Our stable may be a "peaceful place for you and your horse", but a hardy handful here also enjoy competition, often with an able assist from Cayla Stone. If you ever get a chance, you should try Moqui Meadows annual August show. Wonderful jumps and delicious dressage await ...
Kalinda Livingston on Kalvin, cross-country course, Moqui Meadows Horse Trials, August 2013. (Photos by Delani Miller)
Our show crew, a determined little band of riders, takes a break at the Moqui Meadows Horse Trials, August 2013.
What a lovely duo! Moqui Meadows Horse Trials, August 2013.
The handsome red fellow is Billy Blue, also a real-life horse star in the novel, "Winning Bet". (Moqui Meadows Horse Trials, August 2013.)
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.