Take Me Away
Hitting the road with their Paints opened one couple’s eyes to a world of natural wonders and a new sense of freedom.
By Kelly Allen with Jessica Hein
When my husband, Ron, and I met about 15 years ago, I was a show rider with a penchant for hunters and jumpers—there’s nothing quite like feeling the wind through your hair and the sense of freedom that comes when soaring over a fence in complete partnership with you horse … at least, that’s what I thought at the time. Ron, however, soon introduced me to trail riding and horse camping—I had never before camped with my horse, but once I did, I was hooked.
Hitting the trails helps you escape from everything, and we have found ourselves refreshed after drinking in picture-perfect scenery from some of North America’s most pristine natural wonders—places you’d never get to see in a show ring. Trail riding with our Paints has allowed us to explore not only our own backyard in Merritt, British Columbia, Canada, but also some of the most iconic and spectacular landmarks of the West.
A Grand Adventure
Before we were retired, Ron and I would pool our precious vacation days and cash them in annually for several weeks of uninterrupted exploration from the backs of our Paint Horses. But we didn’t just stay close to home—though our area of Canada has some amazing trails, we saddled up each winter—figuratively and literally—and headed south for some truly Western adventures. Loading up our horses into a converted living-quarters horse trailer, we headed across the boarder, our sights set on the red sands and Saguaro cacti of Arizona and a welcomed respite from our real-life responsibilities.
I wanted to see as much as possible during our fist six-week trip to Arizona in 2007, so we moved around quite a bit. We first hitched a line on Bureau of Land Management lands in Wickenburg, a small town northwest of Phoenix. Riding in Wickenburg is what I had dreamed Arizona would be: beautiful sunsets, great sand draws to ride through and the company of towering, 40-foot Saguaro cacti waving hello all around us.
Lost Dutchman and Catalina state parks, the Superstition Mountains, the Goldfield ghost town, Tombstone, Sedona—Arizona offered so many awe-inspiring riding opportunities … it kind of steals your heart. The riding was incredible; you could stay all winter long and not ride the same trail twice. Time flew by, and as our windshield brought Canada closer, we were already planning our next escape.
Postcard-worthy views are a trademark of Arizona, and we’ve certainly experienced a ton of them on subsequent trips. One of my favorite memories is riding through the Chiricahua National Monument—this 12,000-acre national park in Eastern Arizona only allows 20 mounted riders, or “40 heartbeats,” daily, so it felt particularly special to hit the trails here. It felt like the park was ours alone, and the experience was breathtaking … both for its views of towering hoodoo rock formations, colored in gray and green, and the steep ledges that border some of the horse trails; for someone with a fear of heights, like me, it was equal parts terrifying and amazing.
At first, I took lots of photos, like I often do on our trail-riding adventures, but then I looked down—we were so high up, I think I stopped breathing. I turned around to look at my friend Katherine, and she was white as a ghost, holding her breath too. This was my 6-year-old Paint stallion’s first real expedition, and he handled it like a trooper—I guess he’s not scared of heights! When we went back a few years later, I knew what was looming around the corner and we both handled it like old pros.
Another time, some friends and I were exploring the trails that wind through the Superstition mountains. We headed out that morning without a care in the world, prepared for a full day of saddle time. The deeper we ventured into the mountain trails, the more spectacular the scenery became—naturally, we had to keep going! Around sunset, just as the fiery red-orange Arizona sky was streaking its goodbye for the day, we had to navigate a tricky cliff-side trail, barely wide enough for our mounts. I tried taking pictures, but I was shaking so badly when I looked down and saw the four-story-tall Saguaro cacti dwarfed by our mountainous height, most of my photos were blurry. Once again, my stallion pulled through—as sure as a mountain goat, he got us safely across the rocky ledge and we finished riding to our rendezvous point the dark, drinking in the sumptuous smells of fresh air and desert cactus blooms that somehow seem more potent at night.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2016 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.