Updated: Jan 25
Summer vacation August 2021: Grand Lake Colorado
After a good sleep in our trailer, we woke up and started in on horse chores. The horses were a little chilly as it had gotten down to 40 degrees overnight. I brought blankets but it was a tough call since it was still 70 at 9:00 when we went to bed and decided to leave them naked. I’m still a little conflicted on that and think maybe a light fill sheet would be in order for next time. I only brought their mid-weight blankets which are ok for most things but not that type of temperature swing. No rain overnight though so that was good. They both looked bright-eyed and bushy tailed with the cool air so after chores and breakfast I told Tim I better take them for a spin around camp before we headed out. I rode Jake and ponied Sedona and we levitated around camp for a half hour or so before they even started to think about settling. They thought the honey wagon pumping at the bath house was especially terrifying but held it together. Did I mention how well Jake gaits when he is fresh by the way? Yeah, it was amazing. He is such a slacker about that at home! HA!
We had to get a timed entry permit to enter the park so our time wasn’t until 11:00. Although, after talking to the park rangers later today they told us that we don’t need the timed permit if we arrive before 9:00 am! This is a game-changer for the rest of the week. We will be able to start earlier, which is awesome. We pulled into the parking lot at the East Inlet trail head with the rented trailer from Winding River, which worked out great by the way. Being 11:00 am there were quite a few young families and kids heading on the first 1/2 mile of the trail to see the waterfall. I decided to use the Dreamhorse paste from Ortho Equine to help settle and focus our horses before we got the fresh off so we didn’t spook onto any small children! This turned out to be a good move and the horses were relaxed and attentive as we started out. Everything was very scenic and fairly easy with a few spots with drop-offs but not bad.
We especially enjoyed riding along the river. First it was roaring over boulders right next to the trail and then a meadow opened up and it ran through the beautiful green grassland area. You could see trout jumping and Tim got excited for his fishing excursions in the coming days. We saw a moose at Winding River near the bath house this morning but it was gone before I was able to get the horses over to see what they would do when they saw a moose at a couple hundred yards! So as we rode the perimeter of the meadow we braced ourselves for the first moose encounter which never came.
Directly after the meadow, the climb started in earnest and we found ourselves at the bottom of a rock staircase. I had a brief memory from Oklahoma of “how much of this can there be” and the trail yielded a similar result. The answer to the question was hours of stairs before we would get to the lake we were hoping to reach, tie the horses on the high-line and have a picnic. We watched the horses closely for fatigue, remembering going up these stairs was one thing but coming back down was going to be no joke.
We did one set of stairs at a time and took breaks. Finally the stairs started going down again and some hikers passing by promised more level terrain ahead. Some of the trails we had completed yielded very tricky footing, rocks and steps of varying sizes along with thousand feet drop off just one side-step to our right with a sheer rock face blocking our left side. These are the kind of trails I have seen on Facebook and have shook my head thinking that I would never find myself in this situation but the horses were mentally and physically handling it so we pressed on.
The calming paste had worn off by now so that was great feedback on their level of acceptance of the situation. We found that the downward stairs were much harder than the upward stairs as we predicted and we opted to dismount and walk a portion of the trail as we headed on toward the lake. Right after we dismounted there was a particularly large rock to climb down and Jake took a bad step. My worst nightmare began to unravel itself before my eyes as I watched him walk off lame. We are on the side of a cliff, on stairs and I need to do a lameness assessment to figure out if we should rest before turning around or if we can go ahead and turn around. I’m scrambling for meds. Tim is looking at the map trying to see if any flat ground is near by to rest on and we are just praying we can get back down in one piece.
One of the most dangerous things to do on steep trails is to dismount and lead and while small portions are doable, walking the whole distance back on foot is going to be rough. You are much, much better off staying on whenever possible but this was not one of those situations. The added weight of Tim on a yet undetermined lame leg is not going to be an option as Jake tries to balance himself down these steps. UGH! This is a lot.
Emotionally the last few days were starting to pile up and my mental stamina was starting to deteriorate. Never-the-less we have to get down! I actually wore Ariat hiking boots predicting that this being Sedona’s 121st ride, I would probably be walking at some point. Tim however, did not, and doing this in cowboy boots with a horse very excited to be turning back home was no easy task. About halfway down, Jake’s visible lameness was actually starting to improve and we decided it would be safer for Tim to ride some portions. But after fifty yards or so he would have to dismount again for a harder area.
I walked with Sedona and really didn’t have any trouble but getting on and off with cliffs on the side was not super appealing so I stayed on foot quite a ways. After an hour Jake was starting to get really jazzed about heading back and getting more and more unsafe for Tim to remount as a result. Anyone who has ridden Jake before knows his running in place move on the way back to the barn. Just picture this on stairs with sheer drop offs just a step away. Yeah this was providing me plenty of anxiety as I was watching the situation unravel.
Then I did something I really don’t do on trail rides but decided to pack as a precaution. I had used up all of my Ortho Equine paste for the day anticipating the start of the ride to be more of a problem but I had an emergency stash of Ace just for such an occasion. I actually think it was the first time Jake had ever been aced but it reduced his running in place to trotting in place and I no longer had to worry about Tim dying so it was helpful in this situation. If I didn’t have ace I would have risked Jake's leg and just told Tim to stay on and ride the rest of the way out.
Tim and Jake are both very excited to have made it back down the mountain!
At this point I was able to get back on Sedona who was no longer feeding off of Jake's energy. Go figure the 23 year old got aced and the one with 121 rides was actually decently fine. Sometimes these horses, even after years of experience, are hard to predict. I have heard that it doesn’t take horses as long to adjust to altitude as humans and I would say this seemed true on this ride. They had no problem at all with their air. In fact, as sore and tired as he was, Jake had a lot more energy and some of his old bad habits came back because we were in cooler air and a new place.
Tim was such a champ dealing with all of this and hanging in there. I was so worried he wouldn’t have fun today and this horse camping dream was going to end after one trip. He doesn’t want to do that trail again (fair enough) but he did have fun for 75% of the ride and is excited to hit the trails again on Thursday, Jake’s leg permitting, of course. So they will get a day off to hang. Jake was sound at a walk and gait when we got back to camp but definitely had some puffy fetlocks on both hinds. He is poulticed and wrapped and has some extra Summit and Equioxx on board so fingers crossed we can do some easy stuff in a couple of days.