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May 25, 2014: Horse Sense: Eklutna Lake

Two days ago I said that I was up for the challenge of riding out to Eklutna Lake. This turned out to be an instance in which I really had no idea what I was getting into. Otherwise, I would have bagged the idea and instead stayed home and rode the local trails.

Logistically, it was feat just getting this whole deal organized. Pete ended up riding his bicycle and taking Rainbow and Ryder along. He attached Ryder to his ski jouring harness, and later said that this worked out well. Our friends Claudia and Frank Sihler rode their two Icelandic mares. And Vicki Talbot’s husband Mike rode Lifre. This was so Tinni might keep Hrimmi company. Vicki caught up later

Frank and Giff

with us – she was late because she had to take Hunar to a dressage lesson.

My heart fell to my stomach the moment we pulled into the Eklutna Lake Trailhead parking lot. This was because the rather large lot was already jam packed with four wheelers, trailers, and morons. I momentarily hoped that there would be no place to park, and that we’d instead go home. But no, the very helpful state park employee found us a spot.

We parked and greeted Claudia and Frank. It was then that the fun began. We unloaded our horses and tied them up. The four wheelers were oblivious to the fact that horses were in the vicinity. There was considerable clanging and banging as they unloaded their machines, revved, up their engines, and headed out the trail.

Raudi watched all this and was as attentive as a horse could be without being reactive. Lifre just continued to eat. We all saddled up and then headed up trail. Machines began whizzing past, some slowing down, some not. We saw bear sign early on – that is signs that indicated that bears were in the area. The horses weren’t bothered by the bear silhouettes, nor by the bicyclists, hikers, or backpackers who seemed to materialize out of thin air.

I was more nervous in the beginning than my riding companions, all of whom were inexperienced riders. It was clearly an instance in which ignorance was bliss. Claudia and Frank don’t wear helmets, and believe their horses are bomb proof. And Mike is by nature a trusting guy. He just assumed that because we put him on Lifre, that Lifre was a safe mount. I know better. So I repeatedly reminded myself that my being nervous also puts me in danger.

The terrain was variable. We repeatedly yielded to the right, and rode on the side trails adjacent to the lake. Alas, they were ledge-like, crumbling, and narrow. I was fearful of these drop-offs, in part because they brought back to mind what happened to Mr. Siggi. So I repeatedly shifted my weight to my left seat-bone, did left side rotations, and breathed. This worked. Raudi snorted a few times to let me know I was doing the right thing. As it was, Frank’s horse Giff lost her balance on one edge, and slipped. Both she and her rider were okay; however, her pack load (which was heavier on one side than the other) slipped. Giff and Frank were okay, but this was a reminder to me how even on day trips, things have to be done just right. And Frank agreed that he needs to get a fish weight scale.

The further down trail we got, the less riff raff we had to contend with. Mike, Vicki, and I elected to turn back after going five miles, since it was getting late. Claudia and Frank, who were going to camp, continued on. By now the wind had picked up some, and it was a bit blustery. And the closer we came to the parking lot, the more foot, bicycle, and ATV traffic we encountered.

I have to say that most of those driving the motorized rigs stopped or slowed down. What, in this instance, was most disappointing were the majority of the bicyclists, who didn’t slow down or mention in passing that they were passing. The hormonally challenged males were the worst – quite obviously, the same biological chemicals that motivate the ATVers to move at a good speed are motivating them to do the same.

The horses continued to remain unfazed by all of this, none of them ever jigging, jumping, or spooking. At one point we passed 30 or so bicycles, which the beach goers had left at the trail’s edge. Raudi walked past them without blinking an eye. I then recalled that I’d trained her to be unafraid of bicycles by using the clicker.

As we concluded our ride, I thought about how all along, everything that Raudi and I had encountered during the course of our day trek was something we’d encountered before. We had ridden along Turquoise Lake, on yet another narrow trail, and there met up with bicyclists and hikers. And we’d also then had the view of the kayakers. And we’d ridden and camped in Taylor Park, the ATV capitol of Colorado. And we’d ridden with other horses and horse people. So, nothing was new. It was sort of business as usual. It was just that on this particular day, we had to deal with it ALL. If this were a test, she would have passed with flying colors.

I guess that, unbeknownst to me, we really have been moving forward. I have always been of the mind that perhaps this horse would be better off in the hands of someone who’d bring out the best in her. Now, every so often, I think that this person is me.

Next: 145. 5/26/14: Horse Training: Rosie Front and Center