Sunday, November 28, 2021

2021/11/28 Where the Wild Things Go

Seeing the wild Bucking Horses at Live Oak is always a special thrill. Tobe Mule gets very excited to see the feral brethren at play.

 For my birthday ride today we explored some canyons to the East, away from the lake, and saw beautiful stands of oaks bordering the Rancho San Fernando Rey.

It wasn't a long ride, it was very hot and we just wanted to be out in nature for a while, escapism for rejuvenation.

The kiosk at the trail head is getting more and more informative, although I have yet to see anyone reading it. Nor do I see anyone using the Iron Ranger to pay their fee. I prefer to buy an annual pass.

It is just a little creepy that there is now a skull in the middle of the information on the bulletin board.

There IS a lot of dying going on out here. The oaks are in a bad state. Apparently the manipulation of the water table with the lake level in the drought is wrecking havok with the deep root systems of the ancient oaks, and although I try to think positively that many of them look strong they are surrounded by many who are skeletal.
I've been riding out here for 16 years and the change in the oaks is very dramatic. And the Old Farmers' Almanac predicts that this upcoming winter is going to be blisteringly cold in all the rest of the United States except the tiny slice of Coastal Central and Southern California, which will be warmer than usual and DRY.
Looking at the very sparse grass available we wonder how the Bucking Horses manage to get enough sustenance to survive.

But on the hillsides, in the shadowed areas under the trees, there is still a carpet of green grass.
Of course the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and this trail led to a locked gate where the beautiful San Fernando Rey stretched off into the distance.
I once did an endurance ride there, Tobe Mule and I actually did a 25 mile ride! So it was my one chance to see that beautiful private world.

Trees like this always look like someone's home, the opening in the center like a doorway.

The drought has blasted off limbs, but some indomitable spirit is keeping it alive.

When Nature persists in the face of adversity we can all take heart.

Yet the piles of skeletons make this a boneyard ride.
This massive snag fell over onto a neighbor, and might create a convenient ladder to harvest the mistletoe growing above.

Tobe and I are both curious about what is over the next hill.
This healthy grove of oaks was such a pleasure to see, representing such a continuity with the past and their slow growing persistence.
This one gets my vote for best tree. I do a lot of Tree of Life tattoos, and this classic oak has just the right amount of balance without symmetry.
Can you see what Tobe sees, just above his right ear?
This coyote watched us for a long time, utterly unafraid and curious.
He knew we were no threat. We ambled off to follow Jamie and Mosca down the trail.

And to our surprise we found a watering hole.I have always wondered where the Bucking Horses go when they need a drink, there are very few places I have seen water on the property.
And then, all of a sudden, a band of mares appeared.
As soon as they saw us they turned to leave. They are often wary and sometimes curious. I take the opportunity to observe them but never approach them.
They headed off in the direction of the water, and we had run out of time and needed to turn back toward the trailhead.

That did NOT suit Marcos, who is a stallion and thought those mares looked very attractive! Muy hermosa y lista para el amor! Thankfully Noe is a very capable rider, so when Marcos does a dance he laughs and rides it out.
Mosca does have a bit of a crush on Marcos, she whinnies for him if he gets around the bend on the trail, and Jamie just laughs at her.
Of course I NEVER laugh at Tobe Mule, I wouldn't want to hurt his feelings, and besides I'm deeply grateful that his four good legs take me out to adventures such as these. He is my best ever birthday present from the universe.
So back we went, down the steep chalk hill, past the dry Santa Ynez Riverbed, and back to the trailhead for a snack and then home.
Tobe knows there are carrots and hay waiting, and a well earned rest standing untacked in the shade while the humans palaver.


Every person is the architect of their own fortune.

### FIN ###
###   <")*)><  PAT FISH  ###

Sunday, November 21, 2021

2021/11/21 Live Oak Life MeetUp

A fine day to take a leisurely stroll with the MeetUp through our favorite Live Oak trails bordering Lake Cachuma, the jewel of local riding opportunities. 

Five riders, 3 lady equestrians and 2 cowboys, 4 horses and 1 mule.

The day started in Santa Barbara morning fog, and felt like Summer was turning to Fall. But of course it is always a different world once you pass over the crest of the coastal mountain range, and back at Lake Cachuma it was 84 degrees and definitely summer.
Living a suburban life and working too much for the past several weeks, this is the antidote I needed. To look out on landscape instead of a computer screen, to see detail in distance.
People who visit the cities of California just don't know how much of the landscape is like this, no one home all the way to the horizon except the wild things and a few cows and horses. And for us in Santa Barbara, access is just half an hour away.

I did let out an audible gasp when we turned a corner in the trail and I saw that this tree at the bend in the trail had collapsed.

This is a photo I took in April 2018, when grass was lush and the tree was a perfect frame for the mist shrouded waters beyond.

The lake makes rides here so special, as we track along the sides of the hills and then loop back around to have a view of it.

When we get to a special vantage point with Cachuma in the distance I always like to take portraits of my riding companions, to gift them in thanks for being good company on the trail with me.

Noe Pena Alvarez is our very special compadre, riding his stallion Marcos.
Jamie Buse on her racehorse Mosca is my most dependable sidekick.
Victor Hernandez is a pal of Noe's, riding the borrowed Hurache.
And Christina Hernandez bravely set out for her third trail ride ever on the borrowed and very gentle Mariposa.
And of course there I am with Tobe Mule, living the life.
We tracked through the forest trails, descending 600 feet to the lake level and the wide plateau.

Directly past the coastal range is the ocean, but you'd never know it back here where in the heat it felt like we were exploring the Serengeti. 

And there, at the edge of the plateau, what do we see?

Jamie always has an eagle's eye, and not only called our attention to the bucking horses but also to the coyote who was hunting in the grassland near them.
These are horses that don't want to be ridden. So instead they live a wild life here, and are gathered up and taken to rodeos where they put on a lively show bucking off the brave cowboys who do their best to hang on 'til the bell.
They look mild mannered and peaceful, but don't let it fool you. They've been selectively bred for generations to buck-a-roo !

Horses like Marcos are also the product of selective breeding, but in his case the goal is to produce a magnificent war horse with energy and beauty. His mother is Mariposa, an Azteca, but his father was a full Andalusian stallion so he has 3/4 of the good looks and firey attitude of the Spanish horses.


Mariposa is a Mexican rodeo Azteca, meaning she is half quarterhorse and half Andalusian, and is the proud mama to Marcos. She definitely knows her job. She recently taught her owner's son Chewy to ride, and so she was chosen for Christina because she's a reliable ride.

Mosca the Horse Fly is an Appendix Thoroughbred, and she has the drive to race that should have led to a career on the track. But she wasn't quite fast enough, although we never remind her of that, and Jamie has her hands full keeping her at a walk on trails.
And then there's Huarache, a quarterhorse who was taught to do the Mexican Dancing Horse routine for parades and it stuck. So poor Victor went bouncing down the trail all afternoon. I counted, and Huarache took twice as many steps as Tobe mule did to get to the same place, with a little jounce with every step.

And then, of course, Tobe the hybrid whose mother was a Rocky Mountain mare and his daddy was a Mammoth Jack Donkey. He is gaited, so his ride is extra smooth, and he has a brain more like a donkey so he takes it all in stride. A most sensible fellow.

The Santa Ynez Valley Riders recently donated some picnic tables under oaks out on the plateau, so we diverted from the trail to check them out.
Unfortunately either the bucking horses or the resident deer have begun munching on the boards.
At this point Christina, who was being a good sport but was nevertheless quite the tenderfoot, decided she needed a break. So she utilized the picnic table to rest and hydrate and eat some candy, and we all agreed to head back to the starting point.
It was sad to see how many of the oaks next to the ones shading us were dead now. They live for hundreds of years, but in the past decade that I have been riding here regularly I have seen so many of them fail.

While we took the break I decided I'd photograph the saddles in use because they were so different in style.

First this fancy white Mexican style saddle that sets off Mariposa's dark coloring perfectly.

Another in Mexican style with red accents to complement Marcos's white color (when he does not have trail dust on him.)
And a third in Mexican style with the massive horn and fancy tooling for Hourache.
Mosca is sporting the ultimate in cowboy practicality, a very simple Californio working ranch saddle.
And of course Tobe is proud of his Colin Dangaard special, an Australian style saddle with the poleys in front of and behind my legs that are the Aussie version of a seat belt.

Rested up, we headed back to the rigs.
Tobe always has a spring in his step when we turn around. All equines like to think they are headed back to get the tack off and stand in the shade with some hay and carrots as their reward for work well done.
But there they were again
those bucking horses living large, 
and the tame fellows were were riding couldn't help but follow their movements with some envy.
Some even followed alongside us the length of the wide grassland, perhaps curious about what we were doing there.
In the entire afternoon we only saw 3 other equestrians and no hikers, so it really does feel very special to have this unique trail system to explore in quiet safety. 
In all of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties it remains the ONLY trail that does not allow bike riders, and we cherish the tradition that keeps this one a place where we can ride without fear of conflict.
I drew this logo last year for the coordinated effort to save these trails, and we persevere in our efforts to keep them safe.

 ### PAT FISH ###