Rocky Mountain National Park III: Horseback Riding in Moraine Park
For our third adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park we had originally planned yet another hike…though it would have to be a shorter one, for we planned to change our base at the end of the day to further west.
However, Brian, the Minister of Expedition Planning, had an inspired idea. Sylvia loves horseback riding — and what better place to do it than the true gall durn west? He would sacrifice one day of precious hiking in exchange for an unforgettable experience of a different kind.
Sylvia, for those of you who don’t know, loves horses and is a trained equestrian rider. And Brian, for those of you who don’t know, suffers from a condition common to Irish males known as “no-ass” which makes riding very difficult. However, he is one of five remaining people still alive on the Earth who both watches western movies and reads western literature, so western riding of course interests him.
(Sylvia had no idea of any of this until less than a day before the adventure…if nothing else Brian can keep a secret.)
We were well positioned for the ride since the stables were just around the corner. During the summer, commercial outfitters operate rides right out of the park, including the stables at Moraine Park.
This would be Brian’s fourth time in the saddle, and based on his previous experiences, he was eager to keep the ride as brief as possible. Though it would not as short as our camel riding sortie in Mexico a few weeks earlier…he planned on a two hour leisurely ride, which was about the limit of what he though his backside could handle.
As we neared the stable, though, Brian remained somewhat uneasy. On our past rides Brian always seemed to draw an ornery horse. Then there was our riding experience near Asheville, NC where our guide was actually thrown from her horse. Add to this the curse of Blucifer. Would the demon horse exact retribution for the homage he had been denied? And would horseback really be the best place to receive such a blow? Only time would tell.
Our guide for the ride was Amanda. She cut out a pair of horses for us…Brian was assigned to Sonja. She appeared to be a powerful horse…perhaps the extra weight Brian had put on was showing.
Before leaving the guides told Brian that this horse had an ‘itchy butt’ and was prone to back into trees and bushes in an effort to scratch it. If this happened, he was directed to immediately “Pull her away and show her who’s boss.” Brian didn’t much feel like the boss. One of the fine points of horsemanship is to convince an animal stronger than the rider that the rider is master; and Brian is no master of horsemanship. Would this, the itchy butt of Sonja, be the vehicle which Blucifer, the demon horse, would use to exact revenge on Brian?
With uneasy thoughts such as this we set out for our two hour ride through Moraine Park, and up to the Beaver Meadows.
Actually the ride proved to be easy and mellow. With a couple of exceptions Sonja proved to be if anything a lazy horse, continually trailing behind the rest. It was just the three of us, Brian, Sylvia, and the guide. (And the horses…and maybe…Blucifer.)
This was an excellent ride. If you want to see a place that really sums up sub-alpine (Montane) Colorado, this (Moraine Park and nearby Beaver Meadows) is it. Wide open parklands dotted with pine and aspen trees and surrounded on all sides by impressive peaks. We rode right beneath Deer Mountain, on whose craggy summit we had stood upon just the day previous.
At one point Amanda pointed out a spot where another guide had spotted two mountain lion right near the trail. Mountain lions are common in the park, as are bears. But we spotted none of this ride.
Pleasant as the ride was, it wasn’t long before the evil spirit of Blucifer did make an attempt to ruin our day. First, Brian’s horse, the somewhat-on-the-lazy side Sonja, took a detour into a pine tree, giving him a face full of needles and pine cones and nearly brushing him from the saddle. More than just an itchy butt, apparently. Later, Sylvia’s horse tired basically the same maneuver, both times catching us by surprise. We ended up with a few scratches from those encounters.
But that was the extent of Blucifer’s interference on this ride. He bothered us no more as the chastened horses made their way back to the stable, and some of the best views were on the back swing. Brian’s ‘no-az’ held together tolerably, though his ‘trick knee’ had some issues in the stirrup and his cobbled together back started to bother him over the last thirty minutes. He just ain’t cut out for the cowhand’s life.
Then it was back at the stable and the dismount, which Brian managed with the assistance of a helpful horse that shuffled over, sensing both his pain and incompetence.
And thus ended our second livestock ride of the month, this one by far the better. In fact, it might have been Brian’s favorite ever (it’s a short list.) After the ride, Sylvia spent a few minutes with the stable’s large herd of friendly horses. Sylvia, a good judge of horse flesh, pronounced these to be excellent horses.
Both of us were extremely happy about our ride, but especially horse loving Sylvia. Brian has absolutely no regrets about trading a day of hiking for a day of riding; he doubts any two hour hike he could have chosen would have been anywhere near as satisfying as this. Horses, we have decided, sure beat camels (Except maybe in the desert.)
But we were not done for the day. It was back to Estes Park for lunch and then on to the final phase of our Rocky Mountain National Park Adventure, and for most what is the signal attracting of the park — Trail Ridge Road, the park’s “Highway to the Sky.”