She was easy to catch and patient while I braided her mane. She still hasn't quite gotten the hang of my at-home mounting system (a 5 gallon bucket), but she was ok with it. She quit acting a fool and got to work almost immediately, within a quarter mile. We rode over to the arena, where a couple of western riders were cantering in the small pen and the flag team was doing something in the big arena, and she didn't spazz out. I hopped off, tightened her girth, led her over to the short fence I use to mount, and she lined right up at it.
Then we rode out and met up with Zach and ~C, and she acted a terrible fool and got their horses all riled up, but we got everybody settled again. Z and C had set out from Palomino Valley that morning, and I met them at the far south end of their ride and rode back up the valley with them. I'd whacked the button on the GPS when I got back on at the arena and I didn't notice for about 3 miles, so my GPS info isn't complete. My GPS shows 20.13 miles in 3:35, but let's call it 23 miles in 4 hours (5.75 mph).
We had a lovely ride up through Hungry Valley to Palomino Valley. About a third of it was totally new territory for me and Dixie, and about half of it was further than we usually ride. We rolled along at about 7 mph, with lots of stops to think about drinking from mud puddles, pick up lost boots, stare at cows, etc. 7 mph is a tough speed for me - it's too fast for Dixie to walk, and too slow for her to gait, so it was allll trot. But it's very sustainable for her, so it's good in groups.
It was a beautiful warm-ish sunny day, so there were lots of people out recreating. Mostly dirt bikes, but we saw some four wheelers and a few target shooters. The horses were all quite calm about the zooming bikes :) The cows, on the other hand... We were riding in between a little hill on the left and a range of big hills on the right (I am sure there are technical terms for hills but I don't know them) and I noticed some cows just hauling ass on the other side of the little hill. A little herd of cows just full on galloping, for no reason that I could see. We kinda shrugged, then stopped to pick up a boot that had come off, and the damn galloping cows came galloping around the other side of the hill. Everybody froze. The cows stared at us with their beady cow-eyes and the horses stared back with huge bug-eyes. ~C was the hero of the day - she calmly walked up behind the cows, leading Diego (who was only very slightly bug-eyed), and purposefully pushed them on out of the road. I convinced Dixie to go with her, because I really think if she ever realizes that cows will run from her she'll be much more happy around them. The cows snorted and trotted across the road and up into the big hills and all was well again.
We chugged on up to pretty close to Zach's when I decided I should turn back. I'd been watching the clock and the sun, and I figured if I turned around there I'd just make it home before real-dark. I said bye to Z & C, turned Dixie around, and said "take me home!" She trotted off without a second glance back at the other horses :)
I have been lead to believe that it is also important for the rider to take care of herself, so in an effort to do that I a) ate 3 eggs before I left and b) brought some cheese and salami (and of course fruit roll-ups) with me. I was too busy talking to think about it before, but when I turned around to head back solo I thought I should eat some food. I was noshing on cheese and trotting along quite merrily when Dixie suddenly realized she was alone. She let out an enormous bellow and broke into a canter. I stuffed the rest of the piece in my mouth and thought "Man this is way easier than eating while trotting." Apparently I have an iron stomach.
Dixie got a little nervous being in a completely strange place all by herself, but she seemed to realize that we were actually headed for home. She got a little choppy in the "new" part of the valley, but she didn't fall to bits being all alone and tired and surrounded by
There's a big fence dividing the northeast half of the valley from the southwest. There are a couple of coops over it, for the hunt, and at least three wire gates that I know of. When we'd headed out, we'd come through the middle gate, which was open, then cut downhill / east to the main road. I came back down the main road and the gate by the road was closed. I just couldn't face getting off and opening the gate there, because there are no convenient boulders and my horse is at least 17 hands after 10 miles of riding. So we turned and headed up the hill to the open gate.
The problem with that plan was soon apparent. More demon cows. Hornéd monsters! There were four on my side and two on the side I needed to get to. Dixie froze. The cows froze. I kept talking to her, then cussing her, then finally I had to whack her with the over & under I carry to get her feet unlocked. When she finally took a tentative step toward the gate, the cows took a tentative step back. I kept talking and cueing her to walk for each step. The cows backed up then fled, and Dixie made a really uncertain dive through the gate and took off. I guess the cows were running from something even worse that was sneaking up behind us? Ahh well, it was progress.
We steadily rocked on home and the sun steadily sank. I had a couple of moments of "what normal person would do this? What's wrong with just a trail ride??" but mainly it was totally blissful. The shadows get so harsh at sunset, and the birds were singing, and everybody else had left so I felt like I was the only person on the face of the planet. I was "hearing" when Dixie got tired or caught her breath, and suggesting that she walk or speed up, and she was just moving along on a loose rein, all in tune with me. Right as the sun dipped behind Peavine, we came to a crossroad we've ridden through a million times before and Dixie realized exactly where we were. All of a sudden she kicked back into gear, and we roared the last couple of miles out of the valley in this awesome nonstop shifting combination of trot, pace, rack, and canter.
My usual route home isn't super-direct, because I need to give a wide berth to the sand pit where the dirt bikes play. But I watched pretty steadily as we came down the slope, and I could only see one truck parked out there, and I couldn't hear any motors. It would save about 15 minutes if we just cut through there... so when Dixie pulled to turn into the sand pit, I let her. We are the champions! We have done what precious few other Lemmon Valley riders have ever done and lived to tell about! We rode the sand pit!
It was actually awesome. Great footing, not wooped out, no rocks or potholes. There's big steep hills, but they can be avoided. I highly recommend riding the sand pit if you think you can get away with it.
Dixie continued her amazing streak of good behavior. I tossed a blanket on her while she ate her handful of grain and I unbraided her mane, then I left her tied while I put hay out in the feeder. She was clearly ready to go - she backed to the end of the rope and turned to stare at me when I headed to the barn for the hay. I yelled "stay there" and by god, she stayed there. No pawing or hissy fits or even lip-flapping to try to untie the rope. Such a lovely horse she's turned out to be.
I am so glad I stayed the course with her.