Backyard Horses

Tequila’s eyes are half shut and she is holding her head level to Carol’s as Carol gently brushes her face.  As she brushes, Carol is saying softly, “That’s a good girl.”  In my six years in Los Altos Hills, I’ve never known Carol to ride.  If I’m not mistaken, Carol is seventy plus.  She had a horse who was old and unable to be ridden and who eventually died.  Tequila, a small, bay Arab mare, was Diane’s favorite horse.  Tequila has all that is good about an Arab; smart, alert, nimble, hardy and sensitive; but with an almost unheard of equanimity of temperament.  In other words, Tequila is a treasure among horses.   But she suffered a serious injury that left her physically compromised.  Sure that Carol would give her a life time home, Diane gave Tequila to Carol.

“I know they are going to want me to canter, but if she doesn’t want to do it, we aren’t going to.  Her leg, you know.  Sometimes it bothers her”  Carol is at the LAHHA horse show.  She’s come to support Judy, but genuinely seems to enjoy the idea of participating.

Carol, whose countenance is more often than not dour, has the sweetest look on her face.  Carol is on the LAHHA board of directors.  I never understood what she was doing there until now.  She really loves horses and she loves them in a way that only people who have lived with their horse on their own property can.

Susan was also at the show, but not with a horse.  Susan is in her sixties and has owned horses and kept them on her property most of her adult life. Right now she has Gizmo and Roscoe, Roscoe being, I think, thirty years-old.  She told me, “Ray [Susan's husband] used to have an Arab.  She died of a stone in her bell. It was a wood chip she ingested probably as a baby that got covered in calcium over the years.”  This is not uncommon and is technically referred to as an enterolith.  “Ray loved that horse so much, he never got another horse.”  Enteroliths are common in Arab’s who are fed California alfalfa. Susan still feeds her horses straight alfalfa.

We ran into Ray a couple days later as we were riding back home from Rhus Ridge.  Ray and Susan live at the bottom of Rhus Ridge Road.  If Ray is home, he always comes out and talks with us and the horses.  This particular day he made sure to let me know to be careful of the sides of the road because that’s where the rattlesnakes like to hang out.  Ray should know.  He used to be responsible for patrolling what is now the north end of Rancho San Antonio open space when it was still part of the Duvenick property.  He also had a wonderful story about an ex-race horse he owned who was “really fast”.  Some hot shot rider got on her and she took off so fast that “her feet were up at the ears and her head on her [the horses] butt, but she stayed on.”

Out of all my horses, Ray has taken a shine to Stoney. He looks right past the flashy paint and pretty palomino to the ordinary looking, small sized, but built for work quarter horse.  And Stoney likes Ray.  Ray doesn’t know enough to not feed his horses alfalfa, but he does know something about horses that I never will.  He communes with them; they mind meld.  I have the feeling that if Ray got on Stoney, Stoney would do anything for him.  Same as Tequila with Carol.

This phenomena is not just limited to Ray and Carol.  My land lady Jan has “the gift” also. Velvet is a problem for the farrier.  Her front hooves turn in and her rear hooves turn out.  Her pasterns are upright and it’s likely her hip joints are deformed.  When her left, rear leg has to be held high for the shoe to get nailed on, it causes her a great deal of pain, her reaction to which is to pull her hoof away, sometimes mid-nailing, with the exposed nail point acting like a razor as she whips her hoof past the farriers leg.  I’ve trained her, we’ve doped her, I’ve braced her; everything we can think of and it we often barely make it through the shoeing.  I have started bringing Velvet over to the Quail barn because the parking pad is dead flat and it seems to help Velvet to be on completely level ground.  But what helps Velvet more is Jan.   She took the lead rope from me, held Velvet’s head close up to hers and started talking.  I’m thinking, “What good will that do?!”  Answer to that was, “tons”.  Jan kept saying, “You’re such a good girl!”  Low and behold, Velvet held still for the farrier.  This is not in any horse training book I know of.  Even chip-on-her-shoulder-bigger-than-the-moon Cowgirl has softened under Jan’s constant application of quiet affection.

The backyard horse owners, the people who have lived day after day, in close and regular contact with their horses display a degree of connection and understanding of the horse that I have never seen in even the best of training.  They can be ignorant in ways that are infuriating, but from living with a horse and loving them, there is a relationship and understanding that develops that can be achieved in no other way.  Boarding a horse at a stable can not even come close.


A Horse Community

We have a computer game in the works: “Ride Your Horse Around Los Altos Hills”. Horse poops on the wrong driveway? You loose five points, which means you only have one dog treat, but, oh no, you need to pass three dogs! Watch out for the deer scaring, sideways water burst on level two. If you get hit by that, you land on the ground and are out of the game. Gain five points if you turn and face before the cement truck passes. It takes three points to make it under the freeway, but if you get to the packard trail, you get ten points of fun flying up it. Then you lose five because your horse got spooked by President Obama’s helicopter because he was in los altos hills stumping for money. The ultimate prize would be securing a lease on the Maple Leaf “farm” property and getting to live at the barn with the horses happily ever after.

In our game, as in life, obstacles abound. Drivers driving 50mph down Robleda or Purissima. Having to walk for blocks in the middle of the road because of rows of gardening trucks or construction vehicles or party guests all parked, illegally, on a pathway. Having to catch your horse before it crashes to the ground because you have to cross a sealed driveway that wasn’t roughed up as town ordinance requires or on the long, fancy, new, paved with stones driveway at the end of Newbridge court where there is supposed to be pathway because there is an ordinance requiring all new construction to build pathway when it is adjacent to the property as is the case with this part of the path.  After building a 5 million dollar house, the owner was incensed at having to put out another 20K to build the pathway, so the Town turns a blind eye.  But heaven forbid your horse should poop on the fancy driveway. After all, someone’s child might step in the poop, walk into the house with poop on their shoe and the, horror of horror, contract tetanus!

Believe it or not, we have a good deal of success with getting the bikes to slow down because you can yell at them, but not so much the skateboarders; illegal by town ordinance, but a regular fixture on La Paloma.

Los Altos Hills wants to call itself a “Horse Community”. They love seeing the horses. We get our pictures taken and oohs and ahhs every day. It also, conveniently, raises the property value. We are finally, praise the lord, getting an official crossing on Purissima where the arena is. But that leaves a dozen or so other pathway crossings, including the one where the angry motorist slammed her car into the back of one of the horses because, I’m guessing, she felt, even though it was the correct a proper place to cross according to the way the pathway was designed at the spot, that we didn’t have the right to be there. Hey, we’d even settle for them enforcing maybe just one of their ordinances? How about making sure people don’t park on the pathways? And could they keep their trash containers off them also? Heaven forbid they should do something really helpful, like putting in speed bumps.

No, we don’t get that. We get, “You’ve got to do something about that manure! We can’t have children getting tetanus!”, which is the equivalent of thinking you are going to get AIDS from a toilet seat. I do remove manure so long as doing so doesn’t create risk for the riders.  I had one woman tell me last week that she was horrified at the thought that the children would get manure on their bike tires while riding to school.  A more horrifying thought is a world where the kids don’t have access to horses.

Owning the Maple Leaf property would solve a lot of problems. But even if we could come up with the $27 million asking price, it does seem ethically questionable to spend that much money on a property for horses rather than, say, digging wells in Africa or providing heat and housing on the Navajo Nation. The $30,000 in property taxes would also be a bit of an obstacle. Seems it wouldn’t be all that much trouble to make a few, minor, adjustments that would allow the horse to be out and about without having to run a gauntlet. Time will tell if they really want their horse community.

Trailer Parking


There are no horses in the Fremont Hills Country Club and Stables paddock anymore.  There are plenty of horses at the barn, but we never see or saw those.  Just Rick Sereni’s lesson horses; about twenty-five?  The fence to the paddock runs right next to Purrisima Road, one of only three or four arterial roads in LAH.  The empty paddock is a visual silence.

Yesterday was the last day of spring break.  We trailered to El Corte Madera open space.  Midpen finished with their new parking lot, trailer parking included, last week.  Julia, Skylar and Jaclyn rode Velvet, Chavi and Jackson along the Skyline trail, trotting and cantering through crisp, clear redwood forest with soft, misty fog blowing in at the end.  

Spring break gives the girls enough time to take long rides.  It also means there is parking for the trailer at Gardner Bullis school parking lot.  The lot is 1/4 of a mile away from the barn.   Like many properties in Los Altos Hills, the barn is at the end of a long, narrow, private road, which is really more like a driveway.  To get the trailer near the barn, I’d have to back it down 1/4 mile of driveway, then block access to five houses while we load up.  Robleda is nearer and there are two spots I can park there.  One of them requires walking three horses, often by myself, also about 1/4 of a mile, down Robleda, with cars whizzing by at 35-40mph and sometimes much faster or the spot very near the barn with no loading area and a bad crossing where we were once met with a motorist who got so enraged by our presence that she rammed the side of her car, a white, four door mini-cooper with black and white check roof, into the back end of one of the horses, so we don’t load there anymore.

The trailer itself lives not in Los Altos HIlls, but in Portola Valley, about twenty minutes away.  Too tired to park it after our ride, I parked it this morning and found that the cones I’d left out to use as parking guides had been moved.  The trailers on either side of me, for reasons known only to their owners, have been edging closer and closer towards my trailer making it more and more difficult to park.  At this point I have about six inches of leeway on either side.  I’d prefer to park the trailer in Los Altos Hills at a lot where there is plenty of room, but the lot owner told me that the residents won’t allow any more trailers in because of the disturbance they cause.  Instead I have to drive, with my huge rig, through twice as much of LAH as I would otherwise have to do if parked closer. Parking in Portola Valley adds more than an hour and $20 in expense to every trailering outing.  

While at Corte Madera I took pictures of the equestrian/pedestrian crossing that’s been installed across Skyline Blvd.  There is no crossing marked on the pavement, but there is a bright, well placed sign on the side of the road. As reassuring as this was to us, it didn’t seem to register in the mind of the driver who flew by us just after we crossed going possibly as fast as 80mph.  The bold, white stripes on the pavement where the Bay to Ridge hiking trail crosses Page Mill, which we must negotiate to be able to ride in Arastradero Preserve, has made a huge difference in terms of validating our presence in the minds of the motorists and helping us cross there safely.  Unfortunately, the vision impaired ADA mandated ramping on both sides cause the horses to trip and stumble their way to and from the crossing.

I don’t think the Julia, Skylar and Jaclyn were too bothered by the poor crossing.  They’d had three hours of full speed ahead riding without encountering another soul, much less cement mixers, gardener’s trucks towing trailers, wood chippers, speeding cyclists, or any of the rest of the normal cacophony that we are immersed in in our rides in Los Altos Hills.

Today was another picture perfect riding day.  We took the horses up the Packard Trail and down Elena back to the arena. Shana met us half way, which meant I got to get off and walk the dog, to the relief of both Chavali, who I’d been riding while dragging Dante along behind, and to Dante, who was having more and more trouble keeping up.  Cowgirl did not have a rider today.  As she’d been left in the paddock all day yesterday, we had to bring her along today.  Savannah ponied her off of Freedom for the first half of the ride.  Maya ponied her off of Stoney for the second half.  With Shana on board, I was free to take the low road on foot as the girls took the “gallop hill” pathway that ends up behind the baseball fields.  Sara led on Velvet, with Shana flying up second with Chavali.  Freedom, happy to be free of CG, charged up after the mares, followed by a not very fast, though trying to keep up as hard as he could, Jackson, carrying Magnolia.  Last in line was Maya, being torn in half with one hand trying to rein Stoney in and the other holding CG’s lead rope both high enough to clear Stoney’s butt and tight enough to keep her running. CG alternately trots; slower than Stoney’s canter; then canters; faster than Stoney’s canter; not an entirely happy arrangement for any of them, though by the time they were cresting the hill, Stoney’s white mane and tail, CG’s red mane and tail and Maya’s two feet of thick, black hair was all flapping out in the wind in unison, horizontal relative to the ground.

Los Altos Hills is apparently still on vacation as we were blessedly spared the usual onslaught of rattling trash cans, callous cyclists and sports happy, speeding baseball parents.  I still have the grief of having to run my horses in a paddock with wire fencing, risking major injuries, rather than allowing them to let off steam in the arena, when needed because of an faction fight in LAH politics and of watching Mr. Jensen feed the bimonthly dinner of grass clippings from his lawn and of watching my horses slip, yet again, on one or another fancy driveway which was not surfaced as the LAH ordinances require and of knowing that other LAH horse owners think making their beds is more important to helping another equestrian in need and of knowing that though we are loved in word, in deed, the desire of the residents of Los Altos Hills is to build bigger and bigger and bigger houses and with each house we are pushed just a little closer to the point where we will no longer be able to ride in “the hills”.

And the horses are gone from Fremont Hills.  Rick Sereni ran the program for forty years.  Out of dozens of riding stables that dotted the hills when I was growing up, they were the last to survive.  The show barn is left.  That will put you out $2000 a month or more is you want to “train” there.  Though it has it’s place in the equine world, it is not riding as I know it and certainly not anything that could be considered even remotely accessible.  I just keep having the sickening feeling that it just doesn’t have to be this way.

I assume Julia, Skylar and Jaclyn enjoyed their ride in the woods, though I don’t know for sure.  None of them bothered to say thank you.

Year of the Horse

“Don’t you even think about it poo!”  Chloe, age seven, lifted her manure fork and aimed it like a javelin at the offending pile. “Chloe,” said Maizie, Chloe’s older sister, with exasperation, “Poo can’t think because it doesn’t have a brain.”  Chloe is now jousting with the manure.  “Look! It split in half and inside it’s all green!”  To my delight, Chloe has turn out to be a champion paddock mucker and we are having at the pasture/paddock at the Campo Vista barn, after which follows the task of tacking and walking Freedom, Stoney and Jackson to the trailer, parked half a mile away on Robleda.  

Having Maizie and Chloe assisting with barn chores has not been part of the original plan.

“Forty bales of hay is only two-thirds of a load.  It won’t cost you any extra if you get someone else to take another twenty.  But yeah, we can deliver sometime next week.”  To the best of my knowledge, forty bales is the most I can fit in Cowgirl’s stall.  Cowgirl loves her stall.  It’s her safe place.  Loath as I was to have her give it up, there is no hay crop in California this spring.  All the California livestock that normally relies on pasture is going to have to eat hay imported from Washington and Canada, I’m guessing.  I’m willing to bet we are going to see hay going for $40 a bale before the year is out, hence the sacrifice of space for hay while I can still get it at $24 a bale.

“Can we deliver tomorrow?  The trucks loaded.  We’ll be there around 9:30.”  Next week would have been better, but the housework can wait.  Linda, who has agreed to take twenty bales to fill out the load, is also going to be home and it will be a good time for her.  Packing hay into Cowgirl’s stall involves pulling hay off a truck that’s parked on a hill at about twenty degrees, rolling the bale down a short verge, up and over a low fence, through a narrow aisle and into the corner stall.  Thinking it would be only decent to provide helpful help, as opposed to me who would be probably more in the way than helpful, I call Michael who agrees to help as long as his mother-in-law agrees to baby sit Elyse, who at four, is much too young to be at a barn where 80lb bales and hay hooks are being swung around.

A couple hours later Jake, the hay guy, calls again. “One of my men has a sick mother and can’t come in early.  We should be able to leave Half Moon Bay by eleven [getting to Quail by noon].”  

Another call to Linda.  Another call to Michael.  Out the door at 9am; to the bank; buy cat food and nature’s miracle; to the tack store to buy wormer because Velvet’s butt is itchy; hitch up the trailer; drive from Portola Valley, where the trailer lives, to Los Altos HIlls; park on Robleda in one and only parking spot that thankfully can accommodate forty feet of rig; schlep dog, lunch, jacket, ropes, wormer up to Quail; clean stall and pour gallon of miracle on pee spots; barricade horses in paddock; clean out hay room; drag 4 by 4’s down from top of hill for hay supports.  By now it is almost noon.  The only spot where there is enough cell reception for a conversation is up the hill from the barn at Jan’s parking pad.  “The guys are just finishing up their lunch.”  It’s fifty minutes from the feed store in Half Moon Bay to the barn. “Jake, if they don’t make it here by one, I’m screwed!”  This is no joke.  Dogs aren’t allowed in Rancho (Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve).  Kyle, age eleven, will be taking Dante for the afternoon, but I have to rendezvous at Lincoln park, trailer loaded and ready to roll, with Kyle’s mom at 3:10 because she has to pick up younger sister Kayla from school.  Bucketing, mucking, grooming, tacking; walking horses to trailer and loading will take an hour and a half, if I’m lucky.  There actually is one other open spot closer to the barn where the rig could be parked, but last time I tried to load there an irritated driver slammed the side of her mini-cooper into Freedom’s backside, hitting his hocks as we were crossing Robleda.  I won’t load there ever again.  But that means walking three horse, one in front, one beside and one in back, down half a mile of busy road; three horses that aren’t necessarily inclined to co-operate.  

Last Friday, in my first attempt to stock up on hay, I’d loaded Godzilla to the gills and brought sixteen bales to Quail to stack in the orchard with the intent of being unloaded and stacked before Maya, Priya and Julia arrived.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I don’t know why, but i just couldn’t.  “Julia, Maya, Priya; you have to help me stack this haaaaaayyyyyyy!”  If you don’t have to do it that often, stacking hay can actually be fun and Julia, with her gift for order, space and design, excels at the task, but it cuts into their ride time. In exchange for their willing and cheerful assistance, today we will be trailering to Rancho for our ride, though also for the fact that sometimes we just have to get the hell out of Los Altos HIlls.  It still being January, we also needed to beat the sunset.  We failed in that respect.

Michael showed up with Maizie and Chloe a little after noon.  They cleaned the paddock and groomed and tacked Stoney.  Maizie got a splinter in her finger from helping to move wood.  Chloe swept the mats.  Both girls came attired in paddock boots, breeches, half chaps and helmets.  They knew it was a work day not a ride day, but they were going to be prepared just in case.

At 1pm we walked to the bottom of Quail, where it intersects with Robleda, to flag down the hay truck as Quail Lane can be hard to spot.  Chloe and Maizie climbed around the sides of the stone bridge and explored the creek while we waited.

At 1:20 I called the feed store.  “The truck left about fifteen minutes ago.”  That’s how Maizie and Chloe ended up “helping” me at the Campo Vista barn and Michael, bless his soul, waiting for the delivery.  To their delight, Maizie rode CG and Chloe rode Stoney over to Campo.  

Around two, a text comes in from Michael. “The hay guys want to know where they are supposed to go next. They don’t have a GPS so they need directions.”  Chloe and Maizie are busy mixing and mashing the pellet and bran that Chavali and Velvet will eat for lunch.  I’m keeping an eye on the water level as I fill a tub and I have no idea what Linda’s address is.  Linda agrees to drive over and escort them. 

After mucking and tacking, there is another text from Michael. “There was only one invoice for the whole load.  I made check out for $1,626.  Hope that’s OK.” And oh was so not!  

By this time it was clear that the best way proceed with horses to the trailer was to have Maizie ride on her own while I lead Jackson and Stoney with Chloe on Stoney and of course there was Dante also.

As we made our way down the driveway towards Robleda, Maizie says, exuberantly, “Daddy’s coming!  I can always smell him.”  True enough, moments later, Michael appears at the bottom of the drive and just in time to take Freedom and lead the way along Robleda.

Just past Beatrice, not half way to the trailer, a sheriffs patrol car, coming the other way, slows and then stops as he sees us.  “Is that your truck and trailer?”  I replied in the affirmative, but was puzzled.  We kept walking.  He crossed over to the opposite side of the street, facing the wrong direction, and on to the pathway to stop.  We didn’t stop.  Sheriff or not sheriff, we stop where it is safe to stop and at that spot, it wasn’t.  When we did stop, he’d gone, but he’d left his calling card on the truck with a note saying it was blocking the line of sight from the driveway it was next to. 

Miracle of miracles I made it to Lincoln Park, loaded and ready to go at 3:10, handed off Dante to Kyle and Jill without a hitch and made it to Rancho at exact same time as Julia, followed minutes later by Priya and Maya.  Thank heavens all that mess and stress was gone and done with!

Keeping up with the horses on foot is challenging under normal circumstances and impossible at Rancho.  The girls galloped off up the long fire road, while I wheezed and ambled my way up a short cut trail.  Jackson ambles.  It’s gait number two of his five gaits, the other four being walk, trot, rack and canter.  Amble falls between walk and trot.  I knew that walking would be too slow, but what I do can’t really be described as jog, so amble it is.  As jogger after jogger whizzed by my, none of them failing to say, “you’re almost at the top!”, I kept thinking, “there has got to be some way to get my legs moving faster, but I just can’t think of how.”

As the girls have been progressing with their riding, more and more of them are able to ride for short periods of time without me.  But it still makes me nervous.  After we reunited at the view spot, I decided that I’d reached my limit on being apart and said they could do one more out and back, which would allow me to be on the same trail as them, but not have to keep up.  Besides, the alternate route was just a little too long and I estimated it would get us back to the trailer about ten minutes after dark.  There was a nice canter trail on the way out, the coyote trail, but this trail is inevitably full of throngs of walkers and joggers forcing the riders to stick to a trot.  The out and back would bring us back to the parking lot at dark, but after all the effort to get the horses to Rancho, we all wanted to make the most of being there.  Even if we did end up riding in a few minutes of darkness, this wouldn’t be a problem for the horses or us and we rode after dark regularly.

As we started to descend the trail, it seemed to me that Rancho was starting to empty out.  I thought, “Maybe everybody is going home for dinner? I wonder if this means the girls will get to canter up the coyote trail after all?”

Shortly after the girls passed me at a canter going back up the trail I was coming down, I got into a conversation about horses with two men jogging down hill.  One of them has a daughter who rides at Fremont Hills.  Our conversation inconvenienced his companion and as we parted I apologized for delaying them as they must be getting chilled.  They had started to jog away, but one turned back and said, “Oh no.  We’ll just blame you if we get locked in. They lock the gates half an hour after sunset.”  It was five-thirty; sunset exactly.  Whether or not they defined sunset as the time the sun sets or as the time that civil twilight ends, which is half an hour after sunset, I don’t know, but I sure didn’t want to find out the hard way.  

With no one ahead of them the girls didn’t just canter up the coyote trial.  They galloped.  And I found out what it takes to get me to progress from amble to jog to downright run.  The girls made it back to the rig as darkness set in, followed by a very out of breath me about ten minutes later.  To my great relief, sunset, in regards to closing and locking gates at Rancho, is actually the end of civil twilight and we exited the preserve without any difficulty.

As we drove back on 280 towards Los Altos Hills, the new moon, with a very tiny sliver of light on the bottom of it, was visible rising over the Santa Cruz mountains to the west.

That really should be the end of the story, but I’ve just gotten another text from Michael.  I’d left the kids love horses check book with him so he could pay the hay guys.  He put it securely in his back pocket then threw his pants, along with all the kids barn cloths, into the washer.  He is, right now, busy ironing out the check book in what is probably a vain attempt to salvage it.

Looks like it’s going to be an interesting year.  

Happy year of the horse everyone!


Shortly after

After finishing the mucking, there is another text: 


Horse Camping

“It’s so good to see girls up here!  They are all so nice and friendly.  I’d love to see more young people up here.  Usually it’s all adults and very often they don’t behave well!”   Dorothy is the camp host and she’s come over to our site to check on us as part of her duties.  The girls that night were Maya, Julia and Emily, although Victoria and Jaclyn had been there earlier.  At camp, the girls are responsible for all the mucking, feeding, watering, blanketing, medicating, etc.; not that it takes too much to convince them to do this.  With all the running; and riding; back and forth between our site and the pens, the girls got to know everyone at camp.  They also insisted on sleeping, out in the open, in the grassy area just twenty feet from the pens and a good hundred yards from our official site.

Jack Brook Horse Camp is located in the southern San Mateo County section of the Santa Cruz Mountains, part of the California Coastal Range the separates the Pacific from the SFBay.  Calling them mountains, in the particular part of the range, is misleading.  They aren’t hills, either, though.  This area has steepish hillsides that are mostly covered with Redwood trees mixed, randomly, with “oases” of grassy hillocks.  The camp is located on the edge of one of these oases; camp site in the redwoods overlooking gentle rolling hill and meadow.

The camp is on the edge of Sam MacDonald County Park, with all the trails for riding heading out into the much larger Pescadero Creek County Park.  Sam MacDonald is just one of several parks that surround Pescadero Creek Park.  Pescadero Creek is, for all practical intents and purposes, only accessible by horse or on foot as a back packing trip.  This is not an accident.  At the very center of the park is an abandoned “Sherriff’s Honor Camp”, a former minimum security prison written about by Ken Kesey who described his incarceration as a lovely vacation.

Sam MacDonald Park was opened to the public in 1971, the prison closed around the same time and Pescadero Creek County Park acquired shortly there after.  However, the horse/hunting camp was in use for decades before that.  I have been unable to obtain any information on Jack Brook, but it sounds like he was a member of the Woodside Mounted Patrol, an organization that was incorporated in 1942 as an volunteer arm of law enforcement who’s purpose was to patrol the coastal hills out of concern that the Japanese would attack.  According to their website, they are still a “men’s” organization.  Although this is probably not legal, they are a notoriously chauvinist organization.  You have to prove yourself to be a superior and serious horseman before you are allowed to join.

The Mounted Patrol owned the camp for decades.  They put in a dance floor, a bar, a double sink with hot and cold running water and overhead lighting and a shed for refrigerators.  In the 50’s and 60’s, just about everybody in Woodside owned horses, the mounted patrol was a robust organization and the camp in constant use, mostly for drinking and dancing.  By the mid-seventies, the numbers of horse owners and horses in San Mateo County plummeted.  Not only was the camp going unused, but the club could no longer afford to maintain the curvy and steep, gravel road that leads to the camp.  I don’t know the year it was turned over to the county, but I’m pretty sure it was in the late 70’s.  The trails through Pescadero Creek Park clearly predate it’s designation as a park and, from what I can tell, the mounted patrol, with the tacit consent of San Mateo County Sheriffs, made free use of the land the buffered the prison.  Almost miraculously, the trails wind through numerous stand of old growth redwoods.

“Can I sleep at the barn?”  “Can we sleep in the orchard?”  “Can you bring the horses to my back yard over night?”  Unless they were horse lovers themselves, parents view riding as an “activity”, a leisure one at that.  For the girls, horses are in the same category as breathing.   Living on the same property with your horse, in the barn itself, preferably, is the gold standard for horsegirls.  Lacking a tech titan fortune, we make due with what we have: Jan’s barn, the Jensen’s barn and one week each summer at Jack Brook.  Hours of galloping through redwood forest is nice, but the real prize is getting to groom anytime you want to, getting to tootle around and jump on and off horses anytime you want to and, believe it or not, having all the responsibility for care; bucketing, blanketing, medicating.  The cherry on top is going to sleep with the sound of horses quietly munching their dinner; interrupted by an occasional loud snort as Chavali, because she’s not so bright, or Stoney, because he takes offense, alerts the girls to the presence of the buck who makes the rounds of the pens to fill up on timothy every night.  But that’s another story.

Dorothy continued with, “I don’t understand why more kids don’t come up here?  They love it so much and get so much out of it.”  It is a wide open, safe space.  As the requirement for camping involves bringing a horse, there is a built in riff raff filter.  The only people camping there have to be, by definition, responsible and reliable.  The girls really are free to roam unmolested.  I know that Woodside Junior Riders used to regularly bring groups of riders up.  Michelle Borland told me they would spend hours playing flashlight tag at night and loving every minute of being at camp.  But people almost never bring kids any more.  Too much trouble to own a horse?  That’s part of it.  Why bother with camping when they can go to a riding camp?  Which is like saying, why go to Hawaii when you can go swimming at the Y, but not something the parents seem to understand.  Even worse is the dreaded: Riding doesn’t have any real value; which I plan to have as the subject for my next post.

Trail Hunting

We are in the middle of a heat spell; not too terribly hot, but it’s gone on for days and days.  Riding is taking place from 6pm until dark and when the kids arrive, they are none too lively.   Not only was last Saturday one of the hotter days, Savannah and Jill had been made to go on a mid day hike with their family.  In their own words, “Our mom loves to hike!” – and is evidently not as affected by the heat as the rest of us.  I didn’t know about the hike until later, but the heat itself would have been explanation enough for their lethargy.

I had picked up Savannah, Jill and Julia.  As we drove towards Los Altos Hills from Saratoga, I did what I always do.  I asked them what it was they wanted to do.  Their reply was limp, at best.  I dropped them off at Campo, then drove on to take care of chores at Quail.  Sure enough, by the time I rejoined them at Campo, they’d come up with an idea.  Savannah said, “We think we’d like to go trail hunting!”

Some of the pathways are like promenades, but most of them are labyrinthine and obscure.  The girls have their favorite routes and usually stick to them.  None of them seemed to have energy to ride at more than a walk, so exploring the pathways, however circuitous or dead end, was the perfect solution.

Jill and Savannah were also too tired to tack up.  Jill, who was standing with one, long arm draped over Chavali’s back, turned her head towards me, leaned it against the horse and said, “Can I ride bareback?”.

Saturday evening is our favorite time to ride in LAH.  I miss out on numerous plays, concerts and other social events and more than a few times resent it.  On the other hand, the hills on Saturday evenings are empty.  No garbage trucks, no gardening trailers, nobody racing too and from a little league game; the roads are all but empty, making for utterly delightful riding AND if you are going to ride bareback, that’s the best time to do it.

Both Savannah and Jill rode bareback.

The girls didn’t stick to a walk, but they did go much slower than usual, which was a good thing as I was on foot and hard pressed to keep up.

They discovered a tomato garden and an open field high atop a hill that overlooks the entire bay area and also more than a few dead ends, but nothing earthshaking.

On a hot day, the later in the evening, the better the riding, with the best riding; almost perfect; being in the last half hour before darkness.  There wasn’t all that much to explore without adding another hour and a half to the ride.  But not wanting to go back to the barn until the very last minute, I suggested we take a little side route that would be boring, but would the best use of ride time at that moment.  I figured we could finally go check out the path at the end of Fremont.  I was certain it was a dead end, but it was one of those well engineered, manicured paths that runs straight and slightly uphill, which makes, if nothing else, for a very nice canter and canter they did.  Even my best jog can’t keep up with a horse’s trot and I was about half way down the path when I heard Savannah call out, “Deb!  There’s another path!”  At the end of the cul de sac was one of the four foot high wood post with with the white vertical letters P – A – T – H standing in front of an opening in the bushes.  This “path” turned out to be a use trail and a fairly steep one at that, but it connects that particular street to Shoup Park and the adjacent nature preserve/Redwood Grove, a small, undeveloped section of land that borders Adobe Creek, which, in this area is, most unusually, still in it’s natural state.

We succeeded in getting lost and stomping through ivy and low bushes to get back to the trail and had about five minutes left before we were really, truly in the dark.  Not wanting to take the same steep route back up to Fremont, Jill, who was in front on Chavali, rode past the trail we had descended, but she also rode past the second trail.  This left Julia, who had been in the rear, and on foot, leading Velvet, to go first up the second trail.  The second trail was, unfortunately, as steep as the first and Julia had to mount up.

Julia has the distinction of being one of the least verbal students I’ve ever had.  There are many kids who just don’t talk that much so she is no exception.  But even within that subset, she’s in a tie with Maya for least words spoken in my presence. When she does speak, her words are few and clearly very carefully thought out.

Velvet would have been unable to get up the hill with Julia leading her because she just needed a certain amount of speed in order to not loose her footing, but it was within a split second of her taking the first steps back towards Fremont that I had the sickening thought of, “Oh No! This path is not cleared for equestrians!”  This was immediately followed by a tone of voice I’ve never heard before out of Julia and one I doubt I will ever hear again.  It was spontaneous, immediate and must have been much like what she sounded like as a five year old.  All she said was, “Oh Gosh!” , which coincided with the snap, crack and thwack of about a dozen small branches being broken by Velvet’s charge up the the hill with Julia pressed flat onto her neck.

Having had the way cleared, Jill ascended with much less commotion.  Savannah, not wanting to miss any entertainment, had stayed with me at the bottom of the trail to watch the progress of the other two riders.  Freedom was not happy about this and I think Savannah got the worst of it because he is not only bigger and ran into branches still unbroken, but he did so as fast as is possible for him.

Savannah stayed on. If she’d been dislodged she would have only rolled into the bushes, though the bushes in that area are 50 to 70% poison oak so, in the long run, it’s a good thing kept her balance despite her body being used as a battering ram.

Rabbits and Running

“Waaah!”  Was that Jaclyn?  I couldn’t tell.  Victoria and I had walked Stoney and Cowgirl over to the Campo Vista barn to let them run around.  This takes some negotiation and I was waiting outside the barn, holding a lunge whip.

“Oh! I think it’s a bunny!”  Sure enough, there was a avocado sized ball of brown fur with long finger ears, trying it’s best to look invisible in the corner of the barn.  After a call to wildlife rescue, it was decided it was best to leave the bunny be.  I found a syringe in the tack room.  Jaclyn, Victoria and Shani, who had arrived just moments after the discovery of the bunny, used the syringe to force some water into it’s mouth.  They then put a stool on top of the bunny and a saddle pad on top of the stool to make a little cave for it, then headed out of the barn and into the paddock to encourage Stoney and Freedom, who were now busy playing “bitey face” to let off some steam.

Stoney was in the Jensen’s paddock/pasture because he lives in a much smaller paddock and benefits from being able to stretch his legs a bit every now and then.  Freedom, a young gelding, benefits from Stoney’s visits because, as an elder gelding, Stoney sees it as his job to make sure Freedom knows his place in the herd.  But we are always in the pasture with them when they play to both make sure they run around some and also intervene should Stoney and Freedom get too “enthusiastic” in their play or should the start to harass one of the mares.  With three girls armed with lunge whips in the pasture, I was able to just rest and watch a bit from the hill that over looks it.  Magnolia joined me in watching the horses run and cavort.  But this didn’t last long as the pull of the bunny was too much.  Victoria, Shani and Jaclyn put down the whips and went back in the barn to “check” on “Thumper” leaving Maggie and I with the last leg of “play time in the pasture”.

The pasture is odd shaped with several fences bisecting is and numerous corners all of which make for moving the horses around a tricky business.  Someone will be ahead and someone else to the side; both working in co-ordination to keep the horses from running too fast into a corner or around a turn on the cement by the barn.  I took up the rear position with Magnolia closer up.  The ponies took off into a run along the one flat stretch in the pasture with Maggie on their heels.  Within moments, Maggie was no longer running behind, she was running with.  It was Stoney, Freedom, Maggie , Chavali and Cowgirl, in that order.

Maggie loves to run.  She says, “you know how it is when you start running and you never want to stop?!”  When she’s feeling like she needs to blow off some steam, she sprints up Quail Lane, about an 1/8 of a mile at a 25% grade.  She does this multiple times in a row; for fun.  She can also, apparently, keep up with the horses.

After our ride, the bunny was still at the barn.  Victoria decided it was best to take it home with her.  I’m not sure this is true at all.  As it’s likely fate if left at the barn would be dinner for a coyote, I figured there was no harm in it. She did a little research.  Though the bunny was not mature, it was old enough to be weaned and on it’s own.  She decided it was not happy at her house and, two days later, released into Rancho San Antonio Open space.