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.