Trail Ride Encounters- Thoughts from a recent ride

This past week we had several days that really made one question living 20 miles east of North America’s largest sand dunes… Somehow it never occurred to me that what creates the sand dunes will also affect the surrounding areas; i.e. WIND!  We had one day with 20mph consistent blowing and up to 45mph gusts.  Yeah, really. 

Most of us who have spent any time around the “old school” barns will tell you wind is NOT your horse’s friend.  Just think of all the opportunities for “stuff” to go wrong; out of control blowing plastic bags, tumbleweeds the size of a medium dog carelessly barreling towards you and your horse (no matter where you move, the tumbleweed is guaranteed to hound you,) the local wildlife “aflutter” only adding to your horse’s current state of near panic, the barn door “flapping” on its frame causing an echo like “demon” to antagonize your horse, and so on.  You get the idea. 

Needless to say, for those of us that have been in a situation where you had a job to do, you could not use weather as an excuse to delay.  So as a side note I’d like to mention a huge “bravo” to those horsemen who brave the winds, whether in sub-zero temperatures searching for new born calves on the Kansas snow covered prairies, to those in northern Colorado where wind can take 1,000lb hay bales and toss them like bowling balls.  And those here in the Arizona desert, although severe temperatures aren’t usually the issue, the “sandblasting effect” in trying to function can be beyond frustrating and its aftermath of finding sand in every conceivable (and sometimes not so conceivable) place is exhausting! 

Anyways, needless to say the wind settled down to a slight breeze and although we had a 20+ temperature drop in the last day, the spring warmth once again found its way to our desert.  So I grabbed Pico (who was not too impressed with being taken away from his grazing time) and a few dogs and headed out for the normal “loop” around the block. 

For those who don’t know, where I winter is the lettuce capital of the USA in the winter months.  Although have some of the most barren stretches of desert in Arizona with summer temperatures hitting 120 degrees on a “regular” basis in July and August, we DO have agriculture due to the implementation of flood irrigating crops with water provided by the Colorado River.  One never is quite prepared to see thousands of acres of green as they come across acres of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, onions, hay, citrus and many other crops.  The shock is especially so when you remember that all of the growth occurs in the same desert that the military designates as their “final” training ground for officers about to be deployed to fight in our current war because of similarities in terrain, weather, etc.

It occurred to me that humans and horses have a habit of “getting comfortable” with their current surroundings.  I started noting the number of “obstacles” that appeared as we made our 1 ½ mile ride through the orange groves.  What seemed normal to us could have easily blown another horse’s mind.  Here is some of what we came across: discarded car and tractor tires (at five different places,) wood pallets stacked in random spots, four white tarps billowing in the breeze (used to help prevent leakage through the water gates when irrigating,) an array of trash and broken bottles, four foot wide circles of ashes and other left over burned debris from burn piles, piles of broken limbs the size of cars stacked to be burned in the future, a tractor dragging dead branches to a burn pile, another tractor with arms that swivel above it with sharp blades on the end used to “top” the citrus trees (think “Edward scissor hands” tractor,) the main irrigation canal (15 feet wide by 15 feet deep cemented canal, was only about half full today, but enough water to entice the dogs to endlessly jump in, splash around and then “pop” out – great desensitizing tool for young horses,) jackrabbits being chased out of the groves and inevitably aiming straight for your horse as they flee the dogs,  overgrown dead brush that has stickers so when you walk through it the stalks tend to “grab” your horse- usually the tail- and get drug along as you walk, our railroad tie bridge and chain-link gate we have to pass through to leave the property – it is over the small irrigation canal about four feet deep by five feet wide, etc. 

So you get the idea… up north encountering wild animals (deer, bear, moose, elk, coyotes, fowl, etc.,) water (creeks, rivers, bogs, mud,) woods (from new to old growth,) serious climbs in altitude, extreme footing from shale to dirt and extreme weather can also be the “norm” on a ride out.

I have found over the years the “flat lander” horses are shocked by the mountains, just as much the mountain bred horses are fearful of seeing for vast distances.

Years ago I spent a lot of time traveling to “non-Westernized” locations around the planet.  When you travel in those sorts of locations, you learn to expect the unexpected, and your “standard” of what you would consider normal becomes relatively less defined the further away from modernized culture you travel.  With that in mind take a moment to think about what things your horse considers as “normal” and perhaps certain circumstances that might cause a bit of concern for him.  Too many times we learn how to operate within the “safe” boundaries of our horse’s comfort zone, and then unexpectedly the day comes where we “change it up” and our “fun horse” “suddenly” becomes a fire breathing dragon.

I was recently watching old clips from the Extreme Cowboy competition and had also read an article on exposing a young horse to many situations to help him gain confidence from quality experiences.  I think now a days people have become more open minded to having a bit more versatility in their horse, rather than focusing on just “one” discipline.  Mentally, physically and emotionally I think this does wonders for our horses, but it is also great for us riders to “mix it up” a bit too!

Happy Trails,

Sam & Pico

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