What I love most about living in Park City is that everyone wants to visit, especially our adult children. I don’t even have to guilt trip them about visiting their mom! They come willingly because there is so much to do. When our son, Brian, age 24, came last week, we decided after days filled with hiking, fishing, target practice, and a new adventure called “rifle golf” ( that’s another story) we decided to go on horseback trail ride at Deer Valley.
I grabbed my “Cowgirl Up” ball cap, threw on my jeans and my cowgirl shirt before heading out. We found Boulder Mountain Ranch tucked away by Stein Eriksen Lodge in a bend on the mine road. We chose a two hour ride and were fit with horses based on our ability. A few instructions and we were off.
The experience of riding a 1000 lb. animal on a trail is very different than the boots on the ground experience of hiking. Obviously you are higher up, with an added six feet or so and you cover more than twice as much ground, but it’s more than that. The horse itself brings with him a whole new perspective.
If you listened closely to our guide, Dennis, and got into the mind of the horse, you not only had an easier time on the trail but a much more interesting one as well. Our group headed past “the beach” at Silver Lake Lodge and ducked into an aspen grove as we took the Sultan Out and Back trail. This was when I realized that Dennis wasn’t just a guide but kind of a “horse whisperer.” When he gave us our trail ride tips, he came from a place of understanding, compassion and respect for the animals so you realized you were on a special creature and not just on a ride.
Stay close and follow the horse in front of you. I know this is an obvious tip if you are on a trail ride. But Dennis explained the horse’s nature as a pack animal; it is natural for them to follow each other. For animals that live in packs, there is safety in numbers. When they are out in the lead or on their own, they have a heightened sense of danger resulting in skittishness. But when they are following, they relax and then calm is the result. It’s easier for them and, of course, for you.
Don’t let them eat. Dennis made a strong point in telling us well before we hit the meadow that the horses will see this as “the buffet” and will go into “all you can eat” mode. We watched for them to take their first bite so we could nip it in the bud with a quick yank on the halter and kick with our heels. When we showed them right away we wouldn’t let them get away with it, they stopped trying. It worked!
He went on to say that for thousands of years horses lived a nomadic lifestyle and never knew when their next meal would be. They are “programmed” to eat when possible even if they aren’t hungry since their next meal could be days away. Understanding their nature made it easier for us to discipline them – we knew they were well fed, and they also weren’t trying anything out of the ordinary. We all enjoyed our rides much more without them putting their heads down to eat all the time. Instead, they were paying attention to the trail so we could also.
As we stopped for a view of the Jordanelle Reservoir and the Uinta Mountain range, I was also getting to know, Ben, my horse. His favorite place to ride was with his nose right next to the flank of the lead horse. I think if he could have sat in that horse’s lap, he would have. Talk about a follower! But when my husband’s horse, Uno, tried to do that to him, Ben would have none of it. He stamped his feet and aggressively swished his tail in Uno’s face to let him know to stay back. I guess this is a case of “do as I say and not as I do.”
When we got to the end, we got to make a steep decline to get to the stable and Ben wanted to continue his flank attachment style of following. In other words, he wanted to go double in a single lane. So I decided to “cowgirl up” and use what I’d learned from our horse whisperer guide, and actually said out loud, “I don’t think so Ben. Just hold up a sec and give us some room here, my friend.” The words were superfluous but the quick yank back worked and he immediately backed off so I could enjoy the last few moments of my ride down the switchbacks into the stable.
Dennis warned us that our legs might be a bit wobbly when we dismounted. Mine were. Two hours was the perfect ride for us — not too short and not too long. Overall it was “mission accomplished” for a great outing with our son because he wants to come back and do it again. That’s all a mom can ask.
Note – For information on Boulder Mountain Ranch trail rides or to make a reservation, see their website bouldermountainranch.com. You can call (866) 783-5819 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.