I’ve missed the sound of creaking leather keeping time with my horse’s gait. I’ve missed the feeling of tranquility settling into my body while navigating nature’s church, heavenly silence broken only by the clomp of hoof, and the occasional huff and snort from my sure-footed steed. I’ve even missed the smell of horse sweat wafting from beneath the saddle blanket as my pony warms in the heat of day.
When I moved to Arizona, I couldn’t wait to explore the area from the back of a horse. I was elated to discover SaddleBrooke had a horseback riding group. Don and Rebecca who live at SaddleBrooke Ranch organize monthly trail rides at various riding stables in the area.
In years past when I’ve rented trail horses they are usually a sorry looking lot. Most hadn’t been tended to all that well and were barn sour, plodding along until we made the turn heading for home. Once headed home one had to keep a tight rein, sometimes blistering a city girl’s palms—like riding a horse with a Jekyll and Hyde personality.
When I lived in Eureka I would ride horses that belonged to friends, and any horse would do. While living in Sacramento I celebrated my fortieth birthday by gifting myself with a horse, a gray Arabian gelding named Kurafi. I spent many years riding with Mom on her horse, Sonny. We’d lope the trails along the American River or take an all-day ride to Folsom Lake. If we came upon a clearing we would let the horses run, enjoying the whip of wind against our face. No riding helmets for us; we wore western hats!
We always brought along a lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables on the river’s bank. We had a favorite table that was mid-way through the ride; the horses knew the exact spot. But sometimes we decided to ride a bit further. The horses would pitch a fit; they were ready for their snack. While Mom and I enjoyed cheddar cheese sandwiches washed down with a Bud or Coors, the horses munched on peanut butter sandwiches, carrots and an apple. Sonny loved peanut butter. One day when we were crossing the Sunrise bridge a little boy was standing near the railing, eating a PB&J sandwich. As we walked by Sonny nimbly snatched the sandwich from the boy’s hand and ate it. We were all shocked but couldn’t contain our laughter.
But gone is my need for speed. Gone is my need to race hell-bent-for-leather down dusty trails, praying all the while that a mountain biker hasn’t decided to do the same. Nor do I need to experience the thrill of leaping logs that have fallen across the Georgia-Pacific logging roads outside of Eureka, where we could ride for hours. At this point in my life I’m happy plodding along, enjoying the scenery. A horse rented from a riding stable sounded perfect.
Since moving to SaddleBrooke I’ve been able to participate in three rides to different areas around Tucson. The first ride took place in September at the Double R Ranch in Marana, about an hour southwest of home, owned by Ron and Renee who hail from New York. Don’t be fooled by the New York connection. They are horse people through and through, and know their stuff when it comes to handling horses and people.
Upon arriving at the stable I decided to check out the horses. They looked healthy and well fed. That’s a good sign. Glancing through the open barn, I spotted a gray Arabian gelding, saddled and ready to ride. He looked exactly like Kurafi in his younger days. He had a sweet look about him and soft eyes. Walking up to him I spoke in a quiet voice, “Hi baby. How ya doin’?” As he nickered in response, I took his head in my hands, stroked his soft muzzle, and took a deep breath. Ah, the sweet smell of horse.
You don’t often see Arabians used as rental horses. While sure-footed, they can be high-spirited (which is why I like them) and easily spooked by something seemingly insignificant. I wanted to ride this little fella named Cyrano and hoped I could. As luck would have it, Ron said he’d hoped I would.
Located on 20 acres adjacent to many miles of open desert land, our ride was a bit dusty, but then what’s a horseback ride without a little dust. I joined the 11:00 AM ride but by the time our group got saddled up and on the trail it was near noon. A 90-minute ride took us into the heat of the day. Only upon our return did we discover the temperature was 104. The two dogs that ran with us throughout the ride had also gone out on the 9:00 AM ride. Both dogs join most rides every day.
As it turned out Ron and Renee had three Arabians they use on trail rides. Several horses in their string were rescued from one unfavorable situation or another, but they all had good temperaments. Hooray for saving the horses, Renee!
It was a grand time viewing gorgeous scenery. Awesome thunder clouds against a blue sky looked like dumplings in a pool of blue soup. I could hardly wait for the next ride!
In October we went to the Pusch Ridge Riding Stables, about fifteen minutes from home, to ride through a portion of the Catalina State Park located adjacent to Coronado National Forest on the western slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Our guide for the day was Jean. The terrain on this ride couldn’t have been more different from the last one, with small hills and gullies, trees, some barrel and prickly pear cactus, and lots of teddy bear cholla. Being October, it was cooler and very pleasant. We ambled along single file, enjoying the sights and smells of the desert and magnificent mountains. Again, the horses were healthy and well cared for, with nary an attitude among them.
In November the group went to Donnelly’s D-Spur Ranch for a sunset ride in Gold Canyon about an hour northwest of SaddleBrooke, just east of Apache Junction. Located in the foothills of the legendary Superstition Mountains on 5,800 acres of pristine Sonoran Desert, Don Donnelly has been providing custom Arizona horseback adventures in the Superstition Mountains and Gold Canyon since 1980. Their website says, “We must protect our precious wilderness areas so that future generations can enjoy them as we have. We try to do our best to have the least impact on the land as possible and leave our favorite trails as beautiful as when we found them. When going into the back country, leave only hoof prints, take only memories. We are a working cattle ranch with great horses to ride and a friendly atmosphere. We are committed to preserving the cowboy lifestyle.” Yep! My kind of folks!
This ride was by far the most scenic of the three. It felt like a ride back in time to prehistoric days. I could imagine scaly-winged raptors swooping down from the mountain top, razor-sharp claws extended to pluck their prey from the desert floor. Some of the saguaro stood nearly as tall as a redwood tree. The scenery was breathtaking. Someone with a sense of humor had hung animal beanie babies from the trees along the trail to ensure we saw “wild life.”
On this ride you had the option of riding horseback or traveling by horse-drawn wagon, after which everyone enjoyed a chuck wagon dinner of steak, beans, baked potato, coleslaw, chocolate cake, and pie. The food was delicious and the campfire smelled divine. Cooking s’mores over the campfire was a treat I haven’t enjoyed since my horseback adventures at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, California. During and after dinner we were entertained by a local singing cowboy.
There are many more riding stables in the area, all with interesting scenery. I look forward to joining my compadres on the next horseback adventure. But now that there is a nip in the air, I’ll need to bundle up.
Wishing everyone a fantabulous 2014! If you come to visit, be sure to bring your riding boots!
Until next time,
Adios mi amigas y amigos!