Ever since the possibility of horse ownership was finally going to become reality, over 4 years ago, I have bought, read, and earmarked some of my favorite books to keep track of a number of places I hoped to ride someday.
(These are my three favorite books for hiking and trail riding.)
They were dreams and goals placed on my Bucket List, all hinging on my abilities, skills, confidence and drive to make it happen. But most of all, the accomplishment of these goals depended upon the ability, willingness, and confidence of my future horse. I learned the hard way that my first horse was not going to be that horse, because Baby Doll, wasn’t willing, content and relaxed when I took her on a trail ride. Not only was she unhappy on a trail ride, she was also very spooky. And when she spooked, she spooked big!
So, I re-homed her to a family that wanted to give my mare a laid back arena life, and I went horse shopping and ultimately came home with my sweet, little, wonky-looking, big-headed, pinto mare, Apache. We went through a few rough periods as we got to know one another. She had some trust issues that I had to learn how to understand and help her and I work through. But because of my own trust issues, I found that it was easy to understand her once I started seeing the way that she viewed things. That was over 2 years ago and I can now say that my Apache mare is my equine partner. We both have come a long way in building a trusting relationship together.
And thanks to my trusting, confident, willing mare, one of the dream rides on my Bucket List became a reality this week!
A friend of mine named Peggy, whom I’ve known for several years, has been doing a lot of local riding, and invited me to come ride with her high up in the Sandia Mountains, where we could escape the heat and ride beneath the tall pines and Aspen trees. I asked Peggy if she’d mind me inviting my friend Kendra to join us, and she thought it was a great idea. So, on Tuesday morning, Kendra came over with her boy Bailey, Apache’s BFF, and we quickly got Apache and my tack loaded and drove the 30 minutes to the 10K Trail head.
I’d tried to pay attention to the many trail markers just in case we got lost. We were in the wilderness, after all.
(Below, we were at the 10K/Osha Loop Junction)
A funny story pre-ride: Kendra confided in me after the ride, that she hardly slept all night and had an upset tummy in the morning, worried about how her horse would behave and if the ride would end badly. She told me that she had almost called me up in the morning and cancelled. I was so glad she had shared that with me, because I had experienced the same restless night, the worrying and the upset stomach…and yes, had almost called and cancelled! haha!
But we were both so very happy we didn’t!
(Kendra and Bailey enjoying the views from Agua del Rio Overlook about 10, 600ft elevation)
So we arrived at the trail head trailer parking lot, and Peggy, Kendra and I got our horses tacked up, and then crossed the road with our ponies. We mounted up at the 10K trail head where there were some perfectly sized mounting boulders, and then we began our ride.
Apache was nothing but calm, patient, and curious from the time I unloaded her to the time I mounted up. And even when a motorcycle zoomed loudly right by us, she just quietly looked, and wasn’t a bit worried. (Can I just say again how thankful I am to have a horse that’s not high-strung and spooky?)
And after we had covered several miles on the trail, Apache and I were bringing up the rear, as we often do when riding with others, (Riding way in the back is my way of enjoying the feeling of solitude, even when we ride with a large group), when just above us and behind my right shoulder a loud burst of noise erupted as several Abert’s Squirrels tussled and argued as they raced up and down a pine tree.
The sound startled me, but Apache just tipped her ears in their direction and glanced sideways, but kept plodding calmly along. I was reminded of how my previous horse would have surely bolted and galloped down the trail or off the side of the mountains if the same thing had happened.
(Apache and I enjoying the views from Agua del Rio Overlook)
I brought my GPS because I wanted to track our ride, but I forgot to even pull it out of my saddle bag. It was just as well, because I was later told that GPS doesn’t always work well due to the huge Communication and Radio Tower Complex up on the top of Sandia Crest. But after searching through my Hiking New Mexico book, I’m pretty sure that our ride was between 8-10 miles long. I made sure to give Apache a small dose of bute for her shoulder arthritis, before we started out on the trail. I always take ibuprofen before I ride so I figured it would be a good idea to give some bute to Apache. It was a good thing, too. Apache was never gimpy or sore during or even after the ride. In fact she seemed like she was in her element and was content to travel steadily down the trail, which made me very happy.
(Apache was very curious about the towers because of the loud humming noise emanating from them)
I really enjoyed riding with Peggy and Kendra. They are both thoughtful riding buddies, easy to talk to, laid back, and fun. All three of our horses get along really well, too.
(Peggy and Kendra)
(Me and Peggy)
All of our horses were very laid back, willing, and happy to lead, follow or ride in the middle.
There’s a lot to be said for being able to ride with people whom you get along with, but if the horses don’t get along, that can make for an even worse experience.
(Peggy’s boy Joey and my mare Apache got along wonderfully, even though it was their first time riding together)
(And my Apache mare and Kendra’s Bailey boy are good buddies)
But there were a few challenges along the way. For instance, my Apache mare doesn’t neck rein very well, so I can’t just sit back and steer her with one rein or even just my legs when we are riding trails that have trees right beside the trail….or else I could lose a kneecap.
(And yeh, I did come home with a few bruises on my knees and lower legs) Sometimes I have to laugh, though. Because I’m pretty sure that Apache does it on purpose if she thinks I’m not paying attention or taking too many photos, and not actually focused on her. She performs so much better with constant praise and communication. So, it’s good incentive for me to not get too lazy in the saddle and actually be with my horse.
(This is one of those ‘thread-the-needle’ type of narrow openings that the trail traveled through…a double whammy to your knees if you’re not paying attention!)
Kendra and I did this a lot. She was taking a photo of me, while I was taking a photo of her! haha! It was fun to share our photos after the ride and compare the different perspectives.
There were also some other challenges, too. Most of the trail wasn’t very strenuous with just a gradual incline as we made our way to the top of the Sandia Crest, but there were quite a few rocky ‘steps’ that we had to climb up. Thankfully, Apache and I have practiced climbing steps here at home, and it wasn’t a big deal for her. (Below, Kendra and Bailey climbing up a rocky step on the trail)
But most of our journey was just a beautiful ride through the shady forest.
Apache would get excited when we came upon a grassy meadow.
And quite often we would stop if the grass looked particularly appealing.
(Peggy and Joey in a beautiful green meadow)
And it was just fun to hang out and talk and laugh while our ponies enjoyed their tasty trail snack.
Apache was thrilled because we don’t have any grass at all in our pasture, so this trail ride’s benefits made her one happy pony!
Once we reached the ridgeline of the Sandia Mountains, we knew we’d be able to enjoy some amazing views.
When we reached Agua del Rio Overlook, we were thrilled to see the expansive views westward, across the cities and towns of Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Corrales and Albuquerque.
(Peggy pointing out to the Rio Grande in the distance)
The green ribbon in the middle of the photo below is the Rio Grande.
From the Agua del Rio Overlook on the northwestern ridge of the Sandia Mountains, the slopes are covered by beautiful Aspen Trees.
I can’t know exactly how Apache was feeling, but I truly believe that she was enjoying this new perspective from over 10,000 ft in the mountains. She wouldn’t take us any closer than 5’ from the edge of the ridge, but she seemed very happy to stand there and gaze out at the views while I took photos.
Soon we were riding among the beautiful Aspens as we traveled along the Crest Trail.
The trail was so shaded and green. I loved it! While it was 103F down in the city of Albuquerque, it was a pleasant 79F in the Sandia Mountains.
As we rode down the trail, there were several opportunities to look out at the views through openings in the trees.
(Arizona is just 160 miles off into the distance)
But some of the vistas could only be seen by climbing up to the ridgeline to enjoy the breathtaking views. This one opportunity was unique in that Kendra decided to ride Bailey up to the ridge on a narrow, steep side trail, but I decided that Apache and I would just stay down below on the Crest Trail with Peggy and Joey.
But when Kendra and Bailey reached the top of the ridge, Apache asked me if we could go up, too.
She wasn’t cranky about her request, but she really wanted to go up, and I was happy that she was showing such curiosity and a sense of adventure. So up we went!
And I’m so glad that I didn’t say no to my good girl, because, even though the ledge that the trail traveled across was narrow with a steep drop-off, the views were amazing!
(This pyramid shaped rock formation is called The Needle, and is a prominent feature for anyone looking up at the Sandia Mountains. But The Needle is also famous as a ‘true alpine style adventure’ for many brave rock climbers who try to tackle it’s imposing mass. The top of The Needle is 10,260 ft high!)
We’re riding on the North Crest Trail, but NM536 (The Crest Road) is just a 1/2 mile away.
After we rode past the Communication and Radio Towers, we passed below the tallest point of the Sandia Mountains, and where most people drive up to enjoy the views. If you remember my post from our Sandia Crest Solar Eclipse Party, you’ll recognize the Crest House (behind the trees on the left) above us at 10,678 ft elevation. Apache really wanted to go up there and see everything there was to see!
I had no idea last month that I’d be riding my horse up here, just a few weeks later! Blows my mind! haha!
(The Heli-Pad at Sandia Crest)
Where were we going next? What was our final destination?
Come back to find out!