𝐂𝐎𝐍𝐐𝐔𝐄𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐎𝐋𝐃 𝐅𝐄𝐀𝐑𝐒 𝐀𝐍𝐃 𝐍𝐄𝐖 𝐓𝐑𝐀𝐈𝐋𝐒 𝐖𝐈𝐓𝐇 𝐑𝐌𝐁𝐂𝐇
𝘣𝘺 𝘏𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘓𝘦𝘦𝘮𝘢𝘯 Aug 23
Our second in a three-part series, Brighten the Sangres welcomed several new riders to the Westcliffe area for some adventurous riding and camaraderie. Many have been interested in joining us for a while, and finally found the courage to come see what we are all about. Of course, this weekend is meant to be a time to beautify our gorgeous trails, and help the Forest Service (FS) to clear deadfall and other trail obstacles. Our goals for this year include increasing the amount of volunteer hours the chapter records in the wilderness (we logged nearly 2,000 hours last year!), so we made sure to get out there with our reliable Silky Saws. I brought my new seven inch blade to try out, and it could still cut through some of the smaller downed trees despite its small size.
Luckily, we also had the help of Trails For All, a grassroots hiking crew out of Westcliffe that has been out working since springtime. We had small riding teams at our “Assess the Sangres” event in June to get the ball rolling, so many of the trails were open to ride several weeks earlier than last year. We explored Macey Lake trail on Friday, Lakes of the Clouds on Saturday, and Crystal Falls on Sunday. Each day had nearly perfect weather, and every non-equine trail user we met was complimentary of our noble steeds and extremely considerate of the needs of equines.
Macey Lake is an amazing trail ride that only gets technical and challenging in the last mile to the first lake... but truly it goes from a casual high elevation stroll to a seriously difficult trek for both horse and rider. This year, the trail after Copperstain Cliffs (about 5 miles in) has some new unique obstacles that are very very complex. For example, we sent the GPS location of a massive rootball to the FS, letting them know that even small horses struggle to squeeze themselves through this little spot! It is rideable, but much safer if you get down and lead your horse from one side to the other. Just make good decisions if you choose to attempt this trail in August, as it will test you and your equine’s skills and partnership.
Going up Swift Creek to see Lakes of the Clouds shaved over a mile off the ride on Saturday, and has some lovely scenery as well as a nice drinking spot as you cross the creek toward the top. This way will save you some time, but it is a steep and rocky road for an unconditioned horse. Unfortunately, it looks as though several upper segments of LOTC trail has seen some fluctuation due to landslide rocks loosening and shifting, causing some areas to be demanding on large horses who may have to scramble over loose rocks while making tight switchback turns. It is recommended if your equine is new to this type of riding, to give them a chance to attempt it without a rider the first time. Our little group came across all kinds of hikers and campers heading for the lakes, even a group of “flatlanders” with a cat that made the trip as well! Unsurprisingly, the feline was disinterested in meeting our horses and just wanted to watch all of the trout jumping for food in the lake.
To end the weekend, we headed to Grape Creek Trailhead to see Crystal Falls. It is a bit of a long drive on a bumpy dirt road, but it has a ton of parking space, as well as one large corral. Crystal Falls was a nice and easy ride along the southernmost part of the Rainbow Trail. A straightforward jaunt on a mostly smooth and sandy two-track trail, where we only came across one group of ATVs. We met them at a point in the trail that was impossible for them to pull over and make way for horses, but they cut their engines and politely let us pass close to them without issue. Once there, you can tie your horse to a nearby tree and hike a few hundred feet in to see the falls. I suspect that hikers actually climb an adjacent vertical “path” to get to the top of the waterfall... definitely not for me!
After each ride this weekend, members gathered in the WMVSC to share funny stories, swap delicious recipes, and formulate new plans to ride together. All in all, a wonderful weekend with new and old friends of RMBCH. We hope to see you at the last event of the series, Celebrate the Sangres, on the weekend of September 22nd.
July 10 - 𝐆𝐄𝐓𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐒𝐓𝐀𝐑𝐓𝐄𝐃 𝐖𝐈𝐓𝐇 𝐄𝐐𝐔𝐄𝐒𝐓𝐑𝐈𝐀𝐍 𝐂𝐀𝐌𝐏𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐁𝐄𝐂𝐀𝐔𝐒𝐄 𝐎𝐅 𝐑𝐌𝐁𝐂𝐇
-𝑏𝑦 𝐻𝑖𝑙𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑦 𝐿𝑒𝑒𝑚𝑎𝑛, 𝑃𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑑𝑒𝑛𝑡
Years ago, when I was first introduced to Rocky Mountain Back Country Horsemen, I was just looking for a horse to ride and local places to explore. I had no idea just how much I would learn from this group of horse-crazy, back country obsessed volunteers.
My first equine camping experience in the fall of 2019 was overwhelming, to say the least. A friend and I loaded up our horses, hay, grain, blankets, and just about anything we could think of that the animals might possibly need. I am not kidding when I tell you that we were full to the max for a three-day weekend of camping at Booger Red. Buckets, hay bags, water, banamine, bute, electrolytes, sleeping bags, extra socks, ropes, bacon and eggs, Benadryl, you name it, we brought it.
Without any real equine camping experience, we just didn’t know what we would need and we didn’t want to be without something important. Even with all of this stuff, we still didn’t have everything we needed... turns out if you are going to highline your horses, you need swivel clips at each end of the lead rope so your horse doesn’t choke itself from walking in circles! Luckily, more seasoned RMBCH members were prepared to loan their spares.
When I tell you that camping with horses has a steep learning curve, I am not exaggerating. There are so many things we didn’t even consider until we were out there setting up camp... like where were we going to set up the highline? It worked out that we had a couple trailers we could line up and scramble to string a line between (first photo) for the horses to happily eat, drink, and sleep together.
After a nice long day ride, we got everyone tied up, fed and watered, and climbed into the camper to get a good night’s sleep... or so we hoped. Of course the wind picked up on that chilly October night, meaning we had to get up and quickly throw blankets on the horses. Next time, we promised ourselves we would check the overnight weather, and align the trailers so they would be a better wind break for the mares. Back to bed... until we felt a… “tug” on the camper...? Yes, at 2AM, my “starving” horse was out of hay and decided it would be a worthwhile effort to try to drag herself to the other horses’ hay. So back out to the highline, tossing her some extra hay, and finally back to bed for the night. Next time, I promised myself I’d be sure to overfeed her so I could stay in my warm sleeping bag for the entire night!
Fast forward four years, and I’ve come a long way in how I camp with my horses, learning by doing, learning by messing up and trying again, and learning from others more experienced than me. One of the best things I did was to plan ahead with a detailed camping checklist (inspired by TrailMeister). Rather than bringing “everything but the kitchen sink,” I have a list of the exact things I need for myself, my horses, and my dogs (if they join). For a disorganized brain like mine, this has been a game-changer in terms of streamlining the "load n go" process. I also purchased duplicate items such as toothbrush, phone charger, sunblock, lip balm, so I don’t have to remember to grab them from home every time... I have a little travel bag with all of those necessities ready to go.
Nowadays, I always bring a couple different ways to contain my horses in case there aren’t any corrals. Remember, if you plan to highline, hobble, or use electric fence, be sure your horses are well trained to safely and respectfully use any of these methods of containment (you'll see in the third photo that my horses enjoy their electric fence space the best). When we are out at a “boondocking” (dry camping) site, I have to be completely self-contained so I have acquired a lot of stuff that allows me to do that. Several important things I can't do without include a portable battery jump, lots of solar-charging lights/power banks, a hundred gallon soft water tank, a quality Silky saw, and my Zoleo satellite communicator.
Yes, it still can be overwhelming at times, but the wilderness I have been privileged to see on horseback more than makes up for the long days of driving, setting up camp, and bug bites. I got myself a swanky zero-gravity camp chair to relax in after a long day ride, so it’s all good baby.