We’re expecting an extreme cold front and snow storm to blow in to our area sometime between tonight and tomorrow morning, so when my riding buddy, Diana invited me to go for a trail ride on Friday, I was eager to accept.
Good thing, too, because Friday’s weather was absolutely gorgeous! Sunshine, blue skies, no wind, and temps in the upper 50’s. Unseasonably warm for December, in our New Mexico mountains above 6,500 ft elevation. I geared up for the ride in a long-sleeve t-shirt and a fleece vest but could have done without the vest, it was that warm.
(Apache and I enjoying the views from the Vista Grande trails. Looking west towards the east side of the Sandia Mountains in Central New Mexico. On the other side of these mountains is the city of Albuquerque)
I did have a bit of trouble with Apache trying to catch her, but that was mostly my fault. I typically keep Apache in her stall when I know we’ll be trailering out for a ride, but this time I didn’t because my friend wasn’t sure the exact time she was coming over. I also wanted Apache to have access to her pasture water tank, because I took the water bucket out of her stall a few months ago. She doesn’t spend much time in there and the only creatures that seemed to be using it were the ravens. The evidence was a water tank full of bird poop. Plus Apache has never been difficult to catch and has always allowed me to just walk right up and put the halter on her.
Not this time!
As soon as I got to within 20 feet of Apache, she took of running! I really didn’t think she would play that game very long, so I just followed along behind her as she ran into her back paddock and I chased her around in there for a couple minutes, until she ran back out into the large pasture. Whew! My mare was galloping! So, when I got her chased back into the smaller back paddock again, I closed the gate, and figured once she saw she couldn’t keep running around in the larger space to tire me out, she’d finally give in. Not! She continued galloping around her small paddock and memories kept flashing back of the times I spent running after my first horse Baby Doll when she’d play hard to get, too.
Except this was somehow different. I have spent the last year focused on giving Apache quality feed, massages and supplements for her arthritic shoulder, and I’ve worked hard at building up the muscles on my horse and doing conditioning rides to get her feeling good and strong. She has proven to me to be the perfect horse for me in so many ways, but she had difficulty physically in tackling the longer and more rugged trail rides that I enjoy doing. So, seeing her so spirited, powerful and energetic was exciting and uplifting to me. It just proves that everything I’ve done this past year has worked and now this special mare of mine is the horse I’ve always wanted and knew she could be!
(Apache and I as Shadow Riders ~ A Self-Portrait)
We kept up that keep-away game for almost 20 minutes, which wouldn’t have been so bad, because I considered it a good training moment for both of us….a right of passage or turning point in our relationship together. My horse was testing me and I needed to show her that I was dedicated enough to pass the muster.
Unfortunately, my friend Diana was waiting for us, down by my house at her trailer. And I didn’t like making her wait. At one time, I even considered just telling her to go on and ride without me. But as a horse person, I hoped she had the patience and understanding not to hold it against us. I kept my composure and was calm with Apache as I kept her running, not even allowing her to grab a gulp of water from her tank as she galloped around. It felt good to be in control while not feeling frustrated. I liked that Apache was realizing that the tables had turned and that I was now controlling her feet and was deciding where she was allowed to go. When she ran up towards her water tank, I chased her away. When she wanted to run to the right, I made her do a roll back and chased her to left…and then back again. When she allowed me to get within 5 feet of her and then took off running, I made her run faster.
Finally, she stopped running and stood behind a tree, breathing heavy. But I didn’t just walk up to her and put the halter on. Instead I ignored her and walked over to my neighbor’s horses that were standing on the other side of the fence, and I petted them and gave them bites of the carrot that I had planned to give to Apache (if she had allowed me to halter her easily in the beginning). Apache just stood there, within 4 feet of me, and after I few minutes I reached a hand over to stroke her neck and face. And then I turned around and ignored her again. Finally, I turned to face her and threw my lead rope over her neck. I didn’t quickly halter her, because I was expecting her to take off again, and I wanted her to willingly give in to me. And she did.
She stood perfectly still as I un-knotted the rope halter and when I placed the opening below her nose, she dove right down into it. As she stood patiently waiting, I finished knotting the halter, and we walked down to the horse trailer where Apache quickly and easily loaded.
And then we were on our way to the Vista Grande trail head parking lot at the entrance to the frou-frou neighborhood of http://www.paako.com/ (check out the video on their website), just a short 15 minute drive from my house. We parked, saddled up and headed down the trail.
This was a sort of exploratory trail ride for us. I had taken my kids hiking on these trails a couple times recently and fell in love with the well-maintained, nicely groomed, smooth, hard-packed trails.
My friend Diana rides an Appendix mare who really likes to move out. Before we started, I was thinking we’d have a nice relaxing trail ride, but I had to continue asking Apache to trot and canter just to keep up with them. But it was still a lot of fun and Apache seemed to be enjoying herself, too.
I discovered that, although the land where these trails are located is owned by the county, the trails themselves were planned and built by students that attend the local High School, which backs right up to this area. The High School’s Track Team also uses these trails for conditioning and fellow East Mountain residents use these trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
The mountain views are beautiful along the tree-lined trails.
The trails are very easy to ride on and travel up and down over gently rolling hills.
Even the arroyos are nicely maintained and landscaped.
There is a trail that connects the Vista Grande trails to the Cibola National Forest, with one road crossing, but the Vista Grande trails consist of only a 3 mile trail loop. We rode this loop in less than an hour, even with a few stops to talk and explore. But if you don’t have much time and just want to fit in a short, sweet trail ride, this trail loop would be perfect. This loop would also be great for endurance riders who want to do conditioning rides at a trot or canter, if they did a number of laps.
When riding these trails, even though you’re not far from the High School, the Vista Grande Community Center, and the Paako neighborhood, it’s easy to feel very secluded, because the trails are rarely crowded. During our last two hikes, we only encountered one dog walker and one bicyclist. And on this day, we only saw two bike riders who had parked and left from the trail head parking lot the same time we did.
The trail travels right below the high school where hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders can enjoy some of their creative projects, like this one that I named, “Peace and Horses”
The trail even travels past several baseball fields, which are home to the East Mountain Little League. My twin sons played for the East Mountain Little League about 3 years ago. Those mountains you see in the background, are the same ones I can see from my bedroom window.
Apache and I enjoyed stopping and watching these soccer players practicing on the soccer field, but my friend’s horse Glory wasn’t having any of it and didn’t like all the running around and noise. She was eager to leave Apache and I behind. But Apache was insistent about staying and watching and she locked her legs and she wouldn’t move until I swung my reins against her neck. Perhaps it was just the sight of all the green grass that made her not want to leave, but I was proud of her for not getting nervous and antsy like my friend’s horse had been.
Of course, that meant we ended up being way far behind them, and I had to keep asking Apache to trot, even down a fairly steep hill, just to catch up. The photo below shows the part of the trail just before it goes around a bend and then drops downhill.
The trail travels below the beautiful Vista Grande Community Center, too.
I believe Apache enjoyed trotting along these beautiful tree-lined trails just as much as I did.
Just me and my horse, and our shadows.
I took this photo while we stood on top of the levy. We were facing west towards the east side of the Sandia Mountains. On the other side is the city of Albuquerque. So close…but yet, feels so far away.
The levy is a fun place to ride. It is obviously used by bicyclists due to several steep slides on both sides, but we had fun cantering our horses up one side and then we would either skootch down one of these steep, short slides, or we would just ride to the end and circle around to the base of the levy. Lots of fun!
(Diana and her mare Glory at the base of the levy)
I really enjoyed riding with the sun setting behind our backs. It felt like were riding side by side with our shadow friends.
My riding buddy, Diana and her mare Glory.
As we neared the trail head parking lot, Diana and I were surprised that both of our horses wanted to turn around and continue our ride. They literally would stop and want to turn around. I think they were just as disappointed as we were that our ride had to be so short. Diana had to pick up her daughter from school and I had to get home to get ready for a Christmas party. But we made plans to come back again next year so we could ride this trail loop again, as well as cross the road and connect with the trail into the Cibola National Forest.
Beautiful views of the Ortiz Mountains in the distance. A wonderful day for a ride: temps in the upper 50's, warm, sunny, blue skies. Hard to believe that it's December in the mountains!
And here’s the GPS map of our trail ride.
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