I've just returned from an incredible week... one of the best I've ever had. :-) You people on dial-up are going to hate me though, this is going to have a lot of pics!!!
Shylah and I left on the 12th (J.C. picked us up, since Shylah doesn't fit in my car! haha) and spent the week at the home of J.C. and D.C. near Redding, California (about 200 miles north, in the mountains). We'd been planning this trail ride adventure for quite some time as a way to introduce Shylah to some trail experience.
The first full day up there was Sunday, but we didn't do any riding that day. It happened to be J's annual co-worker party, and since I happened to be there that weekend, they happened to invite me too! So there were 12 women out on a patio boat on Lake Shasta. We parked the boat in a cove, and spent the rest of the day floating around on the lake on pool-loungers, eating far too much food, getting sunburned in awkward places (despite sunscreen!) and I got to hear a lot of... interesting stories, shall we say, about their work. It was actually a lot of fun, though I got along with some people better than others... It's an interesting crowd. ;-) I had promised not to take photos of people (me included!) since we were out there in swimsuits, but this is a view off the back of the boat as we left the dock.
And just to put some poultry in here, some domestic ducks were out there begging for food by the boat launch:
So Monday was the first day we went trail riding. I did a fair amount of arena and round pen work first, since Shylah seemed to be a bit "fresh." She did fine though. She had one big spooky moment right after leaving the arena and heading out onto the trail. There are some very large boulders right there, and she was pretty sure those might be out to get her. She was totally handleable though. I got off and led her up to them, and once she was able to sniff them and understand what they were, she was fine. She jumped a bit a couple more times along the ride, but just because things startled her.
Tuesday and Wednesday we did shorter rides, since J had to work those days. So we stayed on their property, and just rode around "the top of the mountain." Their property connects to several hundred more acres, so we also had access to that land for longer rides. It was nice to be able to mix it up a bit and take different ride routes.
After J left for work on Wednesday I went out walking on their property and took my camera along. It's a big place but I was more or less in sight of the house anywhere I went that day.
So these are some views of the relatively flat part of the property where I went walking. The first pic is Mt. Shasta. It's gorgeous up there, I am just in awe of the scenery.
If you hadn't noticed... there are a lot of rocks there. It's absurd how many rocks there are (I think Shylah thought so too, as she was tripping over them!). Some small, some big, some enormous.
And there are also a lot of bones here and there. Mostly cow bones (there is a large herd of range cattle that grazes on the land for part of the year) but also the occasional non-cow...
This is a cow pelvis, which I think would make a downright freakishly scary mask:
So even though I was on "vacation" I could not afford to take a week off of illustration work, so I took the job with me and more or less took over their kitchen and turned the table into a makeshift studio (oh, and I baked brownies too!) It was a challenge trying to do art somewhere other than my normal studio location, but it worked out and I did finish the pair of drawings that I set out to finish.
They have a kitten living with them right now, and he's a pretty cute little booger. As kittens are, he was either adorably asleep, or running around terrorizing things.... and that included me! I think I may have spoiled him a bit (hee hee!) So while I was in there drawing all day, he got to spend a lot of time hanging out with me. I was sitting in one chair with my feet propped up on the chair across the way, and he thought this made a great obstacle course to climb around on. I couldn't resist taking pics, you know I like cats. He doesn't have a name yet, so I just called him Poopy, since he seemed prone to having accidents on the floor....
Thursday was the longest ride, since there weren't any time constraints. We went out onto the adjoining property for a long and very hilly ride, and I took my camera along that day.
Me and Shylah:
Scenes from the ride... It was so beautiful. I know they must get used to it, but being out there away from civilization, up on the mountain where you can see for miles and miles and miles... it's awesome. It felt right being out there with Shylah, like "so this is what horses are supposed to do." She really did very well, but I know by Friday she tired and probably quite sore (if I had to walk up and down all those hills I would be too!).
For most of the rides, Shylah was the follower. J was riding "Lina," a 3 year old Andalusian she had been training for the last three months. Lina is a bigger horse with a longer stride, and Shylah just walks kinda slow anyway, so she would drop back pretty far and J would have to stop and wait for us all the time. So we got to see a lot of the backside of Lina.
There's this cool watering hole out there on the trail, a trough that stays full from a natural spring. Neat-o. We stopped the horses there..which is where I took these pics (not that you can see the trough, but no matter, we were stopped here):
Somehow I ended up in the lead at that point, and we discovered that it worked out quite well. Shylah was a fairly confident leader, though it took her a minute to get used to hearing Lina behind her. The difference in alertness when a horse goes from follower to leader is amazing. The follower is more relaxed, the leader is much more alert. Lina was forced to slow down and stay behind Shylah, and it was nice. J and I could actually talk instead of shout at each other across the gap! Shortly after leaving the watering trough though, with Shylah as the new leader, she seemed excessively alert, no longer focusing on me, and I even commented to J that Shylah seemed really hyper-alert for some reason. We stopped and did some circling/flexing exercises, got the horses refocused on us, and continued onward, not thinking much about it other than Shylah hadn't been in lead position before, or maybe there was a coyote out there (I'd seen one the day before).
When we reached the gate at the far end of the trail, we dismounted and gave the horses (and our knees and butts) a break for a few minutes, and decided to head back, since we'd been out an hour and a half (and therefore it would end up being a 3 hour ride, which is pretty good, not sure of the mileage...the 3 hour ride I did on the bike trail was 6 miles, so perhaps similar).
On the way back, just after the place where our horses had been very alert, I was riding out in front when all of a sudden J said "Oh sh**, stop! Bear!" It took me a second to process this... OMG, a bear! I stopped and dismounted, and with my jaw hanging down I watched an adult black bear saunter down the hill, crossing in front of us. The horses watched intently, but to their credit did not try to bolt. My camera was back in the bag at that point, and I spent too long gawking to get a really good shot. By the time I got the camera out and on and focused the bear was nearly behind the hill, but you see that black blob in the middle of the pic below? That's the bear. I'm not good at estimating distance, but it was less than 100 feet away. It didn't look at us or stop, it just kept walking. As soon as it was out of sight, then the horses got upset and wanted to get out there in a hurry. We stayed on the ground and walked them out of the area until they were more calm.
So here I'd been joking all along about seeing a bear, but I didn't think I really would!!!
We rode the same trail on Friday, and as soon as we went through the gate onto the adjoining property the horses got a little freaked out again and didn't want to go. Shylah wouldn't move at all, but Lina was a little more willing, though she wasn't totally cool with it either. We ended up just hand-walking them out there a little way to convince them it was okay, and then rode out to the watering hole again. Shylah was noticeably checking out every large boulder and log now, gotta be REALLY sure those aren't bears. And that's totally understandable. We can look at those and easily distinguish that it's a rock, but I can see how a dark colored round boulder would look an awful lot like the rounded back of a bear! Interestingly, Shylah wouldn't drink from the trough that day, whereas she'd been all over it the other days. Maybe it was bear-flavored. By the end of Friday's ride, she was really dragging and obviously tired. Those hills are tough! She's going to get some time off now..
I think she had fun up there though, she seemed pretty positive and willing. I had a blast, I loved being out there riding the trails every day. We're probably going to turn this into an annual thing, and I can't wait for the next one. J and D, thank you for putting up with me all week! :-)