Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Rocky Mountain National Park - Day 3

[Composed 7/25/2023]

After sleeping in a bit, Shira and I ducked away from the Airbnb to take a stroll along Lake Estes. As soon as we pulled out of our side street I found myself snapping pictures of the surrounding mountains, the views are just too gorgeous not to capture. We enjoyed our stroll along the lake, and at one point, what appeared to be a bald eagle streaked across the sky. With the snow capped mountains in the distance, the experience felt like a moment out of a beer ad. Yes, it was that perfect. We couldn't spend too much time at the lake however, as we had an adventure to get to today.

The main activity for today was to go horseback riding, something the five of us had never done. We booked a two hour ride through Hi Country Stables, and they promised that the experience was beginner friendly.

We arrived at the stables, were told to grab saddle bags to hold a bottle of water and sunscreen, and then waited to meet our horses. Our group included the five of us, a mom and a young girl. They got the mom and daughter on horses first and then it was our turn. They pulled 5 horses up to the gate and eyeballed each of us to play matchmaker. There was one especially large horse which I was not especially eager to be paired with. Perhaps they could sense my anxiety, and gave that horse, Kira, to P. Shira got the smallest horse, Gertie. M got the plumpest horse, named Globe because of her impressive girth. B was assigned to Aurora and finally, I was paired up with High Beam.

Starting the ride went like so: each of us climbed a platform where we met our horse. The patform forms a sort of narrow chute that keeps the horse more or less in position. They had us put our saddle bags into position and then we straddled the horse. Adjusments were made to the saddle. We were handed the reigns and given a comically short introduction to driving a horse: move the reigns in the direction you want to go. We then moved forward and out of the chute where more adjustments were made. And then we were no our way.

On one hand, I very much appreciated the low-key start to this process. These horses were pros and this was literally a walk in the park for them. They knew what to do and we'd mostly get in the way.

But, I also quickly learned that this was no Disney ride on a track. As the rider, I was fully in charge of this process. If High Beam wanted to go explore off trail, or munch on some grass--something that's not good for their tummies--I was responsible for correcting this behavior. That meant tugging on the reigns and keeping High Beam in check. So yeah, I felt tremendously uninformed about what the heck I was actually doing.

Oh, and the warning that P's horse, Kira, had to stay in back or she'd kick the horse behind her, didn't do much to instill confidence in the process either.

Still, our guide was fantastic and somehow he smoothly kept the group of us together.

Our two hour ride very much took us away from the perceived safety of the barn. We found ourselves on narrow, steep trail at times and all I could do was hope that High Beam was going to cooperate. We had a couple of tame water crossings to spice things up, too. I spent the vast majority of the ride convincing myself of just how relaxed I was, even though I was anything but. As we closed in on returning to the stables I found myself thinking yeah, I got this. No problem.

When we got off the horses we compared notes: weren't y'all stressed, but proud of yourself for overcoming? No? Just me? Ouch.The kids* and Shira had a blast and while it took a bit of getting used to the horses, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. P had no problems with Big Kira while they brought up the rear. M did his best to keep Globe from noshing on trail grass, but honestly, what could he do? B was so relaxed with Aurora, that she found herself braiding her hair while they were on the ride. Shira and Gertie bonded quickly enough and had a very pleasant ride. As for High Beam, she had this habit of turning her head back and chomping at my feet. Was she trying to scratch an itch, or show me who's boss? I'm inclined to lean towards the latter.

Horseback riding was definitely a hit. I think I'd do better with a bit more instruction, but yeah, even I had to admit this was a great time. I suppose the fact that we covered a fair amout of trail without ever getting out of breath was a nice bonus.

After the ride, we made our way into Estes to cruise the town center. The kids got to try an Elk burger and I enjoyed some cheese curds. Mostly, we tried to call it an early night as we had a very, very early start the next day. Yeehaw!

*Again, they aren't kids.

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