During "night stables", Gregg found this little visitor above Hobbes' stall. I've been wondering where all the mice were this winter. Now, I think I know.
Our property, located on the city-county line, is an urban island for wildlife. The last appearance was by a mountain lion, but we have hosted a little of everything. Click here to visit our stable's page of encounters with wild- and not-so-civilized life.
MOLLY LAKE TRAIL, Colorado -- This ride reminded us that you should always be prepared with a good map, a compass and rain gear. More on that later.
We were headed for the Molly Lake trail, and it has been a few years since I took my horse to Colorado’s Redfeather Lakes area. Things have changed. New staging areas now provide safe access for horseback riders and hikers trying to get to Mount Margaret or Molly Lake, across from each other on 74E.
In years past, drivers had to practically park their rigs on the side of the road near an old gate that you could easily miss if you were not looking. Now, you can safely pull off 74E to find ample car and several horse trailer parking spots on the north and south sides of the road, along with restroom facilities.
Based on traffic, Mount Margaret is still the more popular destination, but we discovered on this ride that the Molly Lake trail is just as beautiful. What looks like a former logging road makes up the “main drag”, and provides plenty of opportunity to ride side by side, and enjoy the scenery. At least one of the gates can be done on horseback, which makes for good training. The elevation gain was steady and not too difficult for my 19-year-old gelding, at least until we took the unexpected turn.
In preparation for this ride, I had purchased the National Geographic Topo! Colorado software at Jax Mercantile in Fort Collins (about $80), and spent a lot of time zooming in and printing a ride map on the waterproof paper you can buy as an accessory. What I didn’t realize is that the Topo! software uses U.S. Geological Survey maps from about the 1960’s. Plus, USGS maps are more land-feature oriented, and not so much trail oriented.
About two hours into the ride, the sunny summer weather did the Colorado five-minute-weather-change, and it started to drizzle. The cool air refreshed he horses, and we kept going.
We came to a sign that said “Molly” one way and “Moon” the other. We took “Moon”, which sent us on a grand detour not featured on our map, but up onto a ridge. The horses were very excited, and acted like they thought we were headed back to the trailer, which in retrospect, I suspect we were.
Our stomachs grumbled, and thunder rumbled. It felt like a good time to get off the ridge in case of lightning, so we took the steep switchback trail down the ridge, and ended up in a boulder-strewn meadow. Your horse will need to be good at hindquarter pivots in order to negotiate these switchbacks. The rain died down to a drizzle, and we lunched next to an old barbed-wire gate and a metal “monument marker”. In hindsight, I think we were on a public/private property border.
Before remounting, we donned our rain gear, an old poncho for me, and an Outback slicker for Gregg. We headed back up the switchback, and by now my gelding was feeling his flab and the work. The rain turned into a steady downpour, and about an hour away from the trailer, my poncho quit being waterproof, and I rode the rest of the way soaking wet. Gregg’s Outback slicker kept him dry and warm. As it was still summer, the horses kept plenty warm just moving.
We hastily untacked at the trailer, and drove east, back to home base in Fort Collins. On the way, we stopped at the Western Ridge Restaurant, which featured a sympathetic, friendly waitress, and a hot pot of coffee. The Western Ridge Restaurant is open for dinner, too, and I resolve to return for a romantic meal overlooking their valley.
When I got home the first thing I did after seeing to the horses was ceremoniously toss the poncho into the dumpster. Gregg later put batteries in his GPS unit, and I now keep a spare change of clothes in the truck. I tried to get my own Outbacks slicker at Jax Farm and Ranch, but they were all out, so I found one online. In case Gregg’s GPS unit quits, I resurrected my pocket compass.
This still does not solve the problem of the National Geographic Topo! map’s missing pieces, but I notice the Forest Service is updating their free online maps, which give you a pretty good idea of the Molly Lake trail network. Also, you can get a number of state and federal maps online for free.Google Maps does not name trails, but you can zoom in enough to see trail details. Stick to the Molly Lake main drag, and you’ll be fine.
FORT COLLINS, Colorado (Bobcat Ridge Natural Area) – I am permanently traumatized from a forced stop on an uphill street in San Francisco while towing a loaded two-horse trailer with a little Toyota truck. So, as we towed our current rig up the grade to the south end of Horsetooth Reservoir, even though we didn’t have to stop, I was grateful for the large engine in my 10-year-old F250 diesel. We were on our way to Bobcat Ridge, about 45 minutes south of our stable.
Other than the switchbacks up the Horsetooth grade, and discounting the bicycle rider who took the middle of the lane part way up, the drive past Masonville and into the foothills was beautiful and easy. We arrived at the Bobcat Ridge trailhead to find an old ranch turned into attractive access point, pull-through trailer spots, restrooms, a non-potable water spigot for the horses, and a kiosk slightly up the trailhead explaining the area.
Bobcat Ridge reminded me of a scene straight from the old Bonanza TV series. (Click on the photo to enlarge.) I expected Little Joe to come riding around one of the rock formations any minute, or to find Hoss napping under one of the pine trees. Billy and Hobbes appreciated the mild elevation gains, but because of the rocky trail up in the tree line, I would not recommend this ride for barefoot horses.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when Billy flicked his ears, lifted his head, rolled his eyes, and stopped. I wondered if he sensed a mountain lion, or in the case of this trail namesake, a bobcat. (I still remember the mountain lion that foiled the SWAT teams near our property earlier this year.) Instead, a deer emerged from the trees, hesitated, leaped down in front of us, and leaped again down into a treed ravine. I scrabbled frantically with my camera, and blindly followed the action, clicking away at the shutter. For me, this was like catching the big fish: Using a simple little Coolpix Camera , I “caught” a deer leaping right in front of us. But wait, there is more. Billy continued his neck-craning, tense walk, and I looked up to see another deer watching us. That deer pretended to be part of the scenery, and as we walked by, I pulled off another shot. If you click on the photo, and look closely under the shade of the tree, you'll see him. What a day.
On a more practical note, the City of Fort Collins has done a great job of creating separate trails at Bobcat Ridge where people and horses might not like to meet. Teachers, I would strongly recommend Bobcat Ridge for a field trip to the old cabin, and an interpretive nature walk. The picnic pavilion near the trailhead is an added bonus, as is the wheelchair accessible trail to the cabin. People without horses and wanting to rent-a-ride might try the phone number on the "Castle Gait Ranch" sign in the slide show, 970-297-8827. Let me know if you do, as I am always getting inquiries for rental horse rides.
Even though the city kindly included a tub near the spigot for horses, I would avoid this community watering hole, and use your own bucket, especially after this year’s deadly EHV-1 scare. I had a horse catch strangles (distemper) from a community water trough at Yosemite. No lie. It was three weeks of a horse with a high fever, hugely swollen glands, and gobs of green mucous. He was vaccinated, too! However, my gelding fared better than strangles-stricken The Red Pony of John Steinbeck fame.
Sidenote: You know you are a horse person when you see another rig pull in, wave a distant hello from behind sunglasses to the driver on foot, note the new aluminum horse trailer, note as they ride by, that they have a strong lower leg, note the nice quality of the leather English hackamore, note that the horse is barefoot, has strong, flat knees, straight legs, is seal brown, and as the pair gets about a hundred feet away headed up the trail, hear the rider talk, and realize that the horse and the human in the saddle are actually your own clients! We were both so engrossed in our horses that neither of us recognized the other.
Regarding the uphill stop in San Francisco, the little Toyota truck pulled two horses from a dead stop up a 45-degree angle using the super-low gear, and in one fell swoop, put about 10 years’ worth of wear and tear on the clutch. Not recommended, but doable.
We completed the Valley Loop at Bobcat Ridge at a walk, except for a half-mile jog-trot toward the end, in about 2.5 hours.
West Branch Trailhead, COLORADO – We set out in search of adventure, and the West Branch Trail gave us everything we could have asked for, and more.
Located about two-and-a-half hours west of Fort Collins, Colorado, via the Poudre Canyon and Laramie River roads, the West Branch Trail proved full of surprises – in beauty, and in obstacles. It looked innocent enough when we started, but about half a mile in, after the initial creek crossing, we hit knee-deep mud and tricky deadfall. Billy and Hobbes rose to the challenge and took us to solid ground.
From then on, we climbed steadily through lush forest, flowers, greenery and lots of gurgling water obstacles. West Branch Falls were beautiful. As the trail climbed, dirt gave way to rocks and switchbacks. I would not recommend this trail for a barefoot or skittish horse. About an hour up the grade, we spoke with hikers and another pair of riders, who warned us that the toughest water obstacles were ahead. The pair of riders was about to turn back due to the difficulty of the trail.
Their warnings proved true. The puddles grew larger, some of them completely blocking the trail and requiring detours on a steep grade. Even though summer was well under way, this year’s tremendous snowfall left a huge spring melt, and ultimately we hit a deadfall-infested water obstacle for which there was no detour, and the bottom of which we could not see. We turned back, and lunched at the trailhead, which features chemical-toilet restrooms, and ample trailer parking. Total ride time: About 2.5 hours at a walk.
FORT COLLINS, Colorado -- An officer took a shot at the mountain lion next to our arena where Hobbes was being ridden early this evening, according to his owner, Gregg Doster.
Hobbes, a 4-year-old Quarter Horse purchased at the CSU Legends of Ranching Sale last year, flinched at the shot, but held steady. What a horse!
The shot came after somebody shouted, "There he is!", according to Gregg. The officer had climbed on to the dirt levee running parallel to Shields Street and our arena, as an intense hunt for an errant mountain lion sighted earlier continued.
The mountain lion, which crossed paths with Gregg earlier when he found it in his driveway next door, was not hit. "It was big, fully grown," said Gregg. "Its tail looked like it was five feet long! It was beautiful."
The mountain lion bounded away when Gregg pulled up in his car, turned a sharp right
On Easter Sunday, Gregg and I took another shot at getting Hobbes to go solo in our two-horse, straight-load, bumper-pull trailer. Hobbes is fine in our three-horse-slant gooseneck -- when he is with his friend, my Morgan gelding, Dell, but you can forget the two-horse trailer alone.
Contrary to Hobbes, I believe every horse should learn to travel solo in whatever carrier you choose. They might need to make an emergency run to the vet, go to a horse show alone, or live life without their friend.
It took hours of “friend” Dell loading by example, “friend” Dell standing nearby for moral support, the two of us reviewing Hobbes’ halter drills, backing, pivoting, giving any part of the body to pressure, and a turf-ownership review in the round pen. We punctuated the halter drills with attempted load-ups that promised grain at the end of the tunnel. Whenever Hobbes did something naughty his way, we assigned him another job our way. Hobbes reacts violently to the presence of whips, so force is not an option.
Hobbes’ real name is Sixes Daredevil, which as the story goes, he earned after jumping off a loading dock as a weanling. I wonder if this had something to do with his attitude toward the two-horse trailer, but we will never know.
As the sun began to pass overhead, Hobbes crept into the trailer. He “whoa’d” for our prescribed amounts of time, and backed out on command. Ten seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds: When Hobbes could load and whoa for at least a minute, we shut the back gate, started the truck, and took him for a spin – a nice, slow, peaceful spin.
“You know, working with horses,” said Gregg as we drove home, “it’s like, different than owning a cat.”
Speaking of cats, we found our cat dead under the bed on Good Friday. No kidding. Spanky didn’t like to travel solo, either.
I cannot remember a barn cat before this little gray tabby, who wandered in to our workshop one February day more than 15 years ago. She was all ribs and had a blind, milky left eye. A client veterinarian blamed the eye on a fight. I could imagine other animals picking on this fistful of fur.
Spanky aced her barn cat job and dispatched many a mouse, but the next winter, she again pulled the pitiful card on a single-digit February day, and moved into our house. Spanky would still visit the barn as a volunteer, but preferred to spend her time as bed-lounger, confidant to my daughter, and oh yes, queen of the dogs.
As I said, Spanky didn’t like to travel either, and she outdid Hobbes in this department. Spanky would turn into a crazed maniac if you tried to put her in a carrier. Even if you wore gloves, you were in mortal danger because Spanky could wiggle out of any wrapped towel, knew exactly where to look for exposed skin, and didn’t care if it was your face or your neck. We learned to bring the vet and meds to her.
Spanky now rests under a rose bush. One little life passes, and another steps into the future.
Oh, and on working horses v. owning cats:
It’s a good thing cats don’t weigh 1,200 pounds.
They both like their faces scratched, just there, along the cheekbone.
Hobbes, purchased at the CSU Legends of Ranching Sale, continues to amaze us. Pairing Gregg, an owner new to horses, with a three-year-old was a gamble, but the other day, our suburban Poudre River bike trail proved no problem for this young Quarter Horse gelding.
Hobbes calmly and safely navigated cyclists, strollers, roller-bladers, pedestrians, wood and cement bridges, as well as a tree-root infested water obstacle. In the arena, he has mastered canter pickups, leg yields, and is working up to spins. Hobbes also spent an entire day recently herding cattle at a friend’s Wyoming ranch!
I credit much of Gregg’s success to the following:
Round-penning before riding
Using an experienced horse as a buddy
Being open to the voice of experience
Regular workouts for horse AND rider
Wearing a helmet. Yes, there have been a couple spills after we broke the workout routine, and it was cold, windy and close to dinner.
Stay tuned as we continue to work with this amazing horse!
What a great sale it was – a horse show the week before in which many of the sale horses competed, demonstration rides the morning of the sale, veterinarians available to do soundness exams, time to go meet horses and run our hands over legs before the sale, a well-run registration office, classy seating in a great stadium arena, many, many beautiful horses. All told, more than 70 horses went through the sale.
Mark your calendars for next year, and attend all phases. Even if you don’t intend to buy, you can learn a lot about conformation as it relates to function just watching.
And … meet “Hobbes” Gregg’s new horse! Three years old, a registered Quarter Horse gelding bred at the Purina Research Farm, well-started by “Danny” in the CSU colt training class, and a super disposition to boot! The first thing I did was hand Gregg my copy of Lyons on Horses, a must-have for all green horse owners. Stay tuned as Hobbes proves himself a horseback riding joy! P.S. His name? My daughter's idea: Because we already have a Kalvin!
(Karin Livingston is a career 4-H horse leader and the author of the young-adult horse novel, Winning Bet, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, IndieBound.org stores, and to librarians and retailers through the Ingram Book Group.)