Saturday, May 23, 2015

5/23/15 Riata Ranch

A loop around the south western portion of the Riata Ranch. 
About 3 miles, covered in a little over an hour.

 Memorial Day weekend, and the CCCAHA, the Central Coast of California Arabian Horse Association,  held a fund-raising trail ride on the Riata Ranch in Santa Margarita. It raised money for the Lindamood-Bell Foundation for Learning and Literacy, so the fee went to a good cause and we got the rare opportunity to ride on a beautiful property.
 It was a chance for ToBe and I to pretend we were an endurance team. The group included 14 horses, mostly Arabians, and us. So off we went to look for the tiny strips of colored tape that marked the "trail."
 The extreme drought was very evident. The ancient oak trees are taking it in stride, but the grasses were burnt dry. Not to say they weren't a tasty distraction I had to be ever vigilant to keep ToBe from wanting to snack on.
 We went out in groups of 3-5, and I struck out between. That gives me the best of both worlds, ToBe and I can ride alone but we know there are others in front of and behind us. Here we are coming up to a watering trough where a few others are gathered.
 The trick with this kind of trail riding is that you are not following a trail, unless it happens to be something cows or deer have created. You are trying to squint to see the tiny flashes of color that indicate the route. Look closely and directly above ToBe's ears is a sliver of pink. 
OK, not too hard to see.
 But here the marker is that squib of dark blue hidden on the left in a branch. I think we missed a few of the blue ones. In a "real" endurance ride different colors are used to mark different routes, so it is quite a skill to be able to locate them accurately.
 Sometimes an easy path would present itself, but the ribbons would lead us off it, in the interest of presenting "trail trials" like asking that we walk over a log or down into a creek and back up. There were no judges on this event, but it was "schooling" for animals to get them used to the rigors of this sport.
 The terrain was a nice combination of oak woodland and open pastures, which looked tempting to want to move quickly across but were full of squirrel holes hidden in the grasses. Lovely to be on a sure-footed mule.
 I always like the phrase about this kind of landscape: "This is the California people came here for." And amazingly enough, once outside of the urban areas, there still is a huge amount of these acres on ranches that are pretty much the same as they always have been.
 Which is why I came on this ride, because these places exist but they are completely private, only seen by the owners and the ranch hands. This property is 2,000 acres and if we had gone just a bit further in this direction we would have come to the Salinas River.
 It is a splendid way to spend an afternoon, walking through a new landscape.
 A Kentucky mule man described mules to me once, and after I thought about it, he hit it right on the head. He said a mule is more like a cat. they know where their feet are all the time and they place their feet carefully, and most mules have a lot of movement in their joints. And he said a horse is like a dog ... they just blunder through and slam their feet down... don't pay much attention. 
 I'll vote mule.
 Like Agustus McCrae said in Lonesome Dove
"Ain't nuthin' like ridin' a fine mule in new country."
I do wish you could see the cows under that tree. They were dark and in the shade, and ToBe gave them an attentive gimlet eye as we passed.
 We came into a section of fences and pens, that set a boundary for our route. At the beginning we were told NOT to go through any more gates and eventually no matter how lost we got we'd find our way back.
 This is when ToBe had an "I told you so" moment. Those cows were on the moooove. 
He knew they were going to be trouble, and here they were, right in the way and headed somewhere with apparent purpose.
 His left ear and brain are still on the cows, but his right ear is listening to me tell him "Thanks pal, I see them too. Good job. But I don't think they'll be a problem." I really think that when he is worried about something if I acknowledge his awareness and let him know I see it too, it is like a barking dog relaxing as soon as he knows they and their owner are both aware of the potential threat.
 As it turned out the cows were headed in the same direction we were, back to the area we'd parked in. It was good to come around a corner and see the vehicles, and know we'd successfully circumnavigated the route.
ToBe at the efficient rig that transports us to these adventures. He got untacked and had a bucket of water and a flake of grass, and I had lunch with the other riders before we said our goodbyes. A most pleasant way to spend part of the holiday weekend, off the grid and away from traffic and frenetic hustle of the city.
And we will be back.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

May 9, 2015 Oso to Oso

The day started out at Rancho Oso, a Thousand Trails resort in the Los Padres National Forest in the mountains above Santa Barbara, Southern California. They offer dude ranch rides, and day-use pole paddocks for the convenience of equestrians wishing to access the mountain trails. They have covered wagons you can rent to sleep in, RV parking, and I went up to ride with someone who promised to be camping there. Well, no cell reception, couldn't find them...., ended up meeting up with some vet techs who had cared for my Irish Wolfhounds at their veterinary hospital, so in a twist of fate I rode with them.
Nice moment when equine hooves take you beyond the part accessible by vehicles. Turned out I was the one who knew the trails so Tobe and I led the way.
I chose a route that took us across the Santa Ynez River and up into the Lower Oso Campground, up the valley to the Upper Oso Campground.  5.23 miles, in a bit over two hours. A sunny day with a good breeze scudding clouds across the sky, climbing up into the rocky and dry landscape.
The signs of drought were obvious everywhere, but there were still brave pockets of spring bloom: monkey flowers and blue eyed grass, morning glories and blue dicks. But mostly it was sagebrush chaparral, that splendid smell that accompanies most of my trail rides into this beautiful landscape.
When we had climbed all the way up to the Upper Oso Campground the mules and horses were most grateful for the stock tank there. We let them cool off and rest, and then we turned around. The polo pony wasn't used to this much trail riding, and his rider was celebrating her 30th birthday doing something quite unusual for her, so following the guideline to always "ride to the least rider" I opted not to go further. It was a great feeling to know I was no longer the least among us, in fact I was the Trail Boss!
This photo clearly shows the extent that the devastation of the fires in this area 3 years ago is still very evident. Most of the biggest oaks did well, but smaller trees burnt to a crisp. They are making a good comeback, but with barely any rainfall they are suffering now.
When we crossed the river going up I didn't take any photos, it was all I could do to encourage Tobe to do his job and get us across. I told the group with blithe confidence that the river would be 1 foot deep, maybe 2. Actually, it was 3-4 feet deep and it was good that it was slow moving because the animals had to push through a lot of silt to make their way across.
On the way back Tobe was pretty sure he'd made it across before, so I could manage to both ride him and take a couple of pictures, but he did still need a bit of convincing. If that means I have to let a horse go in front of him to convince him that by being hesitant he loses his role as lead animal, well, that works.
And so we returned to Rancho Oso, waved goodbye to new friends with a hail and well met, and headed down the mountain for home.  Knowing that the trail will be there waiting for us whenever we wish to return.

One of the riders had a Go-Pro on, so here is a live action sample of the trail.