As published in West Coast Horsemen – October 2016
Fall is one of my favorite seasons to ride. The colors, the brisk breezes, and the lack of bugs and humidity make this a fabulous time to go out for a long ride. Every season brings its own set of considerations to a trail ride and fall is no different. Here are my top five tips for a fab fall ride!
The Weather is Changing
Night and mornings are becoming brisker just as quickly as the nights are becoming longer. Be sure to dress in layers to accommodate for cooler temps in the morning followed by summer-ish temps is the afternoon. Protect your horses (and mules) by making sure that end your rides early enough that they can dry completely before dark, or by keeping a light blanket handy to prevent chills.
The fall season often means the return of rain. If you’ve stashed your rain slicker over the summer now is a good time to dig it out lest you discover first-hand how chilly an afternoon shower can be.
Winds are Blowing
Falls changing temps often bring along breezes to carry horse eating leaves. My animals sometimes act as though the woods are full of equine eating monsters at this time of the year. Where we see glorious golds and scarlets our horses are seeing flying monsters.
Hooray! The mosquito and fly populations are starting to drop and trail crossing spider webs are becoming somewhat less common. One insect that hasn’t quite wrapped up their season yet are the yellow jackets. Peak yellow jacket activity occurs in late summer and early fall as their food interests switch from protein to sweets (which is why you see them buzzing around soda cans). They are also becoming more aggressive as they prepare for a long winter.
Leaves Obscuring the Trail
What last week was a clearly defined trail through the woods may now be hidden beneath a golden carpet of fallen leaves. Unless the trail is well signed you might find yourself late for dinner if you become disoriented. Make sure that bring along some sort of navigation aid (I think a traditional map and compass is the best) and the knowledge to use it.
Those leaves may not only obscure your intended route. They might also be hiding holes or unsafe footing waiting to trip your horse. Be aware and be careful.
Hunting Seasons are at their Peak
Fall is not only ushered in with leaves of golden hues but also jackets of blaze orange. Autumn and Fall are the prime hunting season in most of the US. With hunting season comes the need to be more alert and informed. Know which trails are in hunting areas and also know which riding are closed to hunting. Regardless of whether hunting is allowed or not it’s a very good idea to be seen so brush the dust off the orange and wear it.
Trail of the Month – Chimineas Ranch, Maricopa, CA
On the web – https://www.trailmeister.com/trails/chimineas-ranch/
Located in southern California’s San Luis Obispo County the Chimineas Ranch is 30,000-acres of old California history. The areas rich past includes the Chumash people, Spanish Land Grants, and early Californio cattle ranching. The Ranch is now entering a new phase of life as a public use area focusing on conservation, and education. It is also a wonderful day use area for horse and mule riders to explore.
Tucked between the Carrizo Plain National Monument lands and Los Padres National Forest, Chimineas forms a corridor between the forest and the national monument that is heavily used by wildlife of all types, making this an excellent place to observe classic California animal species. Or rather Chimineas is an excellent place to hope to view a glimpse of the illusive coyotes, bears, eagles, and deer that call the area home and that are certainly viewing you.
Being a part of the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve, Chimineas is managed primarily for wildlife habitat preservation and enhancement as opposed to unrestricted public recreation. The southern portion of the ranch is the only area that is generally open to public use. Before you ride here you’ll need a get a free access permit form the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That being said the mule and horse riding opportunities here are well worth the effort and a visit. The trails riders will enjoy on the Ranch are predominately old fire tracks so feel free to ride two abreast.
Riders venturing to this quiet and somewhat unheard of area are in for a treat. The ranch is a stunner and seems to be torn straight from an old pulp fiction western novel. If you wear spurs you’ll feel right at home as you ride along paths that the vaqueros of old wandered as they rounded up stray calves.
As you may know California is in the midst of a severe drought. The consequences are echoed across the canyons where only the lower areas are covered in grass. The scattered and exposed rocks give refuge to yuccas in the ridges above. If you are fortunate enough to visit after a rain the vivid reds of the mountainsides will stun you with its beauty as it contrasts with the pale green sagebrush.
For more information including accurate driving directions, pictures, GPS tracks, and more from the Chimineas Ranch visit www.trailmeister.com/trails/chimineas-ranch.