Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Making Trails: Having Endless Fun In The Desert!

One of my favorite things has got to be exploring new trails from the back of a good horse. Even more fun is making new trails that traverse the landscape I love, utilizing both existing rights-of-way and dry washes as well as traipsing across hill and dale connecting each.

Traditionally I begin by determining where I want to ride to, coming up with an ultimate destination. Sometimes the journey becomes just as fun not knowing exactly where the trail will lead, though I’ll have a general direction and idea of where the terminus should be.

When the ground is wetted by a recent storm is the best time for trail building, as horse hooves will dig deeper into the soil and leave a clear path to follow later on. It is important to begin when there is no threat of rain again within a good week or so, and I like to lay down at least four to six sets of hoofprints on a new trail the first day, following that up with two to four sets each day for the next six days. By the end of the first week of a trail’s life, I want to have ridden the length of that trail a minimum of 20 to 30 times. This ensures the trail will be easily found by anyone riding in the area.

Setting out with a general direction in mind, I seek a relatively easy path through the underbrush, trees, bushes, rocks and other natural obstacles, though I prefer to add in minor challenges that would test a majority of average trail horses. Boring it should not be! The concept is to make each trail a fun and exciting excursion that neither rider or horse will tire of. Each trail needs to have sections which will on occasion test each team.

Here in the desert we do have various challenges, most of which I have written about over the past couple of years, and they need to be kept in mind. Joshua trees and Cholla bushes are two of the most dangerous, along with the ancient barbed wire fences which have often become hidden under years of growth. Just as with any situation, it’s important to keep aware of your surroundings. Getting a horse tangled in barbed wire or having to pluck cholla spines out of his legs is no fun for horse or rider!

Inevitably as I’m winding my way through the desert there will be places I make a decision to ride through a spot I’ll later regret -- bushes too close, maybe a section where there are a lot of rocks or something else, but those will be minor and never cause either myself or my horse to be places in danger. Of course, common sense is a must out on the trail. If I’m on a horse who isn’t experienced or who tends to spook at things, I’ll not use them for trail building and stick to wider dirt roads.

Upon completion of the trail, as mentioned above I will turn around and backtrack a good two or three times and oftentimes take another, fresh horse out to ride the same trail again while my original tracks are most easily followed.

In upcoming months there will be a photo essay as a companion piece to this article available online, so look for the web address. I will detail the process of trail making (and how I accomplish it) from start to finish complete with captions for each picture, so readers can follow along and have an insider understanding on how it’s done with tips on how you can make your own trails in your own area or neighborhood.

Thanks for taking this ride along with me...it’s been fun sharing! Until the next time we hit the trails together, keep safe out there!


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