In Which Planets Align, Alice and Jane Go On the Trail, and Have A Blast

A miracle occurred:

  • Alice had a Wednesday off
  • Jane had the same Wednesday off
  • The ground dried up after three big storms had hit in succession
  • Even though its November, the temperature is trying mightily to hover up near 80 degrees.
  • Bella texts Alice: “Wed off?  Take the rig, take Dinero, go for a trail ride.  Maybe Jane…?”
  • Alice texts me: “Wanna go on trail on Wed?”

I have my moment of knee-jerk half-emptiness:  I haven’t been on a real trail in so long…I’ve probably forgotten everything.  Certainly the finer points of etiquette.  Can I do this on Hudson, on a trail I’ve never ridden?  Will he spook?  Will I be a total moron?

Oh for Pete’s sake.  There won’t be any giant purple people eaters.  It’s late enough in the season (and likely too close to the coast) that mountain lions will have moved inland and rattlesnakes would be far too cold to show up. It’s not like I can’t ride.  And I’ll have plenty to hang onto. I can borrow a western saddle from Bella: I want a thick pad on Hudson for a long ride.  My saddle fits, but a dressage pad isn’t made to disperse weight and provide a comfy trail ride for the horse, even with the extra fleece half-pad.

(Ideas, anyone?  Thin line pad?  I find foam shifts, and gel gives ricochet action for the rider.)

To combat my inner Eeyore, I took aim, and leveled one of my favorite quotes at myself.

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  And if I am only for myself, then what am I?  If not now, when? ~ Rabbi Hillel

The Rabbi had a good sense of personal/global balance.  I’m onboard with Rabbi Hillel.  If not now, when?

I text Alice back: YES. You pick trail.  We go.  🙂 Exciting!!

I text her again later: Um.  You may have to babysit me a teensy bit.

We go to Point Reyes National Seashore; to ride the Bear Valley trail.  “Wednesday” becomes magical: this trail is closed to horses on weekends and holidays.  Alice and I discover we have identical check lists for a perfect relaxing trail:  wide enough for a truck (we can ride near each other and there’s still bonus room for spooking!).  It’s shaded.  The trail winds on gentle inclines under a canopy of California rainforest-type foliage: tree branches arch and meet overhead, a stream meanders along, the hillsides are stuffed with ferns and mosses of all kinds, it’s gorgeous.  It ends at the ocean.

Perfect trail for an If-Not-Now-When? ride.

We pull into the parking area.  I know where we are!  When Shaun first moved to California, I stupidly planned a picnic here so she could have the fun of standing directly on top of the San Andreas Fault.  (1906 earthquake, anyone?)  It’s what we do for fun in California.  I had to throw myself between her and the car, and wave a deli sandwich under her nose to get her to come back to the picnic table.

There’s a couple of other rigs neatly lined up: the park has perfect rig parking.  There’s even a fresh, clean, water trough near the trail head.  They like horses here.  Morgans dot the hillside, on the Park’s Morgan horse ranch.

We’re backing the horses out of the trailer when The Giant Purple People Eater arrives.


It belches diesel, and parks 15 feet behind the trailer. Swarming hordes of children, all under ten, rush to the left side of the bus, causing it to tilt dangerously.  Little faces are excitedly looking out the tinted windows at the horsies getting unloaded.  Palms bang on the glass to get our attention  The air goes out of the suspension system in a loud, hot whoosh as the driver kills the engine.

Dinero backs right out, and Hudson is backing out, when 300 little kids run around the purple bus to see the horsies, followed by screaming, panicked adults picturing trampled children.  (Sorry, we didn’t get a picture of that.  They’re all inside the visitor’s center. Alice snapped this at the end of our ride.)

Neither horse reacts.  They look curiously at their surroundings, heads low, writing the kids off as white noise.  Or possibly cattle.

Bella-trained horses. Alice and I look at each other.  “I know!”, she says, “any other horses…” She shakes her head.

Alice and I are wearing vests against the morning chill.  That’s where any resemblance stops.  Alice and Dinero are decked out in the equivalent of flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts. Hudson and I are outfitted.

Both Alice and I are counting on the latigos on Bella’s saddle to tie up our extra crap when we get hot.  What neither of us notice: the roping saddle doesn’t have latigos. They must get in the way.  Dang.  We’ll have to cram our crap in front of us.

Alice and Dinero, bareback:

Jane and Hudson, ready to cross the country:

We ride past:

Peaceful, so peaceful:

Hudson’s idea of sticking together.  We circled a lot.  Much to his annoyance.

Toward the end the trail turns into a deer track.

This nice vantage point below is brought to you by Hudson, who could not tolerate standing still, and leapt sideways up the hillside into the vegetation, 6 feet about Alice and Dinero.  He could easily have been an event horse.

Alice is laughing because 1 second ago, Dinero and Hudson were nose to nose.  There’s a little sign recommending we do not ride out on arch rock (trail in background, below), apparently someone’s horse spooked and they fell over the cliff.  We thought the warning was reasonable, so Dinero turned around, and Hudson went straight up.



The closer we got to the ocean, the more anxious Hudson became.  Something big was growling and sucking back, just over the hill.  He doesn’t care about purple people eaters, can tolerate the few orange cones we met, didn’t even register the bicycles flying by around blind corners as a problem, but that roaring thing?  Instant death.  He whipped around, and attempted to piaffe and passage the entire way home.

This was SO COOL.  He was on the bit, round, lifting, coming off his butt, huge suspension, and looked like he was on fire.

A couple of english riders go by.  “Dressage horse?” says the one on the black mare.  I nod while trying to keep Hudson with me.  “He’s gorgeous!”, says the one on the gray gelding. They talk to each other as they pass us: “Did you see the mane on that chestnut?  So beautiful.”  Dinero is a looker.

I  had to slouch and bump Hudson side to side to get him to stop.  No piaffe going down hill over rocks.  Bella told me he jigged on the trail.  She didn’t tell me we had piaffe. With the bumping, slouching, and cue to drop his head, we did okay-ish once out of earshot of the ocean, breaking into the upper movements only every quarter-mile or so. Alice said “He’s like one of those speed walkers, those people who power past you on the hiking trail?”  She stretches her back, reins dropped on Dinero’s neck.

Hudson wasn’t jigging.  He wasn’t walking, exactly either.  We dubbed it “wigging”. I figured it was a step forward:



At this point, Alice has camera duty.  No way will I be able to get a clear photo.  She took all the non-blurry pics (unless she’s in them!)

Almost back to the trailer  (dang it!)


I laugh all the way back to the trail head. Hudson is just cracking me UP.   He’s trying very hard not to jig, then gets so excited he can’t help himself, and goes right into upper level dressage movements.  It’s super comfortable, but boy will his back be sore tomorrow if I can’t get him to walk.  Imagine a hose performing piaffe for 5 miles!

We untack and water the horses. Hudson is already starting to cool down. Dinero is almost dry. We’re STARVING.

Alice grew up near here, and knows Point Reyes Station inside out.  We park in the perfect spot in full shade on a back street, and order sandwiches at the Cowgirl Creamery. It’s not the kind of place you go to order ham on rye, hold the mayo.  They have three sandwiches today: you pick the one that sounds good.

Best dang gourmet sandwich I have ever eaten.  Arugula in a spicy dressing, with warm goat cheese on homemade bread, stuffed with heirloom tomatoes.  If you could make “Summer” into a food, this would be it.  Alice recommends their Mexican Chocolate ice-cream, should you go.  I was game, but they were out.

Perfect way to spend your day off: walking quietly through the greenery, enjoying the silence and sound of the trail.  Hanging out with Alice, going on a road trip, eating a perfect sandwich at the end, that tastes and smells like summer, in November.

Getting to feel, for the first time, what piaffe and passage feel like when correctly performed, with joy, in the most unlikely of places.

We agree: if only this could be a JOB.

Note from Hudson: please see The Sensible Horse’s Guide to Real Monsters by Fiddle

14 thoughts on “In Which Planets Align, Alice and Jane Go On the Trail, and Have A Blast

  1. POINT REYES!!!!!!!!! My husband and I spent 5 days there last summer, and I fell in love! What a wonderful place (ahem, I am pretty partial to Northern Cali, though I dwell on the eastern seaboard). I was a bit timid about hiking the trails near the cliffs…trail riding takes some gusto! Thanks for the great photos!

  2. Oh, that looks like a beautiful ride. Hudson is so talented too,wigging and piaffeing his little heart out for you just to make it interesting. What a sweet guy making sure you didn’t get bored. Seriously though I’m glad you had such a nice ride. Hope the weather holds for many more.

  3. If only… Wow! It’s been a long time since I was down at Point Reyes — and I can’t imagine how much fun it would be to ride a horse down there. Will get to ride for the first time in a month or so for probably 6-7hrs on Sunday, albeit planting birds in the bushes for fast-running dogs to find. Time to dust off the chaps and spurs! yeeehaw…


  4. Glad to see all the fun y’all had! Next time, you’ll ride a few more miles…and then a few more…soon, you’ll be wanting to know about endurance…oh, yes, I can see it now! (and Fiddle says “thanks for the link”, too)

    Here’s the link to my favorite saddle pad maker: Tom makes everything custom (PRETTY COLORS!!!!), and the foam inserts inside the pad are stable and help distribute the weight of your saddle evenly. Very nice workmanship, it will last pretty much forever. I’ve put literally thousands of miles on mine, and you don’t get that from a lot of tack. Don’t bother with email, just call him, the number is on the website.

    1. Bella emailed me she’s a huge fan of Skito pads too, and used to sell many many Skito pads when she did a lot of saddle fitting. This makes sense to me. You want an excellent fitting saddle. And if your horse is seriously asymmetrical, it makes more sense to have the pad fill the asymmetry, rather than potentially messing with the saddle’s position by trying to stuff it “unevenly” to fix the dip or whatever. She said their quality is amazing, and Hi Tom! 😉

  5. If you figure out a way that it could be a job, can I submit my resume too?

    Those pictures are gorgeous… what a perfect day. Sounds like it was a blast!

    If you are in the market for a back pad, Tucker and I *highly* recommend thinline pads. There’s a major difference between when I use one and when I don’t, for both of us. We use this one, which has a channel in the middle so it stays up off his withers/spine:

    They also make them for western saddles though, and there’s probably a dressage saddle equivalent? Just make sure, if you get one, that it’s not an “Ultra Thinline.” Those are thinner, but really only designed to comfort the rider’s back, not the horse’s. Since when does anyone put their needs above those of their horse?

    1. Thanks for the link! I like the idea of the thinline with shims, his back changes a lot through the year. The most important thing is comfort for him. (Comfort for me is easy to figure out.)

      Is your thinline only sheepskin or does it have other material inside?

      I currently use a thick Fleeceworks half pad along with the thickest dressage pad I have. It doesn’t feel like quite enough to me for a long ride. I’d love to trail ride in my saddle, but not until I feel better about the padding. Or a shorter trail ride!

      1. The bottom is sheepskin, the top is a quilted cotton, and then the shims are made of the Thinline foam, which isn’t thick but has major shock absorption properties. That’s what I like about it — I don’t like thick pads so I can feel what’s going on underneath me, but I want him to have plenty of cushion. I use just that plus a regular all purpose pad from Dover and a baby pad. When the shims are in, I’d say it’s a little thicker than a fleeceworks pad, or at least doesn’t compress as much when you ride because the Thinline doesn’t squish down the way sheepskin does.

  6. Haha, Hudson sounds like quite a guy. I took my old eventer/jumper mare out in the mountains for the first time last year. Much like Hudson, she piaffed the entire trail. I don’t know if she was sore the next day, because it was at least 3 days before I could walk again.

  7. Hahah, my Champ would piaffe when he wanted to go and I wouldn’t let him. I think the difference between piaffe and jig is all in your head – if you feel rather elegant and a bit smug, it’s a piaffe. If you have to pee, it’s a jig.

    What a beautiful ride! I must road trip to Point Reyes next summer. And you always look so elegant on a horse, Jane.

    1. I spent a year living in Nevada when I was a teenager, and rode all over creation. Do Mindon and Gardenerville sound familiar? We were out in the middle of NoWhere. No trails, it was all open land. The high desert is beautiful. Imagine my city girl shock when I saw my first tumble weed!

  8. Now that’s a dressage approach to trail riding! Why save it all for the arena?

    What a fantastic trip for you and Hudson – roaring ocean aside, of course.

    Next time maybe you can take the tack down a notch – but bareback on a horse doing piaffes?

    Probably best to keep a nice trail saddle on!

  9. Sounds amazing, and what beautiful scenery! Nice that when he’s excited the worst he does is piaffe – airs above the ground might be a little scary!

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