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.

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