Happy 26th birthday, baby girl!
I seriously can’t believe my little pony is 26. She really doesn’t act like it, especially mentally, and physically, she still seems like she’s doing quite well. We just puttered around today, and mostly treated it as an excuse to overindulge her in carrots and apples and cookies.
But last weekend was her “pre-birthday” ride, and we explored a brand-new-to-us location: Coon Bluff out at the Salt River. I’ve ridden around several different areas at the Salt River over the years, including Bulldog Canyon, Blue Point, Stewart Mtn, Phon D Sutton…half a dozen staging areas all within a few mile radius of the same intersection. But Coon Bluff was a first, and we saw all new-to-us trails, and had probably one of the best rides we’ve had in several years.
Most of our group rides lately have been group ride, which are fine…it’s certainly better than not getting out at all. But they’ve never been our favorite thing, for many reasons. Mimi is competitive…she likes to lead, or be very close to the front. I am a chronic overly responsible worrier, which means I am always listening for every indication of possible equine shenanigans or trouble. In a group ride, I don’t always know the people and horses, or know their capabilities, so I have a hard time relaxing when I’m constantly on alert for how everyone else is doing. Historically, I’ve had the most enjoyment either on our own, or with one other horse/rider.
This time, wish granted, since it was just barn owner Chris and myself riding, and Mimi and Chris’s mare Tuudy are buds, but not excessively so. Tuudy also likes to lead, but they’re a good trail team in that they are actually able to trade off leading-following fairly happily, with neither of them really setting the other off or devolving into jigging fits. Which meant we both had a really good ride.
Chris had been to Coon Bluff a few times before, so she navigated, showing us access pints to the river, crossing points when it’s low enough, and a great mix of trails. The area is also host to the multiple mini bands of the Salt River Wild Horses. And they were out in droves that day. Super-proud of Mimi…she was curious, but happy to keep trucking by at a healthy distance away.
In fact, I was super-proud of her all day. My arms and hands were feeling pretty sore, and a firm grip wasn’t happening after a 12+ hour carpet and tile cleaning job the previous day, so I was riding with a loose/soft rein…big change of pace for me, the chronic “when in doubt, shorten the reins and grab harder” control freak. :/ And you know what? She did fabulous, including through some spooks and moment that rightly should have set her off (rattling truck with kayaks on top, off-roading through some rough stuff right beside the horses)m and then later meeting kayaks down in the river.
Kind of hard to believe that even at age 16, she was generating reactions to things like kayaks, enough to make me not want to be on her back at the time…bombproof, she certainly is not. And the funny thing is, even after what will be 23 years together this fall, I’m still learning how to be better…for her, with her. But this was probably one of the first times I’ve had that relaxed of a ride on her, that I didn’t micromanage every one of her reactions, and finally just trusted all of the work, training, and years together…to trust that she wouldn’t jig if I gave her a loose rein, that her spook at a plastic bag would be contained and in-place, that just looking at something meant that’s all she was going to do…just look.
The last year or so of catch rides I’ve done and horses I’ve ridden have done light years for my confidence and competence again. I mean, yeah, I still have plenty of self-doubts, and moments of wondering about myself and the sport of endurance, but it’s gotten better, at least.
Now, the whole Salt River area is one of those spots that doesn’t have much by way of marked, “official” trails. Some marked Forest Service roads (it’s all Tonto National Forest back in there), and a handful of short signed trails…and a whole spaghetti-tangle of rider-made trails and wild horse trails (that go under the mesquite trails that are tall enough to clear the back of a little 14hh wild horse…but not so accommodating of a mounted rider). So it helps to have a good sense of direction, and someone who has been there before. And even they, you might end up detoured and getting in some “bonus miles” because you have to keep detouring around the herds, and getting a little off track…
But the bonus miles meant we ended up logging a nice 7-mile ride.
And whoever says Arizona is a dry desert with no trees??? Liars. This whole area is mesquite forest, cottonwoods, and other shrubby vegetation stuff that is more than happy to grow near the river. It was an absolutely delightful little jewel of an area to discover, and I’m still amazed I hadn’t been to it before.