Riding Down a Mountain, Leaning Back, and Hoping for the Best

I sat in the lodge with Chris, a lovely woman who cooks on the packhorse trips and lives as a gypsy in the back of her pick-up truck camper, in an RV in Arizona, and in her former home in nearby Eureka. She said she loved the way people here in the West were so nonchalant about danger.

I agree. One of the nicest things we don’t get thrown in our face here at the Triple J is liability for the inherent danger of riding horses. No helmets. No waivers. No instilling fear, just a reminder to not come up from behind and to listen to the wranglers while out on the trail. It’s refreshing and makes this whole experience a lot more fun.

Today I pushed my limits on Sampson and my knees and butt are sore. We took a nearly day-long trail ride, starting in a narrow trail through the Aspen trees, and then starting to climb up. The strength of the horses is amazing, I kept feeling bad for Sampson and the other beasts who were carrying my 210 lbs up these steep mountain trails. He takes his time but then powers up and sometimes shoots off in a trot, just following the lead of the horse in front. I can tell it’s coming, and I’m advised to rein him in, but it’s also fun to let him zoom like that and just hang on.

We climbed up and up, taking a break for lunch in a grove of aspens, and made it all the way to a vista. It would have been the perfect setting for a Lexus commercial, way up there with one hundred miles looking down toward the Gibson reservoir, still covered over by forest fire smoke. We set a spell and told stories while the horses rested.

The way down was a test of my strength, as even while we were making wide zees, it was damn steep. I had my feet hard in the stirrups and was leaning back, and at one point tried to shoot photos. Bad idea. I stuffed my camera back in the saddle bag and then we hit a patch of dirt. The rider behind me said Sampson was almost dragging in the back, sort of slip sliding down. But we emerged, unscathed, and finally on the final trail back to the barn.

“Don’t let ’em get barn soured,” said Lauretta, advising us to rein them in tight as the horses tried to speed up their homeward pace.

At the barn I got a chance to chat with Max Barker, the wizzened founder of the ranch. He told me with a glint in his eye how he gets husbands to go along and enjoy the ride. “The horse is an extension of your legs,” he tells them. “We can go way, way up there, if you just use the horse.” He gives them tips like keeping your heels down so they don’t get shown up by their horse-loving wives.