Now the fun part….trail riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota
After putting shoes on our three horses earlier this week, my family and I spent some time enjoying the trails of the Black Elk Wilderness near our cabin. The trails of the Black Elk Wilderness are my favorite to train on- I've run over most of these on my own two feet.
However, until now, I haven't been able to share these trails with my family. They are not long distance ultramarathon trail runners like I am.
I believe strongly in wearing the appropriate clothing and gear for the task at hand. Obviously, I wouldn't dress this way going to the office or going for a trail run (it would draw a few stares however). Nor would I dress in slacks and a tie when going to a branding.
Having spent time in Nevada, the gear my horse has, the attire I wear and the style in which I ride is in the tradition of the Great Basin Buckaroo.
Most people, when they think of "cowboys" think of the rodeo or horse show crowd… two-steppers dancing around a dance floor….or "cowboys" portrayed on TV. They also usually think of someone from Texas. Although there is nothing at all incorrect about any of these perceptions- it is not the whole story of the cowboy in America.
Don't make the mistake of calling these men and women from the Great Basin "cowboys." They'll look back at you with contempt: "I'm not a cowboy, I'm a Buckaroo!"
Long before the west was part of the US, it was part of Old Spain. The vacqueros or "Californios" trained their horses in a responsive style of reining well-suited to working cattle. Their tradition had been passed on to them origianlly from the Moors. The modern reining horse is a remnant of this. However, on many ranches in Nevada, parts of California, eastern Oregon and south-west Idaho- the original tradition of the Buckaroo lives on.
In the photo above, you can get a closer look at the "double rein style" I ride in. Horses are started in a woven rawhide bosal which is slowly decreased in size as the horse is trained until it is pencil thin. The horse is introduced to the bit, in Lady's case a custom made silver spade bit.
To ride a horse in this style takes a gentle hand, calm personality and soft touch. Horses trained in this style are among the softest mouth, most responsive you'll ever be around.
No one, but no one rides Lady but me. I'm the one who trained her…so I'm the one who rides her.
Nothing personal- it's just that I trust only a very few others to be able to ride her without abusing or misusing the bit. A spade bit is a tool just like a surgeon's scalpel.In the hands of the skilled and experienced, it can enable one to do some amazing things- but in the hands of someone heavy-handed or inexperienced it could be an instrument of torture.
Nathan has been riding around our place but today was to be his first real all day ride on the trails. I wanted it to be a fun experience for him so he would look forward to doing it again,
His horse was our beloved 20 year old quarter horse gelding, Jezzy. A steady, experienced horse is the best for a young rider. When Jeanne and I spent six months riding up he Continental Divide Trail with horses and pack mules in 1998, often it was Jezzy who was the only animal to remain calm in stressful situations.
Jeanne rode our other horse: Brandy.
Although Brandy is a very good horse, she is still a bit spoiled. Sometimes she doesn't pay attention and will walk right off the trail. However, she is not mean nor does she have any other bad habits. If anything, she is very curious which sometimes causes her to get into trouble. Just like humans, no horse is perfect.
I think she simply needs some more hours in the saddle. We acquired her after our 1998 trail ride so she doesn't have the wealth of experience in the mountains that Lady and Jezzy do.
We parked our truck and trailer at the Iron Creek Trail Head and rode in on the Centennial Trail #89.
As I said, I have run on my own two feet over these trails. What still amazes me is how a trained human can actually go faster and farther than many horses especially over rough ground.
Even a slow human like me.
I could've covered these trails much faster running than riding- but I enjoyed the change of pace and spending time with my family.
We stopped to rest and eat a snack at a place overlooking Mt Rushmore.
If you look carefully, in the photo above you can see Mt. Rushmore in the background. It is the rock outcropping just over Lady's saddle that can be glimpsed between the trees.
Of course the resolution is such that you cannot actually see "George and the Boys" in this photo.
After riding on the Centennial Trail for a few hours, we did a loop back over Horsethief Trail to Grizzly Bear Creek and then back to the truck.
At one point and thunderstorm rumbled overhead. We were fortunate to not get rained or hailed on.
Nathan really impressed me.
As soon as we turned on to Grizzly Creek Trail he said, "Oh, I know this trail!" Even though he had not been within a mile of that particular fork, nevertheless, he reconized immediately what stream drainage we were in and which direction was the way back to the truck. He has an excellent sense of direction. I'd like to think he gets at least some of that from me.
The last three miles, Nathan and Jezzy lead the way. Instead of complaining about how tired he was or how long it was taking, Nathan hummed and singed and pointed out the sights.
Many adults wouldn't have been doing that at that point!
After six hours of riding we finally made it back to the truck. I estimate we went about 12 or 14 miles. It was a great ride and a great way to spend the day.
We look forward to when we can do it again.