Saturday, January 5, 2008

Wild Horse Ride

January 4 2008

The last few days we've been playing hide-and-seek with the storms, "winds between 19 and 24, gusts up to 37 mph," and have slipped out to ride. We're still riding on snow and trying to avoid the ice (been white on the ground for a month now!), and have had some still, beautiful days, though not above freezing.

Today, while the west coast and the Sierra Nevadas are getting bombed by wind and rain and snow, we were waiting on the wind to hit here "between 24 and 28, gusts up to 43 mph." Looked good this morning though, so we slipped out for another ride.

We decided on the Bilbo Baggins loop, via the Lamplighter Gate, heading north out of the canyon up onto the flats, down into a canyon over that way, back up onto the flats then drop back down into Bates Creek Canyon. Well, the wind was up on top, that's where the wind was. Apparently it's coming at a 90* angle to our SW-NE canyon. It's almost completely still below, with only the smallest whisp of a breeze occasionally poofing past the house.

Up on the plateau we had a stiff breeze to our back most of the way, and when we dropped down into the canyon, it was almost still again. Along the wind-shielded trail, in the distance we saw a few cows. "I'm surprised they're this far from the highway already," said Carol. Normally they like to mow down the grass along the highway for two months and scare motorists, especially on black nights.

As we got closer, "Those aren't cows, those are horses!" Wild horses - this far east!? Well, they belong to the Oreana rancher who also owns the cows, so no, they weren't wild horses. But try telling those horses that! We stopped, and Carol called to the 4 or 5 horses so they wouldn't suddenly spring up and scare Justy and Mac; and those 'tame' horses threw up their heads, whirled as a team, and sprinted for the Canadian border. They were turned out for the winter and no WAY were they getting caught by anybody already! Justy saw them and got excited, but Mac didn't see them, and anyway they were quickly gone over a hill.

As we continued trotting along the trail - the snow well pounded down by many horse hooves having hung out there quite a while - Mac noticed and smelled the fresh horse poop, moving along at a trot with his nose to the ground, inhaling the smell of the new intruders.

After a half mile, with the wind breeze now picking up from our right side, apparently that's where the horses were over the hill, because both Mac and Justy were looking right as they trotted straight along the trail, having picked up their scent. Another half mile and the hills beside us opened up, and we saw the herd a little behind us - not just 4 but almost two dozen horses - galloping towards us! Yikes!

Our horses stopped and turned to face them, very excited. Mac beneath me grew two feet taller and let out a great whinny, like I've never heard him do before. We yelled at the horses - I could just see this herd come galloping by us and sweep our horses along, while leaving me and Carol on the ground to contemplate the state of things.

Fortunately they were still suspicious of getting caught and veered away from us, galloping over another hill. I'd gotten my little camera out to take some pictures of the 'wild' horse herd on the hill with the snow-covered mountains in the background, but Mac, having finally found what he's really been looking for all along (ranch horses running wild), was getting more animated by the second. Remembering just 2 months ago watching Karen B's horse take off running and unseat her then proceed to run off and get lost for 2 weeks, I thought it prudent to put the camera away immediately and put both hands on the steering wheel. I didn't want to have to answer Steph when she next asked, "How's Mac doing?" by saying "Well, ask me after the spring roundup."

Both Justy and Mac stayed quite exuberant as we climbed the hill back up onto the flats, and there we had not only wild horse memories to deal with, but a taste of that wind advisory in our face. Earlier I'd been comfortable riding in 3 layers, being overcast and in the 30's with the wind at our back - but it was much colder now, wind speed blasting enough to drive the water from your eyes and snot from your nose and blow it sideways, and cold enough to numb your cheeks. Mac's snot was flying sideways too, and he turned his concentration from wild ranch horses (which we couldn't see or smell anymore) to keeping his head down against the wind and watching for icy patches.

By the time we dropped back down into Bates Creek canyon - where it was still as can be - I was quite chilled. Carol said "My thighs are numb. Does that mean they're gone?" We got off and walked home on the slick icy road, and there Mac had a bucket of oats then Talked Story about wild ranch horses to his own herd.

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