Monday 25 July 2016

Writing-on-Stone Part III

Sorry, getting behind on my posting here. This will be the last part of the Writing-on-Stone weekend, and then I have a show from this weekend to recap and a few other posts sitting in the drafts folder.

Saturday's Ride

Okay, so when we left off Part II, there had been a several hour delay of our ride due to rain, I had lost my phone in the river, but we were finally ready to hit the trail for Saturday's ride!

Playing in the river on Saturday morning
All photos courtesy of S

We started the ride going the opposite direction from yesterday, we climbed a hill, wove through some rocks and came back down to the river to cross in a different spot. S had decided to sit this ride out. Kachina isn't usually herd-bound at all, but as the first part of the ride kind of circled around the rodeo grounds, Kachina was very concerned that she could see SK back at the trailer and that she wasn't coming with. She kept whinnying and was not focused enough on me. So, when we got to the uphill part, she didn't listen to my directions to follow the trail, and instead started going straight up a much steeper part of the hill. I really didn't want Kachina to come over backwards or slip so I gave her some rein and tried to steer her with my legs as best I could while I pitched myself forward to keep us balanced. We made it up the hill and back to the trail okay, but there was one leap where the horn of the saddle hit my stomach really hard. It hurt for the rest of the ride but I figured I was just being soft. Later that night, I looked at it and it was already swollen, purple, and bleeding, so I didn't feel like such a wussy! It actually really hurt all week and made bending over or sitting up difficult, it's finally getting back to normal now though.

It was on this hill, just going up instead of down

After the steep uphill and weaving back downhill, we got to the river. Like on Friday, there was a pretty long wait both before and after the river while we waited for everyone to cross a couple at a time. Kachina was extra distracted during these waits and would not stand still. We could still hear SK and the other horses back at camp whinnying and that didn't help. This was probably my most frustrating part of the weekend.

The river crossing itself was much deeper than the one the day before. I'm not sure whether all the rain had made the river level rise or whether it was just because we were crossing in a different place. The water went up to the bottom of Kachina's western saddle pad (but luckily, it was an inch below the top of my muck boots so my feet stayed dry!). Other people with shorter horses or who took slightly different paths got their butts wet. Kachina was awesome about the river crossing though. It helped that the banks here were sandy instead of mud. One horse still started leaping through the river though and a second rider on the weekend ended up falling off into the water. We got that horse caught, the rider back on, and carried on.

Muddy water horse

After the river, we went up a gradual slope up to the top of the coulees. Here we rode along nice flat grassland with crop fields on one side and a steep drop off back to the coulee on the other side. We were able to spread out here and move at a good forward pace. From the high ground there was an excellent view of the Montana Sweetgrass Hills. At one point, Kachina suddenly stopped dead. I didn't see anything ahead or on the ground that would make her hesitate so I bumped her forward. It took me about two steps to figure out that I had no contact. One side of my headstall had come apart and the bit was hanging completely out of Kachina's mouth! I somehow got Kachina stopped and got her to bend her neck enough so I could grab onto her halter and then dismount. A few people saw what was happening and stopped with me (thanks awesome people!). The chicago screw was completely gone. I had bought this headstall fairly recently and it was my first one with chicago screws so I hadn't thought to pack extra. Luckily, one of the other riders has some twine on hand and I was able to tie the bridle back together. This incident is one of the reasons Kachina gets the title of bestest horse, as this so easily could have been a wreck if Kachina hadn't stopped for me. Once I got the bridle fixed, I had to get back on. I always use a mounting block at home. And even back at camp I had mounted up by standing on a bucket. For most of the trail, I would have been able to use a hill or rock to give me a step up, but this was the flattest field of the whole trip. I might have been able to get on from the ground after enough attempts, but luckily one of the outriders came to my rescue and dismounted to give me a leg up. I was embarrassed but extremely grateful.

Bestest horse needs some practice posing for photos

By the time I was back on, me and the group who had stopped with me were fairly far behind the rest of the pack. We did some power walking and some trotting and got caught up. I haven't had much of a chance to trot on the trail before and so was glad for the excuse. Kachina was awesome.

Bestest horse not impressed with forced posing

We got towards the end of one of the coulee fingers and rode down a steep trail through the rocks to get to the bottom. The rock formations were super cool, but there were some steep steps down that were a little scary. Once we were out of sight of camp, Kachina had focused back on me and so she was foot perfect. At this point was where a couple other riders decided to use Kachina as a lead horse for them as she was being so steady. These ladies were more experienced trail riders than me, and it made me so proud of my girl that she was considered the steady eddy horse. Kachina also doesn't care if a horse is right on her tail and so that helps a lot. At least three people used Kachina as a lead through tricky spots on the ride and I was honoured but also felt extra responsibility to keep Kachina at as even a pace as possible.

Being tailed

Once we got to the bottom of the coulee, we wound through belly deep grasses and bushes and crossed the small creek four or five times. The creek was shallow and only a few strides wide, but it was still challenging. In a few places the banks were quite steep, both in and out. Also, the water was disconcerting to the horses as once a few had gone through, the mud would churn up and make the water a deep black that the horses couldn't judge the depth of. Kachina was actually good with the black water, but there were two places where there was deep mud and Kachina did a giant leap up the far bank to get out of it. The first time I was very close to being unseated, but I stayed on. The second time I was better prepared, but I still couldn't stop her from leaping.

Some of the scenery we passed through was absolutely gorgeous, but my only camera had been my phone so I was only able to take mental images.

After winding through the creek, we made our way up and down the coulee sides a few more times. Kachina was really good both uphill and downhill. At one point we were riding on top of a ridge and could see our camp in the distance down below so that was cool. Even though SK started whinnying, Kachina didn't reply and stayed focused on me.

Throughout most of the ride, I was pretty proud of myself as a rider. I don't have much experience riding on that kind of terrain, but I felt I did a good job of supporting Kachina when I needed to and giving her rein when she needed it. I also stayed calm and relaxed. However, when we got to the last descent, I got nervous. It was windy path where you couldn't see the problem areas until you were on top of it. It started at the top of the hill, where there was a narrow gap between two towering rocks, and only room for one hoof between rocks at the bottom. Right after the gap was a steep downhill.

Here's my crappy illustration of what it looked like. I know the one leg looks awkward,
but that mirrors what I felt while going through it, like "where does the other leg go?!"
There were some other places where there were big flat rocks across the path, like the one SK had fallen on, or places where there was a super steep part and rocks or drop offs on either side so you only had a narrow path you could stay on. In total there were 4 or 5 places within a 10 minute stretch where my heart was in my throat and I just wanted to turn back, but of course couldn't. During these times, I wasn't relaxed and supporting, I was terrified and needed Kachina to get me through instead of the other way around. And she did! Kachina was careful, methodical, completely sure footed, and she carried me through every challenge. Bestest horse title clinched!

Coming back to camp

We crossed the river again in the same place as the way out, and retraced our steps for the last section of trail back to camp. Once we got close, Kachina and SK started a loud vibrant conversation with each other, but at least this time Kachina also listened to me and we made it through the last hills unscathed.

Much whinnying on our return

Note: Kachina is a rockstar with going down hills. She rocks back on to her haunches and walks evenly down with no rushing or slipping. I was thinking about how good that is for building her dressage collection muscles!

"Okay, I'm back with my friend, now I will relax and grab mouthfuls of grass"

Saturday Evening

Soon after I had Kachina untacked and put away, it was time for supper. Supper on Saturday was provided and was "Burn Your Own Steak", they had 5 barbeques set up and a cooler full of raw 8oz striploin steaks. We got to grab a steak and cook it ourselves so it was done to our own specifications and was ready when we were. It was an awesome idea. Trying to cook steaks for that many people and keep them warm would have been a challenge to say the least. Having us cook them ourselves was genius! To go with the steak were baked potatoes, homemade coleslaw, beans, and pie. It was a delicious feast, though we ate it crammed under the small shelter as another storm came through right after I took my steak off the bbq. We had more good conversation with good people, including a girl who does competitive trail riding and had some cool stories.

The rain on Saturday was a lot less than the rain on Friday, and it stopped soon after supper. I tacked up again and S and I went on a low key ride around the rodeo grounds. I was glad I brought my dressage saddle as my belly didn't want to get anywhere near that western horn again! We had a pleasant ride and then settled the horses down for the night. I was exhausted from the day and the lack of sleep the night before so I called it a night pretty early.

Beautiful sunset ride by the river, ruined by Kachina's expression :-P


After a Much better sleep, I woke up refreshed in the morning. We finally had blue skies and sun and the temperature climbed quickly. Kachina was super chill in her pen and I even caught her dozing (I never see her lying down!).

Sleepy pony

Sunday's trail ride was due to start at 10am, but we talked to the organizer and it sounded like it was going to be the toughest route of the weekend. S and I decided to skip the organized ride and do another easy hack around the rodeo grounds instead. We packed up all our camping gear, and then tacked up for our ride. During the ride, we wandered down to the river. Nobody had been in the river for a while so the silt was a bit more settled than the day before. I still thought my phone was a complete goner, but from the vantage point of Kachina's back, I thought I saw a glint of blue in the murky water. I jumped off, waded in, and found my phone! It was a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Picture from Friday, but the smile says what a great weekend I had!


  1. This sounds so awesome! I worked on a dude ranch in Wyoming for one summer and it was so much fun. Not nearly as challenging as this sounds though.

    1. Ooh, working on a dude ranch sounds super interesting! You should do a post about it!

      It was a great weekend :)

  2. That sounds like it was quite a challenging weekend. I'm glad you had a good experience!

    1. It was a challenging weekend for sure, but it was a good level of challenge. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it wasn't too much. I feel like I've come out of the weekend with a better connection with Kachina and a greater appreciation for what she can handle. I'll definitely be looking for more trail riding trips in the future :)