sharing a favorite riding spot

We headed out for another group trail ride, this time at one of my favorite riding spots - Yellowstone Wildlife Refuge. We haven't been there in a couple years. Oh how I've missed the gorgeous, remote quiet serenity these trails offer!!

We hauled Koda & Nemo in our trailer, and loaded up another with four other horse's - our Cierra, Checkers (the reiner) Phoenix (the show horse) and one of our trainers younger horses, Stella. Half of the riders had never been to Yellowstone, which made it even more fun to share the refuge with them. We enjoyed pleasant high 70's with sunny weather, a lot nicer then our recent cool weather group ride.

heading out

Nemo, Checkers, Phoenix (L-R)

Yellowstone provides rolling hills, woods, and meadow/field type riding. The best time to ride it is during Fall colors, as is any trail in WI. The leaves and grasses were just starting to turn, but views were pretty regardless. Once again trails were quiet and we enjoyed the refuge to ourselves. After a climb up through the woods, we took a break in a clearing to enjoy the views and some group conversation.


Nemo, Checkers, Cierra, Stella and Phoenix (L-R)

Nemo taking a closer look at the field of dried sunflowers.
He unexpectedly plucked a head off and decided to taste them...silly boy!


Not too long after we headed out, Phoenix became very concerned with the dropping leaves, walnuts, bugs etc. Somewhere along the trail, musical horses happened. At the time I was leading along the winding paths, and it surprised me to find Brad on Cierra as he rode up to join us! It made me do a double take. Now our trainer was riding Phoenix, and her owner was on Nemo. 

At times we rode as a group, and others in pairs, or set's of three, the group stretched out along the long and winding grassy paths. All horses led, rode in the middle, and brought up the rear - as it should be. The highlight of riding at Yellowstone is always crossing the raised wooden bridge, at the bottom of a beautiful valley. It goes over a flowing stream, complete with creaking, some shifting, warped, see between boards, and steeper then usual, step off's. It's a fun one, and is bigger then it looks in photos.

Bridge Work

Cierra leads the way

We are so proud of our three horses!! It's clear that Cierra really loves trail riding. She rode off with no warm up and didn't have a problem leading the group with confidence, or anything else that was asked of her. Brad really enjoyed spending time on the trail with her. I wondered how Nemo would react without his favorite human, who was often out of sight. In true Nemo style, he took good care of his new rider.

Nemo's new friend, relaxing at the end of the ride

Koda was such a good boy as well. He was on forward march the entire ride, but listened well and did everything I asked. We sure lucked out and got three amazing horses...all keepers, with unique different personalities, that each hold a special place in our hearts. 


riding with the girls

Nothing like a mix of gorgeous Fall weather full of sunshine, with a cool breeze, good company and my favorite horses to make a girl thank her lucky stars! I've ridden a few times at our barn during the weekday, with and without other rider's, but yesterday was special.

The morning came and I questioned why I even agreed the night before to make the drive to join the morning group ride? I don't do this often. Our barn is a busy training facility, with a constantly changing schedule. You never know what you might find upon arrive, such is the life of working with horses. It's so much easier not to go, considering all the things I could be doing at home. But I loaded up my car, and headed off to the unknown.

The plan was to ride with Phoenix (from our recent trail ride) and Checkers (from our recent show & trail ride) owners, along with our trainer and her apprentice. Just us girls would be riding. It turned out, Checkers owner had vehicle trouble and couldn't join us. Our morning ride had four riders. 

It was quiet when I arrived at the barn. I headed out through the wet grass, glazed in morning dew, to fetch Koda. Our horses were so peacefully grazing in the pasture, highlighted by the morning sun. Sigh. I called out to Koda, but couldn't resist heading to Nemo first. I gave the big guy a hug and told him sorry that Brad couldn't be here, even tho he already knew. Both boys recognize my car sound from doing chores back at the home farm. They know what my car means, it's just me.

I thought Nemo would care that he would be left in the pasture, but he didn't. Thought I even saw him glance towards Koda in a "sucks to be you" kinda way, as we meandered to the barn. Koda was a bit puzzled. This was out of the norm, and they had not been turned out for long. Didn't I know, I was interrupting his peaceful morning?!

We tacked up alone, and enjoyed one of our better rides in the outdoor arena. Koda was as close to perfect as a person could ask. Altho he did get me corrected once early in our ride. He spooked at Happy (the resident Dalmatian) jumping out of the tall grass in the pasture. I didn't think it was a big deal, we just jumped to the side, and then simply rode off. I'm not afraid to stand up for myself and questioned getting called on it, after all it was something real. I saw it happen. Sometimes I correct Koda appropriately when he spooks, and sometimes I don't - depends on the situation. If it's warranted, I don't. We had conversation on giving confidence and handling spooks in general, so they don't become bigger. I know there are a lot of opinions on this, but know I'm not talking about getting after a horse, it's more about leadership. I made our trainer laugh, at least I didn't pet Koda. It's my automatic reaction to the little stuff, telling a horse he is okay. I've survived many years of spooks, but I get where things could head south.

On with the ride, I couldn't believe the soft gorgeous lope my boy willingly gave me right away! It stopped the other riders in their tracks, as our trainer wowed us. I didn't do a thing different then any other ride, but I enjoyed every second of it! Incase you are wondering, it was the less challenging right lead - but the left side wasn't too far off. Now I feel like I can officially say, we are back to where we were when his hock trouble started. Deep down, and in reality, I know we are much further ahead.

Another thing that made this ride with the girls so special, was Nemo. I rode him for the first time!! Brad asked me to ride Nemo, or more like "good, if your riding tomorrow then you can ride Nemo". Of course there were witnesses. Not sure if that's asking, or coercing...I quickly responded that I preferred to wait until he was around for our first ride, because he knows his horse best under saddle. I wondered if he thought I would really do it? After the fact, he said he knew I would. Really? Because I didn't. 

Our trainer was riding Cierra, and busy coaching Phoenix. I slipped off Koda and quietly headed to the barn to untack. I turned Koda back out and decided to fetch Nemo. I got the puzzled look from him too. Koda was in disbelief, and tried to slip out of the gate with us. He waited at the gate, occasionally calling out. Once Nemo & I were in the arena, he just grazed along the bordering fence line.

My plan was to just walk and jog Nemo around, and get to know him a little under saddle. There are things I already knew about him in general. He is much taller then Koda, and has a lot of feel so he needs to handled, and therefore ridden, with a light touch. Nemo doesn't stop on a dime, and his head is set high. I've heard his lope isn't very smooth. What I didn't realize was just how narrow Nemo's chest/shoulders are compared to Koda. Wow, that was a surprise that became crystal clear when I got on him. Our two horses continue proving to be complete opposites in every single way. 

We had a really nice ride together, and Nemo listened so well. He is such a good boy, and even put up with my pole obsession. Nemo's jog is so incredibly floaty, and yes - his lope equally bumpy. The only suggestion our trainer offered was to give him more rein while loping, since Brad rides him on such a loose one. Riding Nemo was really fun! I think I surprised everyone, but mostly myself.

I started my day riding two of my favorite horses, and ended my day waking up to a dream about galloping through the fields bareback on a dark horse, of course with a flowing mane.

eyes are the windows to the soul


six water horses

Our trainer typically plans a couple of group trail rides every year. The dates are picked weeks in advance. Mother nature hasn't been very cooperative in the past. Last years group Fall ride ended up being on the farm, between the raindrops. The weather looked like a spoiler once again, and riders started dropping like flies. What a bummer! We actually had a nice group going for a full day ride, with three couples and two single riders, picnic included. For a week straight we watched the Wednesday weather, hoping for a change from the forecasted thunderstorm & rain. It was sunny and gorgeous the day before, but not the case on the chosen day. The ride was cancelled.

The day arrived, and the forecast had shifted back a little. The bad weather was suppose to end by noon. One of the couples and a husband had already decided to go back to work, but the rest of us were still in for a half day afternoon ride. With open trailer slots, the apprentice came with us. We switched our plans to a closer location, with much flatter terrain. It was hot and very muggy when we left the barn. I didn't bother bringing either of the three coats I had in our truck. Big mistake. We drove through some rain, and by the time we got to Ukarydee - it was very windy and cold! The forecast on my phone said it was suppose to drop another ten degrees by late afternoon. Great. I was already frozen and we hadn't even hit the trail yet. What was I thinking? Apparently I wasn't. Thankfully both trailers have live-in quarters, and I borrowed a long sleeve shirt and lined windbreaker. It was the perfect amount of layers. On with the ride! 

Koda and Nemo had some big shoes to fill and were deemed the "old seasoned horses". The other four horses in our group had never been on a trail ride. Checkers, a reining horse, Phoenix, a show horse, Tess, a three year old, and our Cierra, who is four. The two younger horses were lunged, while the rest of us rode around the starting area. I tried to snap a few pics with my phone, but they are not very good...sorry. I had high hopes for my iphone camera on the trail, but think I'll switch back to my pocket camera...

unloading area
Cierra, Phoenix, Tess, Nemo, Koda (L-R)

Koda & Nemo were bookends for the first stretch of the ride. We passed a random guy in the woods collecting mushrooms (twice) that raised some ears. I spotted a hawk playing in the wind. I so love to soak in the beauty that surrounds us! But when I shared my winged find with the others, I noticed all the new trail horses started floundering. The riders were distracted looking for the hawk. Oops, won't do that again on this ride. 

heading out
Nemo, Cierra, Tess, Phoenix, Checkers, Koda (L-R)

The prettiest part of our ride was the pines. At that point I was leading, and tried to snap some pics behind me. Needless to say, they didn't turn out. Once out of the pines, the paths are lush, narrow and curvy. Koda & I turned a corner and spotted a random dog on the trail, who quickly disappeared. Probably a good thing. I never did see his human, and he wasn't with the mushroom guy. 

Shortly after the pines the trail started getting muddy. The further we rode, the muddier they got. It was the slippery hoof sucking kind, and none of the horses liked sinking down in it. I mumbled to myself "I know where this path is leading". Our trainer heard me, and since I am typically directionally challenged, she asked if I really knew. Ohhhh heck yeah, I know exactly where this trail leads...I will never forget our first ride at Ukarydee when Koda lost his mind while refusing the water crossing.

Somewhere along the trail Koda did his bait-n-I don't want to lead anymore-switch...sigh. I need to catch these sooner! I wasn't about to get in an argument on a slippery narrow muddy trail with this bunch. I knew why he did it. Koda knows exactly where this trail leads. 

Nemo got to the water crossing first, and was coaxed into being the lead horse to cross. Such a brave guy! He'll do anything for Brad. Then Checkers, who is always on forward march, went right through the water. Our trainer was busy determining with the remaining riders, if we should turn around. Much to my surprise, when I asked Koda to cross he stopped briefly to take a closer look and then walked right in. We paused in the middle, and Koda got lots of love. Our trainer turned to yell "let's go back" from around the trees that were blocking her view, not realizing three of us were already across the water. It was a funny moment, and we all busted out laughing! Three of us stood on one side, and three on the other bank. It was the incentive the remaining riders needed, to at least try crossing the water. 

Our trainer hopped on Phoenix to cross her with Nemo in the lead, before having her owner ride her across. Back across they went for Cierra's turn. All of us crossed back and forth with ease. The water crossing was definitely the highlight of the trip!

Nemo, Phoenix, Cierra waiting to cross (L-R)

Cierra taking it all in stride

We are all amazed everyone crossed the water with no fuss. Who knew we had six water horses?! Cierra really enjoyed being on the trail. We are very proud of her and as you can see in the above photo, so is our trainer. It was fun having three of our horses on the trail together. 

It was getting late. After maneuvering more mud covered trail, we decided to take a sandy quiet road that leads straight back to the unloading area. A car slowly passed us from behind on the road, none of the horses cared. Taking everything into consideration, it ended up being a fairly challenging ride and gave all the horses good experience in various ways.

After we got back to the barn, it was so nice that Phoenix's owner gave us a heartfelt thank you. She said the ride meant so much to her on so many personal levels. We really didn't do anything out of our ordinary, and are so thankful for the ride as well. Meaningful experiences are what life is all about. 


Cierra's debut

Labor Day weekend found us driving down the road to another state, with eager anticipation. We met our trainer and some other folks from our barn for the Iowa Buckskin Horse Association Congress (IBHA) three day show. It was held at a nice college campus facility, the Kirkwood Equestrian Center. Nothing like being at a horse show for four days to be reminded of all show things. The good, the bad, and the being so tired you can hardly keep a wheel barrel full of horse gold from toppling over because your arms are noodles. We laughed, laughed some more, sweated our butts offs, met some nice IBHA people, and got to know the other barn folks and their kids better - and Ms Cierra made her show debut!

Our trainer showed her in the all color Ranch Pleasure and Trail classes. She also spent a fair amount of time schooling and just plain ol' hanging around the holding area with Brad waiting for her turn. Altho our trainer only showed one other horse, she was very busy coaching the two high school girls in our group in a plethora of classes, as well as another adult. Cierra seems to really like the show atmosphere, sporting happy interested ears. She even came home with a Reserve Circuit Champion in Ranch Pleasure, thanks to our trainer who did an awesome job showing her and supporting the confidence a young horse needs.

Some of our group stayed on the grounds in their own campers. We don't have a camper, or living quarters, so we stayed at The Hotel at Kirkwood. It was right around the corner from the arena, another part of the college campus in Cedar Rapids. Everything is serviced and made by the students in their respective fields of study, they were pleasant to interact with. I've stayed in my fair share of hotels over the years, and the attention to detail at this hotel was second to none. Not to mention it was spotless. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend staying at Kirkwood.

I asked the folks running the show if it was okay for me to shoot photosI found out they had an official show photographer coming the last two days, who wasn't keen on the idea in the past. They told me I could shoot as much as I wanted on Saturday before she got there, and would ask about the other days. When I found out I might only have one day to take pictures, I decided to focus on just our group. It turned out the photographer was only shooting posed winner type photos at a backdrop that was set-up, with very limited hours. I noticed there were other by-standers taking photos. I figured until I hear differently, it was okay for me to do the same - but I still only shot photos of our group. I never did hear back, and doubt the photographer even knew I was there. 

The indoor arena lighting presented it's typical challenges, in a busy environment. Below are a few of my favorites shots, you can view more here








Walter's girl

fun effects