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Trail Riding Adventures      By Bonnie Davis


"Trail Ride" notices are beginning to blossom on the barn’s bulletin board. In a few weeks the board will be covered with ‘em. All promising ‘hours of fun", "trail companionship", "scenic trails". Most are well planned but some will turn out to be true adventures.

Personally, I’ve only been on a few ‘group trail rides!. I’m not antisocial or anything. It’s just that I like to ride leisurely -- at a slow walk. Both Sig and Bud have trail gaits ranging between walk, amble and stop. On home trails, it’s a slow walk to the shade of a tree. Then it’s amble to the next shade tree followed by a few minutes of rest. And so on around the park. With all the ambling and rest stops, we don’t cover much distance but one can sure see the sites!

No hurry. Check out the flowers. Watch the clouds. Take a few hundred pictures. Enjoy! Trail riding isn’t a speed ride (unless you’re riding endurance or competitive) . Pleasure trail riding is slow down and smell the flowers type of adventure.

This smell the flowers attitude is the basic reason I don’t participate in more group trail rides. It seems regardless of the ride -- at least one idiot has joined in -- If not a complete idiot then a partial fool. In any case, this person can turn an enjoyable trail ride into an Indiana Jones adventure.

Last summer we joined in on a fund raising trail ride. Sounded like fun -- we could ride at our own pace. No groups. No bunches. Just saddle up, check in for a number and ride. Sounded simple. The only problem, this one person couldn’t find his ‘friend’.

They were to "meet on the trail". So this guy kept galloping up and down the trail looking for his friend. Every time he’d pass, he’d go by at a gallop. He’s just suddenly appear on the trail coming at you in a dead gallop. Or he’d approach from the rear in the same manner.

At switch-backs he wasn’t going to waste time following the trail. So he just went over the edge. He seemed to appear everywhere on the trail that day. The last we saw of him, he was still in the parking lot looking for his "friend".

Since I’m never in a hurry to get anywhere (I have been known to take four hours to cover two or three miles) I’m also careful about what riding group I get put in or who I ride with. Not because I’m a snob. Because some trail riders don’t appreciate my seemingly slower than a snail’s pace. Their horses keep chopping at the bit wanting to go. So go! Personally, I find it interesting to watch deer graze, baby hawks learn how to fly or ants moving in their winter provisions.

I bet you didn’t know it can take 45 minutes for a tribe of ants to carry off a small piece of peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Of course that 45 minutes depends on slope of terrain, weather conditions, traveling distance to the anthill, number of ants assigned the task and overall condition of the sandwich -- dry bread is harder to move than soft bread.

Not very interesting to some folks. But to me, it was not only interesting but educational. As for Sig, he didn’t mind standing in the shade while I sat on that rock studying ants.

Sometimes, trail rides aren’t to organized. It seems the trail committee forgets one small thing or another. Like trail markings. Tape. Even signs.

At one ride, I was told to "just follow the hoof prints. The point rider has preridden the trail. All you have to do is follow his hoof prints." I don’t consider myself a brilliant person but I do consider myself smart enough to follow a set of hoof prints. And I was doing pretty well, until I came to a split in the trail and found FOUR sets of hoof prints, all going in a different direction. The trail committee ‘forgot’ that OTHER riders were using the trail that day and entering from different trail heads. After a few moments of thought, I decided to avoid the decision. I just gave Sig his head and let him make the decision. If we got lost, it would be his fault. After all, what can you expect from a horse whose top speed is amble?

I found a couple of trails that weren’t on the map. Then came across four folks who were just as lost as I was. Left them after a couple hours. We couldn’t find any trees with moss growing on their North sides. Or even agree on which way North was. (I promised myself at that point that I’d never again leave the trailer without my pocket compass.)

Looking back over it, it wasn’t such a bad day. I found a like new, left handed glove on the trail that nobody claimed. put it in the trailer tack tray. Someday I might find a like new, RIGHT handed glove.

Sometimes other events are included with a ride such as a barbecue or a dance or an Easter egg hunt.

The Easter Bunny Ride was a ten mile ride. Each rider was to bring one dozen colored eggs. Once all the riders were back from the ride, the eggs had been hidden and the hunt began.

Rules were simple; eggs were hidden in the grass. You could ride to look for them. No running. Only one egg could be found at a time. Each egg found was to be taken to a specific site and each rider was to lead his horse when returning eggs.

The big problem began at the egg-turning-in site. It was off to one corner in a group of trees. And nobody had told us riders that the Easter Bunny himself was collecting and numbering each egg with a rider’s number for the final egg tally.

At first only one or two horses were startled by this six foot tall pink rabbit with long floppy ears, white tail and huge feet emerging from the shadows of the trees. But when seven riders and horses walked towards the trees and this HUGE rabbit came out of the shadows, all seven horses began rearing, bucking, pulling back and in general wanting to pursue their natural talent of RUN -- RUN FOR YOUR LIFE -- IT’S A GIANT RABBIT!

Six horses got loose and took off across the cow field. The Easter Bunny began loping across the field, trying to help dismounted riders catch their horses. Other horses catch sight of this HUGE rabbit ‘attacking’ their kin and they began to take off. For about 15 minutes the air was thick with snorting horses, yelling owners and more than a few unkind words directed towards the Easter Bunny who was standing in the middle of the field trying with all his will to look like just any other rabbit!

The Bunny could go nowhere except stand in the field. Every time he tried to retreat to the trees, a horse would see him and the equine would take off again. So the Easter Bunny was doomed to stand in the middle of the field until every horse was caught and declared safe by its owner.

Fortunately no horses were hurt. A few owners did show signs of wear and tear after being dragged a few feet across the grass and through a few piles of nonrabbit droppings. But some horses seemed to enjoy the whole thing. They snored and pranced around the field, circling the Easter Bunny with their heads high, tails flagged and nostrils flaring.

As for the Easter Bunny, he was last seen loping off into the trees with a couple dozen horse owners close on his tail. His fate was never known. But later that day after the barbecue, a set of long pink floppy ears and a huge white tail was ‘awarded’ to the guy who thought up having the Easter Bunny attend.

In all honesty to Ride committees, I will have to admit that the best laid plans can go awry. You know, the mice and men theory. I know. I’ve been on a Ride Committee...

To promote the opening of a Regional Trail and its development up Niles Canyon, the Tri-city Riders of Fremont put on a Ride-A-Thon. Total distance was 25 miles with the first 15 miles over developed trail. The last 10 miles were in and out of the Alameda creek, under a couple of bridges, a railroad trestle and. through the canyon on rough cut trails.

For six months we worked on the trail, clearing trees, cutting low branches, getting permission from government agencies along the route for the one day ride. Permission meant letters from water district, park lands, railroad, highway department and so on. We even spent days clearing the creek of large boulders, little rocks, bottles, cans, brush and building trail slopes in and out of the three to four feet deep water. We had anticipated, thought about, planned for and conceived everything that could possibly go wrong. Or so we thought!

The day before the ride, the trail had been preridden and marked with tape and colored flags. The morning of the ride, the ‘point’ had remarked the same trail with colored flour and chalk. And for constant communications along the route, a local CB club had members positioned about every half-mile up the canyon. So the ‘point’, ‘trail leaders’ and ‘drags’ were in constant touch.

Everyone was marveling at what a great ride it was. Dogwoods were in blossom. Wildflowers formed massive cascades of colors along the canyon walls. Even water in the creek had subsided to only a couple of feet.

As the ride left the developed section of trail and started up the canyon, riders were divided into groups of 10. Each group, had a ‘trail leader’. And to keep groups from bunching up at one, point in the canyon, they moved into the canyon at about 5 minute, intervals. And everything was running smoothly under the watchful eye of the CB radio members.

The first group of ten riders were splashing through the water when the ‘trail leader’ called a halt. He had dropped his radio into the water.

The second group of ten had started up the creek and suddenly came into the first group of ten. "Trail leader 2" radioed that the "first trail leader was busy in the creek looking for his radio". No big deal. Everyone was talking and laughing. Horses were splashing and drinking. And the CB guys had told the last 20 riders to wait "back in the trees on the other side of the meadow just where the developed trail ended".

It was just a matter of time until "trail leader 1" found his radio in the creek. And since I was near the end of the trail coming out of the creek and canyon, I just sat on my old horse, Sam, and waited. Waiter until this tiny little voice on my CB radio whispered, "TRAIN!".

"Train?! What train? There can't be a train. SP told us there wasn't any trains on this line on Sunday. I checked with them on Friday and they said no trains. What train are you talking about?" I instantly asked as I began to survey the tracks in both directions.

"That train coming around the bend behind you!"

Turning around in the saddle, sure enough, here came a train. It wasn't a diesel. It was an old steam engine pulling four old passenger cars for a local railroad club who had gotten permission to use the line that day for the initial run of their steam passenger service train. The SP dispatcher knew nothing of the steam train's run -- it wasn't in their jurisdiction I was later told.

From where I sat I could see the train about 800, 900 feet down the tracks. Tracks that crossed the trestle under which "trail leader 1" was still splashing around looking for his radio and some twenty horsemen sat casually in the warm rays of the later afternoon sun talking and laughing.

"This may sound stupid, but I think I hear a train", came the voice of "trail leader 2" over the radio. By now the riders had begun to hear the clanking, chugging, clanging, steam hissing of the engine as it rattled and shook along the tracks.

"What do you mean a train? There ain't no trains in this canyon," came the reply from "trail leader 3" back at the holding point.

"Well, if that ain't a train I"ve got hearing problems," came the reply from "trail leader 2".

"Guys, we got a train coming from the east and it will be over the trestle in a few seconds. Everybody stay where you're at and just hang tight," were my final words to everyone and anyone who could hear me over the radios as I took Sam down the track embankment, into the water and across to the other bank.

The train came chugging down the tracks and on the trestle it began dumping steam and blowing its whistle. The engineer waved he went by. Passengers hung from windows and landings clicking pictures, waving and shouting.

As the train disappeared around a bend in the track along the canyon wall its sounds were replaced with a lot of brush crashing and splashing water. People shouting "whoa", "look out", "stop that horse", "get off my feet" and words not kind to print directed at train personnel. Then suddenly, silence.

For a few seconds there was nothing. Even bugs had stopped buzzing. Birds had stopped chirping, There wasn’t a whinny. A splash. A word. It was silence. I sat on Sam and strained my ears to listen. Where was everybody? It was eerily quiet.

Suddenly, riders began to slowly appear over the edge of the creek bank. Wet. Dirty. Muddy. Some with twigs or weeds or wildflowers hanging from hair, cinches, between saddles and pads. Most were laughing. Some crying. Some scared. Horses were snorting. No one was hurt. Minor scratches. A few bruises. But no broken bones or serious injuries.

Ten or twelve people were completely drenched. They fell into the water in a panic to get off the horses and hold ‘em as the train crossed over head. One horse slipped on the creek bottom and fell in the water but his rider "stayed with ‘em". The only person missing was "trail leader 1" -- the guy who had gotten off to find his radio in the water.

We decided to send a couple riders back into the creek and find him, Most riders had mounted up and were ready to continue on. Weeds, twigs, dirt, mud had been removed from riders and horses. Pride was the worse injury for some and with others "this is the best darn ride I’ve ever been on".

As riders turned to ride out, over the creek edge came a hearty, "Where the hell do you people think you’re going without me?"

‘Trail leader 1’ had arrived! Him, horse and tack sopping wet. His hat and brim had been separated from each other on one side and the brim hung down around his earlobes. One shirt sleeve hung around his elbow. His jeans were caked with mud and dirt.

He received a resounding cheer from the group when suddenly someone said, "You’ve only got one boot on".

"Ya, I lost the other one in the creek. When that train went over Red here decided to take off. Since I was standing in the creek I didn’t have much choice other than to go with him. I don’t know which one of you tried to use us as a diving board but somebody stepped on my foot and pulled my boot off. I’ve been trying to find it down there in the water. Never did find the damn thing. But I did find this." 

With a grin he held up the radio he had dropped into the creek. It was smashed flat, back hanging open with water dripping out. "At least the club won’t be billed for loosing it. And it might work once it’s dried out. In the mean time, anybody got a cigarette?  I could sure use one."
     

  

Bonnie Davis is a Bay Area resident, free lance writer and horsecamping/trail riding advocate with over 30 years experience. Her stories, articles, and columns have been published in national and international publications such as Western Horseman, Paint Horse Journal, Horse & Horseman, Quarter Horse Journal, Western Side (Italy), Cascade Horseman, California Horse Review, Performance Horse Review, and San Jose Mercury News.  Bonnie is a featured speaker at the '99 and '00 Horsexpo in Sacramento.

Copyright ? 2000 Bonnie Davis and The Bay Area Equestrian Network. All rights reserved. The above article is the property of the Author and BAEN, and may not be duplicated or redistributed in any way without permission.