up repeatedly. Fortunately, an emergency call was answered quickly and Solo was "oiled" as they call it. He had an impaction which is a form of colic. That word puts fear into all horse owners, as a horse can die of colic!
In Solo's case, it was probably due to several things including the change in temperatures, food, and water intake. As he improved, I made some alterations to his water source and added a big bucket which we fill every day. He still has a smaller auto watering system, but I think Solo likes the large container considering how much he drinks from it every day. I also brought in some bedding to make laying down more comfortable. I think he likes his new home.
Solo arrived at Stenerson's Ranch in Bonsall, California, early on the morning of January 2nd, 2014. My new trail pal got off the transport and looked really good for having traveled all night from Northern California. I took him to his new home and offered him a bran mash which Solo seemed to enjoy.
The next day RD came out with me and brought his camera to document our first walk around the ranch. Solo happily grazed on grass and willingly followed me around what is known as the "Play Ground", a wonderful obstacle course built by Judy and some of the other women at the ranch. When we walked closer to one of the scare crows in the Play Ground, Solo nosed the Santa hat with curiosity. I thought how brave he was. It made me happy to see him so calm and gentle.
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Solo and I first met on December 20th, 2013. He was living in Loomis, not far from my cousin Jennifer who lives in Fair Oaks near Sacramento. Solo was the last horse I looked at in my search for a new equine partner, having travelled as far as northern California.
Janet, Solo's owner, met Jennifer and I in the late morning in order for me to meet and ride Solo. My first impression was how quiet and gentle Solo appeared. First, I rode him in the large round pen next to where he was living. He was very willing to do what I asked. His gait was smooth. Janet rode her other horse Galaxy, and we crossed the road to an amazing trail system nearby. We rode all kinds of terrain, steep trails, gentle slopes where we cantered, gaited, and even tested Solo's confidence with stepping into a small pond. I could tell just by one ride, he was a very special boy. I say boy because he was only 5 years old. That is fairly young. He even passed my test at the end by side passing when I asked him. It was clear he had been trained well.
Janet told me when she taught him new things like working on the ground on a rope, he learned very fast. I was pretty excited about Solo when I left, but I forced myself to tell Janet I would think about making her an offer. At that point, I was fairly sure Solo was my best choice. When Jennifer and I discussed Solo, I knew she really liked him. There is a photo of them in the Tack Room Gallery. She told me when she was holding him for me, he put his head on her shoulder and she knew he was wonderful.
A couple days later, I headed down to Lompoc for one more ride on another Rocky Mountain Horse called Zeus. I had been quite impressed with Bruce, the handler who was working with Zeus. In hindsight, I know Bruce was more of a draw than Zeus was. He taught me some techniques that I am using with Solo nowdays. RD came up on the train and went out with me to see Zeus. Later, I showed the photos of Solo to RD and while talking about these two Rockys, it helped me decide to call Janet.
Ironically, the day before Christmas, Janet told me she was having trouble selling Solo. I had been so careful to not be hasty with my decision! Now, I had to wait for Janet to decide. I think Janet knew she didn't have enough time to give to Solo, but she really didn't want to give him up. On Christmas morning, she called and told me Solo would be mine. RD and I drove home on Christmas Day in the Miata, with me smiling all the way home : ). What a great Christmas present!