Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sierra Nevada Clinic 8-13-11

The third day of a Jerry Tindell Horsemanship Clinic in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno, California. We left our initial campsite and walked a 6.5 mile loop that we'd covered the day before, but this time working hard on riding skills as we went.

Length: 6.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. Trails largely roads with steady, steep climbs, several water crossings and high altitude vistas.

Altitude gain: 1070 ft 

Grade: II

View Sierra Nevada Clinic 8-13-11 in a larger map

 Starting out at the old ranch we marveled at the 140 year old buildings still standing. Built from timber harvested from these forests, sawn into planks at the mill that stood where we camped the first two nights.
 The stock tanked up gratefully at an old bath tub, ready for the long walk ahead.
 The old ranch buildings have seen generations of kids spend their summers here, learning to ride and rope, and countless cowboys stayed here when moving cattle through the area to winter or summer pasturing.
 Today Jerry had us focusing on getting the animals supple, bending their necks and directing their movement without resistance.
 We walked out into the forest, and saw the way the periodic controlled burning opens up the land for multiple habitat zones.
 This was a road decades ago, and the National Parks Service is coming through now and bulldozing the roads open again as fire breaks,
 The pile on the left is manzanita, pushed oout of the roadbed and will be burned in the winter when it is not a fire hazard to do so.
 This splendid horsewoman does packing with her Morgan horses, and brought two of them as loaners for the gals who flew in from Alaska. Why, she does things with these horses that others only do with mules! She takes them on challenging back country adventures and then finds grateful owners to buy them. She gave us talks throughout the clinic on the principles of "Gentle Use" and "Leave No Trace" that represent the tenets of responsible stewardship of the land that are espoused and embodied by the BackCountry HorseMen of America.
 We played a "game" that involved the first rider pulling off to the side and asking their equine to stand still and let all the rest of the group ride on past. We leap-frogged in this fashion, and it was astonishing how very difficult it was to ask for a stand stay from an animal that is very interested in maintaining its place with the safety of the herd.
 Tobe was doing all the hard work, and the only time we'd have a tussle was when I'd insist on a stop and stay so I could get his ears lined up just right for the photo. And he'd insist a stop meant an opportunity to snack.
 I have tried to make a video of the bobbing ears that are such a pleasurable part of riding on a mule. But the result is just too wobbly and would make a viewer seasick. As we proceed down a quiet path Tobe gets into a gaited rhythm that sets his ears to a loose floppy bounce. Then if something alerts him he is instantly pointing them both at it, like a dog on point, a strikingly different posture that is quite obvious.
 But on these walks if we were out in front setting the pace we were utterly relaxed. If we walked in the middle of the crowd we'd watch as some of the horses had issues, and their riders took advice from Jerry Tindell in how to "support" them and "not let them fail." Taking animals out of their "comfort zone" and into a far-away environment like this trip shows the owners the holes in their training, and is very inspiring.
But it is the sheer beauty of the land that is the calming and nourishing lasting memory. Traveling at the speed of a walking mule through a timeless forest gives space for the mind to soar.