Last night we did something we have never done. We went on a guided horseback riding trip into the back country of nearby mountains. Our goal was to experience the elk rut and hopefully be able to hear bull elk as they "bugle" and round up their cows.
The trip was Steck's idea. She invited us along and while the idea of the trip was extremely appealing the reality of it was extremely scary. We agreed to go and the anticipation of it put me in some form of agony. But I was never in danger of cancelling... sometimes you HAVE to face your fears! (I'm always in agony when I do something new! I have fantasies of cancelling almost every trip I go on because I get myself so worked up! But I haven't cancelled one yet!!)
I was scared for a couple of reasons:
#1 - Have you seen how BIG a horse is?
#2 - The last time I rode a horse was the fall before Max and I got married (1987). The saddle on the horse I rode on wasn't cinched up tight and it kept slipping sideways. By the time we got back to the barn at the end of the ride, I was sitting on the horse's side instead of its back.
#3 - Have you seen how BIG a horse is?!?!
It was an evening ride and we arrived at our destination shortly before 5:00. Wanting it to be a surprise, we didn't tell Inigo what we were doing either. He guessed as we pulled into the state park and was so excited! One of the reasons I didn't want to tell was I thought he'd be scared too and I didn't want to have any arguments over whether he'd go or not. PLUS, he said at dinner two nights previous to the trip - remember he didn't know about it - that he thought he'd be scared hearing an elk bugle.
All too soon it was time to climb into that saddle. Inigo went first which was a blessing and a curse. It was great because as a hovering mother, I was able to stand there and make sure he was secure (ha!) and it gave me an opportunity to take a couple pictures while standing on firm ground... after all, it's the photo ops that are most important, right?!?
The "curse" part was that he was on the horse first while the rest of us saddled up and he didn't know how to control it. Sure, we were in a corral, which kept him and his horse contained, but I didn't want him falling off and getting injured while the rest of us were otherwise occupied.
Then it was my turn. I asked for a calm horse and they gave me one named Diamond... or Destiny (?) or Dusty (?) or Demon (?) What was her name? Yeah, I think it was Diamond.
Thankfully, there was a little step for lard butts like me to use to boost myself up a bit. It was extremely uncomfortable throwing my leg over the back of that horse and trying to get myself onto that massive, thinking, moving creature with four legs. Have you noticed how BIG a horse is?!? They adjusted my stirrups and left me to get acquainted with my new best friend. I sat there praying, "please don't move horse.... please don't move...."
Max and Steck got on their horses quite easily it seemed and with our guide Chet in the lead, we headed out of the corral and into the sunset!Inigo and his horse were tethered to the guide, followed by Steck, me, Max and the guide's son had the rear. For the first 15 minutes we listened to Chet give Inigo a lesson in horse riding and guiding. "Use one hand." "Pull to the left." "You haffta give him a slight kick to get him moving." "Puuuulll back on the reins to get him to stop!" "USE ONE HAND!!"
Then my boy was turned loose!! I was freaking out... just a little... but he did GREAT!! He had total control of that horse and even got him to gallop a little. No fear. My little super hero!
We got a bonus on our ride... something the guides didn't advertise. A cow and bull moose!! Sadly, we couldn't get any better pictures... it's really HARD taking pictures from on top of a horse!
By now most of us were fairly comfortable where we were. We seemed to have the reins under control and in spite of our knees being in a painfully awkward position we could sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
And it WAS beautiful!!
Finally, we arrived in "Elk Country." Chet asked us if we could quit the chit chat and laughing and make silence be our code so we wouldn't scare away any of these majestic animals. That was a hard request, for sure, (seriously, asking Inigo and his mother to stop talking is like asking us to donate a body part without anesthesia!) but we were able to clamp our lips closed and bask quietly in anticipation of what we hoped to hear and see.
It wasn't long before we heard the siren-like sound of a bull elk in the distance. It's a sound that sends chills up and down your spine. It's eerily beautiful! When we arrived at a narrow meadow, Chet had us dismount (so glad there wasn't a video camera around for that!), tie up the horses and hike a short distance to sit on the edge of some trees and silently wait to see if any elk would come out of the cover of the forest.
We sat as quietly as we could. For Inigo it was extremely difficult. He's 8 and not used to being absolutely still. Any movement, any stick breaking, any dirt being scuffed felt like the sound was being amplified 100x's in the quiet forest. And he really wanted to get back on his horse!!
As we sat there we could hear 4 or 5 bulls in the distance, challenging each other. Chet could hear a couple to the north, and used sign language to tell his son and Max to quietly walk up there and see what they could find. Steck and I sat on a log with our cameras set to video mode to see if we could capture the sound of the elk.
Our efforts paid off. Max and Lewis had a great view of two bull vying for the love of a single cow. We could see them off in the distance, but we didn't have a great view.
Max took these pictures and I took the video.
There's not much to see in the video, but if you listen closely and turn up your speakers you will be able to hear two or three elk bugling. (At the very end, when the video gets all crazy, that's when the elk come out in the meadow. The second video is shaky because I had to zoom to get close enough to record the bull chasing the cow.) (Also, you can hear Chet trying to make the same sound a cow elk makes, to see if the bull will come a little closer.)
We sat there for what seemed like ages. The sun went down and the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees. My sweatshirt was back with the horses. Thankfully Inigo had his tied around his waist. We waited and waited for the elk that was in the forest directly across from us to come out, but he never did.
Suddenly, we heard the yip yip yip of a coyote, in the direction of the horses. So now we're listening to 4 or 5 elk accompanied by a howling coyote, chirping of birds and occasional whinnying of our horses.
Seriously, it doesn't get much better than that.
When another horse group moved in, and rode straight down the meadow we knew it was time to head back. The riders scared the elk back into the woods and we knew with the approaching darkness we wouldn't get another chance that evening to see any more elk. We raised our freezing, aching bones off the ground and headed back to the horses. (Thank you to Max to knelt down and let me stand on him to have a boost to get back on Destiny... I mean Diamond!)
Riding back to camp in the dark was amazing. Of course, there are no pictures. We watched the stars come out and could still hear the bugles in the distance.
And contrary to popular belief, a horse headed back for "home" does NOT move faster! I kept kicking and nudging my poor horse and she kept falling further and further behind. I couldn't see a thing or person in front of us and still she wouldn't move faster. She could hear her buddies in the pastures calling to her and she wanted to stay there... I think she was sick of me by the time we finally made it back to the corrall.
It was a wonderful evening, and we feel our time was well spent! In spite of my aching back side and screaming knees, if you asked me to do it again, I'd be there. No hesitation. No fear.
**We missed having Buttercup along. Since she started school and work, we've had NO extra-curricular family time with her! We miss her!!**