The jewel of local riding opportunities was the chosen location, Live Oak Camp that never disappoints.
Outward onto the usual trails we will go, winding our way out onto the plateau and back.
Immediately after leaving the parking area we see a new sign on the trail, admonishing us to stay mounted and not swim in the Santa Ynez River.
Since we are upstream of Lake Cachuma, a reservoir and water source for Santa Barbara, in which swimming is forbidden, this might seem logical.
As soon as we get onto the trail system the reviving effects of recent rains are immediately visible.
This area has suffered greatly in the recent drought years, so seeing everything greening up for Spring is a real pleasure.
We know it will be brief, this verdant display of 40 shades of green.
But it puts an extra spring in the step of the beasts of burden, since they can anticipate rest stops along the way and a chance to snack on tender grass.
Now, alas, the group effort did not last. One pal of mine rides a horse who was, er, gelded a bit late. So he wants to be the Stallion in Charge, and dislikes seeing other horses in front of him. No worries, these two folks and I let the rest of the group head off ahead and we lagged behind quite companionably.
They are so graceful, and so still as they glide above.
They are only really disturbing when you see a large group of them circling. It is all too easy to imagine them with their opportunistic centrifugal attention focused on some tragedy below.Castilleja, was the first of the Spring flowers we saw, harbingers of the changing seasons.
We joked that it is tempting to call this the Dead Oak Trail, since it seems every time we come we see yet more of the hundred-year-old majestic oaks declining or completely dead.
We did meet just one group of hikers as we traveled along, and they were pleasant and receptive to my little pep talk about how to share the trail with equines in such a way as to keep everyone safe.
We did worry that hikers could pose a problem, but thankfully so far they all seem like very nice people.
" 'Cause nobody's there
Just me and my shadow
All alone and feeling... "
But when we come to a shady place like this, the humans stop for a drink of water and the creatures get a well-earned snack of grass.
Some trees we used to shade beneath are now just skeletons.
The crocodile trunk on the dead live oaks is so beautiful, the texture honed by decades of slow growth.
All in a cycle of birth and renewal, as are we all.
This tree, that marks the diversion of trails at the Bee Hole Corral, was a huge monolith when I began riding here 17 years ago.
Riddled with woodpecker holes, hollowed out perhaps by a lightning strike fire, it stood sentinel at the crossroads.
Now it is just a shell, a husk,
awaiting the day when it will become a fallen hollow log.
Just past the bee hole we come up onto the wide plateau at lake level.
Turned they were two charming fellows who were well versed in equine etiquette, so they stopped to chat and charmed the animals and humans.
They were preparing for a 50 mile marathon run, so they were doing the entire 17 mile trail system at Live Oak TWICE in one day to get in shape.
So that was an excuse for a palaver, and we got into many of the topics of the day. Something about fresh air and open spaces makes it easier to discuss politics without acrimony.
Like everyone used to be able to.
Like the squirrels who pivot and dash through the grasslands, popping in and out of their underground warrens. The holes are treacherous for equine passage, undermining the trails.
But no worries, the lake is placid and adds so much to the rides we do here. Whether seen from the close-up trails
I rode back with the couple we met up with on the grassland, and took their souvenir photo at the overlook
No dogs allowed at Live Oak!
We proceeded to double back on our trail, and once again crossed the mighty Santa Ynez River
"It's the way you ride the trail that counts."
-- Dale Evans
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