Equestrian adventure: West Branch Trail, Colorado
Equestrian adventure: Molly Lake Trail, Colorado

Equestrian adventure: Bobcat Ridge

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 Natural Area - Valley Loop Trail - Fort Collins - Colorado - 80521 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 icon, I “caught” a deer leaping right in front of us. But wait, there is more. Billy continued his neck-craning, Bobcat Ridge, Fort Collins, Colorado, deer encounter Number 2 - MyHoofprints 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.

City of Fort Collins Bobcat Ridge link: http://www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/finder/bobcat

Try also - Equestrian Adventure: West Branch Trailhead

(Karin Livingston was a career 4-H horse project leader, and is the author of Winning Bet, a clean horse read for 'tweens and teens.)