This summer I set out to find a change of pace, change of scenery, and explore a different side of the equestrian world. I spent the summer months in Summit County, Colorado, guiding horse trails and leading pack trips in the breathtaking Rocky Mountains.
I grew up riding Western before switching to English, which continues to be my main focus. So I dug out my boots and chaps, and traded my breeches for jeans and my Charles Owen for a cowboy hat.
Most of the riders who come on trail rides like these are not horse people; being a trail guide is less about the horses and more about babysitting riders who have been briefly taught the very basics before being put on a horse. The pace was slow, but the views were fantastic. The clientele for the most part had little to no riding background, but what they lacked in experienced they made up for in the entertainment they provided. Our horses this summer were absolute saints, and every single day I had to put my faith in them when putting beginners on their backs. Up and down mountains, through alpine meadows, aspen groves, and pine forests, they trekked dutifully, often displaying more patience than I felt, and almost never letting me down. Almost.
These were some of the most common or memorable things I heard clients say over the course of the summer. At least half of this list was covered every single day. Looking back, it was a great way to spend a few months in the saddle, in the sunshine, with a spectacular view of Dillon Valley, but in the moment, most days began with a here we go again as soon as the "dudes" showed up. (Usually in tennis shoes and leggings, or designer high-heeled cowboy boots.)
1. Yea, I have experience. I’ve sat on a horse, so that’s experience, right? Most of the time when I hear this, it just means someone has sat on a horse more times than the next guy, who has maybe never ridden at all.
2. I had horses as a kid. We used to ride all the time, bareback, bridleless, galloping around. I have great balance, I used to never fall off! Usually, these folks haven’t actually been in the physical presence of a horse since their childhood experiences, and haven’t the first idea of what to do with one now. Kids are fearless, unbreakable (mostly), and wild, but none of these traits are carried through until adulthood if you don’t keep it up. Especially not when you’re middle-aged, heavy-set, uncoordinated, and spend most of your time indoors.
3. My fitbit just went off! I hear this one so much. Congratulations, you reached 10,000 steps while your horse was doing all the work. Does it still count?
4. Your horse farted! It entertains me to no end how amusing grown-ass adults find gassy horses. Kids, I get it, but adults consumed in fits of giggles? Come on, really?
5. My horse is running me into all the trees. Believe me, your horse would have to care in order to do that. What he does care about is finding the softest footing, and there are the fewest rocks under the trees.
6. How cute, he's eating the wildflowers! Remember before the ride how I told you to please, PLEASE don't let the horses eat along the trail? Wildflowers may be delicious, but you and your horse are holding up the whole line, and when that happens, the next horse is going to start to eat too, and then the next, and then we'll be here all day before we can get going again.
7. How do I make him stop? You listen to the safety talk I gave before you got on, dummy. I covered this. Twice. He’s not running away with you, it’s barely even a trot! Way to pay attention.
8. I want to ride your fastest/feistiest/most high spirited horse. Said no one ever. Real horse people who go on rides like this do not want to have to deal with a horse with attitude whom they have to train, put up with, or fix, and they know that this is not a speed event. Real horse people are sensible enough to want a calm and controlled ride when out riding on the trail on an unfamiliar horse. I once has a lady ask to ride our feistiest stallion because she was a real cowgirl. True story!
9. This horse has a really smooth gallop! I often hear this when trotting. Slowly. People often claim to have galloped before, and then make this comment, leading me to doubt every single other thing they have said about their previous experience. Most people really have no idea how fast horses can actually go.
10. That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done! I’m so glad I brightened your day, I really am, but it was in fact the slowest three hours of my life. Thank goodness you stayed on, between putting on/taking off layers a hundred times, dropping your reins to take selfies, making me get off and help every time your foot came out of the stirrup, and letting your horse stop for bites to eat the entire way. It's a miracle we even made it back to the barn.
Best Comment of the Season
The award for this one goes to a southern-drawling, Trump-supporting, camo-wearing gentleman from South Carolina, who showed up and pointed at the very first two horses in the lineup and said, with all the seriousness in the world, "Well them two look just alike, are they related?" The two horses in question were, in fact, a tall quarter horse and a small mule.
This list is meant to be sarcastic and humorous; all of these comments definitely hold true, but I've still had a great summer, surrounded by majestic mountains, sweeping valley views, and horses who are worth their weight in gold, every single one. (Except Elmer, he was the worst.) Sharing this wonderful place with people who really and truly think it’s an amazing experience is heart-warming. I have so much love for Colorado, it's too much not to share it.
A huge shoutout and thank you to my fellow guides, Dylan and Holly, without whom the summer would not have been the same, and to Kate Stoupas, who took these fantastic photos.