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The Adventures of Sihr Brigadier Mac V (Sonny) - "Unexpected Surprises"


May 2023

"Unexpected Surprises"

The high mountains of Southern Nevada, about an hour to the Northwest of the famous city of Las Vegas, contain some of the most beautiful country in the lower USA. The area is known as the Spring Mountain Range and Mount Charleston Wilderness. The area hosts miles upon miles of great trails for hiking and horseback riding. This time of year, late spring to early summer, the area is recovering from a winter of snow, rain, and windstorms. The rains and snow melt have cut massive ditches in the loose earth bringing down the mountainside with it a deluge of loose rocks, soil, roots, and downed trees. Many of the previously well-groomed trails become almost impassable after mother nature takes her toll on the mountain.

On the last Tuesday in May this year, a trail riding friend, Mary Sue, and I decided that the snow was mostly gone on one of our favorite trails in the area called Trail Canyon. We had heard from some hiker friends that the trail was badly washed out in some parts. The main trail stretches out around 4-5 miles long up and back, and extends via cutoffs at a high landing to several additional miles of loops to high peaks throughout the wilderness. It's a very popular trail for both hikers and horseback riders. So, we decided we really needed to get up there and check out the damage, see what is passable and what's not, take photos, and report to the forestry service and our Back Country Horsemen of Nevada chapter so that any seriously needed repairs can get scheduled and hopefully done early in the summer.

We arrived at the trailhead parking in the morning, happy to see another familiar truck and horse trailer already there. Yey, if they made it up the trail and didn't head back, then we should find it clear enough to ride. We saddled up our horses, making sure that they had their fill of cool water to drink as we tacked up. The weather was cool (lower 60s).Being very familiar with this trail, we knew the ascent was around 2000 ft. from the trailhead to our normal stopping point. That's a pretty steep climb and our horses hadn't done that in a few months, so we knew we'd stop often enough to let them catch their breath and give their legs a rest.

We mounted up and left the gravel parking area headed toward the trail head. No more than 50 yards from the start we ran in to our first section of washed-out ground. The trench was only a couple of feet deep, and ran right alongside the trail, leaving us just enough room on the trail to pass. The horses both looked curiously at the trench, but didn't seem concerned or nervous about it at all. Up through the trees and bushes, it was obvious we should have brought our small saws and clippers. The extra snow and rain this year has resulted in more hang over and new growth than we were used to. But, we pushed through careful to duck our heads, and push branches away as needed. Sonny soon figured out that it was easier to tip his head down and to one side or the other using his head and neck to push away the branches as we passed through the thick sections. So smart, and so brave.

At one of the bends just before the steepest part of the climb starts, we ran into a huge washed-out trench. This thing was at least 4 foot deep, and from a foot to 3 feet wide in some spots. We stopped, looked down (even the horses looked) into the big dark trench, we looked around to see if there was an easy way around it…. nope. Well, we thought, if the other riders ahead of us got over it, there must be a way! As Sonny and I strolled alongside the big trench, I noticed a very small section that was only about 2 feet across… although still about 4 foot deep. I felt myself asking my horse, "what'd ya think Son-buns, can we do it?". I turned him toward the trench, mentally preparing myself for a big jump like he's done occasionally over ditches and water, asked him for forward movement by pushing my loose reins forward, rubbing my spur rowels softly on his flanks, and stroking across the crest of his mane with my hand.(I kept hearing my trainers saying, "believe it and it will happen, know that you know, trust your horse, trust yourself".)Sure enough, and without hesitation, Sonny lightly, slowly, and easily crossed the big trench, front feet over it together and then a coordinated roll of his hind quarters just like a smooth canter transition. Wow! We did it Sonny! Mare Sue and her horse, Kodak, followed over the same spot, and off we went up the trail. Even though the trench got smaller and shallower as we ascended up the mountain, there were a few spots that rendered dicey and almost impassable at the actual trail. So, we found clear ways to go around them, pushing through the tree limbs as we worked our way from and back to the trail.

As we continued our way up the mountain, we ran across the other rider coming back down. Great time to stop for a chat and rest. Continuing up the steep trail we had to maneuver over and around big fallen trees, branches, loose ground, rocks and boulders that weren't there before, and a patch of snow here and there. Riding along, and listening to the quiet, the birds, the rustling of squirrels on the ground, and of course the crunch and clip-clopping of our horses' hooves in the dirt, rocks, and over some slate hard ground, I felt like I needed to pinch myself. Just six years old, Sonny was being the best horse he'd ever been. In the quiet, I thought back on the last two years of lots of consistent training, and regular trail rides over various types of terrain. He was being so good! No rushing, no spooking, no refusing… just a great trusting horse.

At our normal stopping location at the 'top', we were surprised to see that two massive pine trees had fallen, literally covering up our little area of sittin' logs. Wowza! One tree looked like it had been split possibly by lightening, and then fell onto the other tree which was completely uprooted. Winds? Heavy snow? The root ball was so huge, I'm guessing 13-15 feet in diameter or so. Riding Sonny up close to the mess left by mother nature, I half expected him to balk, snort, or refuse to get close to it. But, I was surprised and pleased that he went right up to the root ball and the split tree, just as I asked. He smelled it all, touched it with his lips, and then just stood there waiting for me to give him his next instruction. Several hikers arrived at the flat area, many of which wanted to pet the horses and take their pictures with them. Sonny and Kodak even got a couple slices of apple from one hiker.

Soon it was time to head back down the mountain. Sonny led off, carefully placing his feet every step he took, but maintaining a good solid cadence. We stopped a few times on the way down for the horses to rest. I feel like it's just as hard work for them going down a steep grade as it is going up. At the trailers, I dismounted, loosened my cinch, and thanked Sonny with a hug for an absolutely perfect ride (he had done everything I asked of him and did it correctly).I gave him a good rub and scratch on his favorite spot just below his whither, and tied him to the trailer in reach of his full water bucket. I pulled the saddle and pad off and… OMG!...He hadn't even broken a sweat! I was so surprised. With some happy tears my eyes, and a good (no, great) feeling in my heart, I hugged Sonny around the neck once again. I felt his soft sleek coat against my wet cheek and on my neck, and noticed that he wasn't breathing hard at all. I looked at his face realizing that he was actually smiling. He loves this stuff! The fresh clean mountain air, good friends to ride with, beautiful views, a challenging and fun trail, and a good buddy and leader to ride on his back giving him soft guidance and just letting him be the super horse he truly is. This was the best ride we'd ever had, and the greatness was so unexpected. All those rides ("wet blankets" as they say), countless training sessions, clinics, practice, and ground work… all the hard work has really paid off. I was (and am) so proud of Sihr Brigadier Mac V (Sonny). Onward to more learning, more trails, and more accomplishments! 

The Adventures of Sihr Brigadier Mac V ("Sonny")

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