The day started with a pre-dawn meet up at Santa Claus Lane, where Tobe Mule & I reconnoitered with Cowboy Bob and The Dutchess. Then we headed off to the upper reaches of Los Angeles, to try our luck at a trail trial put on by the Equestrian Trails organization.
We started getting ready very early, so the sun was rising for us on the coast. A pre-dawn departure adds to the excitement of doing something new, like riding a trail I've never been to, when I have to get up and load up in the dark. Someone had parked a black truck at the ranch right where I usually swing my trailer around, so it was a VERY difficult task to be able to drive in, swing into position, and then load up the mule... all in pitch black. I did it, under the scrutiny of Tobe and his paddock mate Zo, who watched with great interest as I inched the BrenderUp around.
This is the map that was posted at the check-in. Cowboy bob snuck a forbidden photo of it, and then used his iPhone to make the map above. They wanted us to forage blindly forth and follow the pink ribbons that guide the course. Fortunately we rode out with a gal who was an old hand at these things, so she told us that we follow the pink ribbons and if we see a blue one that means take a turn. Otherwise we would not have known that important detail!
The beginning of the trail was marked by a ghost, a literal opportunity for de-spooking.
Then we went under Foothill Blvd. and the 210 Freeway and out into the wild land that is part of the Hansen Dam flood basin. Going from bright sunlight into a dark tunnel with trucks and cars booming past above, with water and rocks underfoot....... Let's go!
Once out on the other side we were in a gravel wash,
with the dam very far in the distance. Here's Bob & Susan coming down into a lower arroyo, as Tobe & I watch with interest how nicely herself The Dutchess is performing.
This was the first trial. The gal with her horse in a SuperHorse breast collar was the only one I saw who came prepared to compete in the costume contest. Automatic winner!
As "novices" Bob & Susan were required to walk up the hill on the easy slope, to the right. As an "open" contender I was required to smoothly climb the steep slope on the left. Tobe, being an equine ATV, performed perfectly. Then I found out I was docked two points because I did not check my cinch before the climb. Seriously? Them's the rules. If I had to do that on real mule rides we'd never get anywhere.
Then following our little pink ribbon guides we descended into a lush world of muddy trails and streams. I was shocked, simply shocked I tell you! In my part of California right now it is a complete drought, and yet here we were giving the animals lots of training on bravely walking through mud obstacles.
This was the backing up trial.
We had to navigate between cones, take a turn, and continue on an angle. All the while in deep mud and between closely spaced trees.
Tobe and I share the ability to do things backwards, so we did just fine.
Next we tracked along a cement reinforcement with a road above, that had some interesting graffiti on it. Now this is the Los Angeles one expects.
Then back into the forest. The water made it very lush and cool, stark contract to the desert terrain up in the wash. The difficulty here was keeping a sharp eye for the trail markers. I was happy to lead, but more than once Susan or Bob called out to me that I'd missed a turning.
We did a mailbox trial, sidepass over and get some candy, then sidepass back, and then we came to a mud crossing that I made a big error on. I figured if the deal was to cross mud, and the mule wanted to drink, I'd tell him to do it later and get to the task. Oh no, that's wrong, I got points off for his "refusal." I felt slightly better when Susan said that on the other trail trials she has done you get docked points if you DO let them drink at an obstacle.
Again, I shoulda read the rule book, and would have...... if I'd known there was one.
On we went through more mud.
And through massive cane breaks of Arundo donax, the massive perennial grass that can grow 30' high. It is Tobe's favorite snack, but he is not allowed to munch on the trail. He has important decisions to make about where he is stepping, and I can't have him distracted.
Then up we came out of the watery zone and immediately we are back in desert terrain. Those are the San Gabriel Mountains to the northeast. This area was the site of a huge 6.7 earthquake in 1971, that shook me out of bed where I was living 30 miles away.
The next trial was to stand your animal within 4 cones calmly as the trucks roared by above on the freeway, and recite the names of 4 poisonous plants you might have seen out on the trail. I should have gotten bonus points for even knowing the Latin names: Toxicodendrum diversilobum, poison oak; Nicotiana glauca, tree tobacco; Datura stramonium, datura; and Ricinus communis, castor bean.
THIS trial I aced, and thought was a really good one, useful knowledge.
Now there is Bob getting demerits for not having a rope halter, a lead rope, or a hoof pick. Sheesh. I had the first two but not the pick, so I didn't get past this judge either.
Now for this Hallowe'en themed obstacle Bob had to lift up the "witch" on a rope (a plastic bag stuffed with rags with a mask) by backing up slowly, and then drop it. He actually did the harder version that I was required to do, walking forward slowly to lower it.
In what universe is is a good idea to ask your animal to hoist something like that and then wooosh drop it suddenly? Uh, no thanks !
Back to search for the tiny pink trail markers.
We all aced walking over a bridge made out of a pallet, then opening and closing a rope gate in a fence.
Then the last obstacle required us to drag a log. Somehow I've never
tried to do that with Tobe, but Bob had practiced a lot for the Fiesta
contest this year so he did it very well.
He was required to drag the log 50', turn around, drag it back.
Now Tobe and I, as open competitors, had to drag it 50' going backwards then walk forward and drag it back up.
No practice, but no worries.
THIS is my score card. A 2 means 2 OFF the possible 10. A zero means perfect. Lysdexic horror. So I got 14 demerits out of 100 possible, for a true score of 86. But the judge of 8 put no number, and when we got back to the parking lot the judges were arguing about the scores and talleys and hey, we didn't stick around to see if we won anything.
Later I was told by the organizers I had a score of 16 in Open which put me in 8th place.
Bob got 23 points and finished in 16th place in the Novice division.
This scenic Hallowe'en style ghost tree definitely cried out for something spooky in the roots.
I think had I been organizing it I'd have gone a bit more overboard with the seasonal theme.
A beautiful landscape, filled with the glorious variety that only a slow walk through the desert reveals.
Such a nice day, a little bit challenging but overall a good time was had by all. Thanks to my pal Bob for making the trip with me, and always being a sensible and careful companion in any situation.
Another lovely adventure in the open spaces, thanks much to my mule Tobe.
hybrid animal, the offspring of a horse and an ass. "The mule is a remarkably hardy, patient, obstinate,
sure-footed animal, living, ordinarily, twice as long as a horse." It was forbidden to the Israelites
to breed mules, but sometimes they imported them. It would appear that
only kings and great men rode on mules.
pered), so called from the quick step of the animal or its power of
carrying loads. It is not probable that the Hebrews bred mules, as this
was strictly forbidden in the law ( Leviticus 19:19 ), although their use was not forbidden. We find them in common use by kings and nobles ( 2 Samuel 18:9 ; 1 Kings 1:33 ; 2 Kings 5:17 ; Psalms 32:9 ).