The only thing better than doing a ride…

…is helping out at one. Or in this case, after one. Dad and I trailed the ponies up to McDowell Mountain Park yesterday to help de-ribbon the trail from the latest Valley of the Sun ride, which had been held Saturday.

A little bit of background history: we used to ride McDowell quite a bit, about 5-6 years ago. We stopped because the last time I rode, I nearly got dumped half a dozen times because of all the mountain bikes that kept popping up behind us, and every time they would so that, Mimi would aabout hit the stratosphere. Not my favorite cup of tea. Around that time, we discovered the nice, quiet San Tans. Well, sometime in the last five years, Mimi has learned to contain her reactions, and yesterday, when she spotted a biker, she would simply stop and look behind her, and we would move out of the way. Yes, horses typically have right of way, but McD has always been very popular with bikers, and with that many of them on the trail going at the speeds they do, it’s just easier to move off the smooth, wide trails and get them to slow down a bit as they pass.

Now, onwards…

We met up with Stephanie DuRoss and ride manager Irene Murphy around 10a.m. to get our trail assignments — we had a 14 mile loop in the northwest corner to de-ribbon. A good bit of it was on lovely, groomed, wide single track. I think we both ended up hand-walking about half of it, for various reasons: 1) some of the ribbons were clipped to really low bushes, and even Short Stuff and I couldn’t reach them; 2) Beamer was rather on edge, it being only his third ride out since October and full of energy, being in a brand new place, and having bikes jump out from beind him every 10-15 minutes; and 3) I’m doing my best to hop off and walk with Mimi in an attempt to bring her back slowly without overstressing her hocks. And packing my butt around for the entire very slow 14 miles fits the definition of stress.

The trail is absolutely beautiful, though. Small, undulating hills, twisting, curving trail, smooth, groomed. I can see why the finishing times at the first two VotS rides were fast. We got pretty good at “trot twenty feet and stop” because there were a ton of ribbons out there. Some of them I could snag on the fly, but both Mimi and Beamer got a wonderful session in manners and anti-buddying training. It was very difficult for the pony to stop at a tree and wait for me to get the ribbon while her brother trotted ahead to the next one. But by the end of the loop, she was stopping on a relatively loose rein, waiting for me to get the ribbon, and then waiting for my walk or trot cue before moving off. That alone was worth going up and de-ribboning. But the best was still to come…

We were about 3/4ths of the way through pulling ribbons, and were just coming off the smooth singletrack trai lwe had been on for the first 8 miles or so. We turned a corner, looked down a small hill into the sand wash, and saw a herd of wild mustangs!!! There were five of them in the herd, all congregating around the head of the wash, grazing on some sweet grass growing on the banks. They were completely unfazed by our presense. We stood on the hillside for a few minutes watching them, then made our way down to the wash. At this point, the ribbons were tied on, management having run out of clothespins to fasten them, so each ribbon required stopping at and untying or carefully ripping, trying not to lose little pieces in the process.

As we’re standing in the wash, yanking at ribbons, the herd starts moving around us. The lead mare walks across the wash to another stand of trees and more grass, followed by a youngster who looks like he might have been her baby from early in the previous year, followed by the stallion of the herd. He was phenomenally beautiful. Big — probably 15 and a half to 16 hands, beautifully proportioned, and elegant head, tree trunk legs, and the most perfect feet. All of them had feet that looked as though they had been freshly trimmed by a farrier. Talk about your perfect mustang roll.

There was another mare that was hanging back on the other side of the wash, and a young bay who looked as though he was about two years old. He started crossing the wash, stopped, loooked at Mimi, then started slowly coming up to us. I very quickly jumped off at this point, listening to the little vocie in the back of my head whispering “geldings don’t naturally occur in the wild.” Eep. Not wanting to deal with possible repuercussions of that particular meeting (Hmmm…Mustang x POA…that would probably be a fantastic endurance horse!), I stood in front of Mimi, blocked the mustang’s path, and directed him back to the other horses.

It was the coolest experience ever, seeing how the human body language-horse body language thing is so similar, and so effective on a horse that has rarely, if ever, had human hands on him. A strong block with the shoulders and upper body, one arm extended to suggest direction, the other arm used to move him along from behind. He looked at me, then slowly pivoted and walked back to the herd. That was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in communicating with a horse. I now see the appeal that some people find in working with mustangs.

As soon as the herd showed no signs of wanting to come back for more, we moved on (still hand-walking), and five minutes down the trail, come across a small herd of open range cattle! I couldn’t tell what kind they all were, other than a juvenile-looking one that I’m almost positive was a Brahma. He had the floppy ears and grey color. We stop in the wash, they stare at us, we stare at them. Pony gives the Patented Penetrating Pony Stare, guaranteed to wilt any cow standing in her way. It works. They turn around and scramble away, heading up over a little rise. The young Brahma bucks as soon as he reaches the rise, thus confirming our belief of how Beamer got him name.

Beamer’s registered name is Brahma PFF, and we’ve been in constant debate as to how his name came about. The first theory is that he is named after Brahma, one of the Hindu gods of what is their Trinity, essentially equivalent from what I understand, to the Christian Trinity belief. Or something like that. Eastern religions aren’t a strong point in my knowledge base. Considering his half-brother’s name is Shalom, we’re thinking there might be some exporations of Middle Eastern/Far East cultures here.

And then I met a Brahma cow a couple years ago. I’m thinking this is the more viable option. 1) They’re both grey. 2) Brahma’s have a large hump on their backs. Beamer has very tall withers. 3) They’re both very sweet-natured and gentle. They Brahma I met had the same soft look in his eyes as Beamer. 4) They both buck as though they’re trying to give the soles of their hooves a suntan. So there you have it: My conclusion? Beamer was named after a cow. *shuffles off to laugh hysterically*

McD is clearly a wild park. It’s over 20,000 acres, and there is a ton of wildlife there. We heard coyotes singing from about 4p.m. onward. I saw several desert cardinals fluttering around the trailhead that morning.

We finally finished around 5p.m. Clearly not hustling, but I was really happy with how the ponies did. They were both bright-eyed and full of energy when we got back to the trailer. They obviosuly retained their conditioning from the fall quite well. Certainly better than I did, as I am kind of sore and crunchy-feeling this morning as I sit and write this. It’s mostly sore seat bones and upper thighs, probably from too much sitting and slow-going. My knees were majorly sore yesterday as I was riding, but they’re fine this morning. I made the mistake of not dropping my stirrups to addomodate that much walking. I have them set for trotting, which is just a bit too short for that kind of sustained walking. My mistake, but they’re kind of a pain to adjust, because I have to get in under my full sheepskin to adjust them.

I’m cautiously very optimistic after yesterday’s ride, and although we’ll see how the next several weeks go, I believe I will be taking Mimi to the Valley of the Sun 25 in February! I’ll be taking Cindy’s horse Harley to Wickenburg at the end of this month to do the 25, but if all goes well for training and starting to increase the speed and distance with Mimi, we’ll be at McD in February!

And wouldn’t you know it…yesterday was the one day I didn’t bring my camera!!!

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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