Trail Scout: Borden Bridge

In early May, 2021, My husband and I decided to explore the newly revitalized Borden Bridge Campground as a place to camp with our horses and explore trails along the North Saskatchewan River. I had read, through social media, that this was an interesting destination a half-hour drive NE of Saskatoon on the #16 highway. I messaged the Borden Bridge Campground Facebook page and received timely and welcome responses.

Our lovely camp site.

When we arrived the park gate was locked, but I phoned the web site’s posted number and the owner’s son (I wished I’d asked his name) quickly arrived to let us in, as he was expecting us. He was very hospitable and showed us a lovely horse camping site located up a hill, out of the way and on the edge of the park. We pulled into a sheltered grassy spot amongst trembling aspen and birch trees out of the wind. Thankfully we had some short pieces of lumber to help level our trailer as the site had a slight natural slope. A new picnic table and fire pit, with supplied firewood, was available. A fire ban was in place, as conditions were extremely dry. We hope we can enjoy the lovely setting around a campfire another time.

It was obvious that the new owner and her son were very busy upgrading the park with water and electrical services for several lots along the river. The owner’s son warned us of construction equipment at work, but we were out of the way and grateful he let us camp ($25) with our horses.

We were free to high line or erect an electric wire pen. We chose to high line to some secure trees using tree saver straps to reduce tree girdling. There was plenty of room for electric pens, but since the ground was so dry and the grass was just starting to grow, we decided to use the high line. Water was not open yet so we used the truck to drive down to the river and bring back filled water pails for the horses.

Checking out the N. Saskatchewan River and train bridge.

Friday night, to get our bearings, Alf and I, with our 2 grandchildren, rode along the river towards the train bridge. Crossing the train tracks was our first challenge. Riders would not want to be close to the tracks when a long train goes by. We found a road running along the tracks, past two eccentric acreages, and a friendly dog, that led to a safe track crossing. We were satisfied that we could explore the riverbank landscape the next day.

We enjoyed a quiet night at camp, had a big sleep. In the early morning hours we heard the thumping drum of a sharp-tailed grouse engaged in mating behaviour. We all woke ready for a big breakfast and adventure!

Saturday morning we packed lunch, a safety kit, and water. We had fit and quiet horses and we were prepared to explore the edges of the North Saskatchewan River. We were grateful a train passed by Saturday morning before we arrived at the tracks. Thankfully that was the only train we saw. We crossed the tracks and followed a trail along a field edge that eventually joined hunting and wild life trails winding through sand dunes, juniper, scrub brush, dead cottonwood trees, and thorny hawthorn. The rough shrubs made us wish we had our chaps and gloves on. We saw a mule deer bound away which only startled our horses a bit. The river bank was obviously a prime wintering site for deer, elk, and moose as we saw many dropping piles, sheds, rubbed trees, and bedding areas.

Occasionally we glimpsed the river and were awed by it’s power. We negotiated through a gate and by a bit of fencing along the trail. After about 6 kilometres we stopped for lunch and explored the area by foot.

Lunch break

Tiny woodland violets were blooming and presented a delicate contrast to the extremely arid crackling landscape.

Woodland Violets
An old tree and the riverbank scrubland.

Back at camp, the owner’s son told us about other trail options. We could follow the river shore south under the highway bridge and use the old Borden Bridge to cross the river to a wildlife area on the west side of the river. Next time we will check out the crossing under the bridge before attempting with horses. It might be solid due to the gravel used for bridge construction.

I wouldn’t risk riding much distance along the riverbank, as the shore is extremely rugged and unpredictable in places and it is silted and muddy. The river shore might seem solid for foot traffic but not for horses.

The camp owner’s son indicated that the land along the river up to the train tracks is included in their lease. Land owners along the rest of the river bank permit horse access along the fragile sandy ecosystem. It is likely possibly to ride all the way to Langham.

Our ride on Google Maps

The owner and her family sound committed to making the Borden Bridge Campground horse friendly. We made sure to pick up bits of garbage, spread manure into the bushes and leave the area as we found it. If riders stay mindful of horse manure, tree damage, and overgrazing, this area could stay open to riders in the years ahead. Maybe the park owners plan to add pens, a manure disposal site, and a separate water tap for horses. For now they have their hands full getting their new campground up and running.

It is obvious that the Borden Bridge campground is a lovely destination for horse camping and trail riding. The river shore would be considered crown land but there was some fencing to negotiate further along. Checking with land owners about trail development might be a curtesy in certain areas. Of course, checking out the area on google maps gives you an idea of where to ride. We had excellent cell service in the area.

On another trip, the wildlife area on the west side of the river, south of the bridge, might be worth exploring especially since it is away from trains.

With a little effort the wildlife trails along the river could be developed in order to ensure safe access. In wet years there will likely be marshes and run-off creeks to get through and around.

Maybe local riders will be able to add more information about riding in the area. We only spent the one night in the park, but we felt very welcome and appreciated the location only a short drive from Saskatoon.

The Borden Bridge Campground and neighbouring river bank was an interesting area to explore with our grandchildren. Thankfully we avoided the train. The campsite was lovely and the horse area was large enough to accommodate a few outfits.

Family History: Will Smith and Outlaw Mike

Will Smith on Mike circa 1910-1911

I am fascinated by the photo of my Great Grandfather, Will Smith on his outlaw palomino horse, Mike. Note the hunting dogs by his side and the rutted trail. I suspect the dogs were used for chasing coyotes in the rolling parkland of east central Alberta. Will sports a unique hat, leather cuffs, a fancy scarf, and angora chaps. His long lariat is impressive, too. I have the leather belt from the chaps (photo below) – the angora rotted away many years ago.

Will Smith, (my great-grandfather) travelled west, with his father, from Manitoulin Island in 1908, along with his wife, Susan (Rowland) and one year old son, William (Bo) Smith, (my Grandfather). Will’s parents were LaRue Smith (1859-1931) and Mary Ann (Dutot), (1859-1888). Mary Ann died at the young age of 29 leaving two children. LaRue later married Agnes Ainslie but they had no children. LaRue was a prominent lumber merchant on Manitoulin Island and owned logging camps, saw mills, and finishing mills.

A few years earlier, in 1904, LaRue, on a scouting trip to Vancouver, bought timber rights in the Vancouver area. He also ordered a tug boat to be built. On his way home he stopped at his ½ brother Herb’s ranch at Gaetz Valley for a visit and while there, bought section 17 37 24 W4. When he got back home he sold out his interests in Ontario. The big western plain in Treaty 6 territory called him from the forests on Manitoulin Island. It’s possible the forest reserves were becoming depleted and LaRue saw an opportunity to sell out and start a new venture. He had 2 younger half brother’s who had already settled west and they must have encouraged LaRue to seek his fortune anew.

LaRue, Will, Susan, and baby Bo, moved west in 1908. They loaded horses, wagons, sleigh, and household effects on the train. Several of LaRue’s employees also came along, some went on to Vancouver, some stopped in Banff and a few settled in Gaetz Valley (now Delburne).

When they arrived in Calgary in October, the CPR would not take them with horses through the mountains. So LaRue made a deal with the CPR to take them to Innisfail instead. From there LaRue and Will trailed the horses 45 miles to LaRue’s brother, Herb’s place, to stay the winter. Before spring, LaRue also had bought the W1/2 16 37 23 W4 from his brothers, Herb and Dan.

LaRue homesteaded the SE1/4 of 4 37 23 W4 in 1909 and Will homesteaded the NW1/4 of 4 37 23 W4 in 1908. They had some of their men live on the homesteads so they could prove-up on them and get title. Later on, LaRue bought section 23 37 24 W4. I actually lived with my family on Section 23, west of Delburne, until I was almost 7 years old.

LaRue was a cattle buyer and he ran cows and horses on the open range. After the World War One, LaRue, Will, and Percy Kneeshaw started a ranch at Kinsella, Alberta (NE of Delburne) in about 1915. They later sold that to JoMac Holt and his Dad in 1923 or there about. The original ranch at Delburne is still in the Smith name and the fifth generation of Smiths are living there. The original brand –YS on the right rib is still in use. 

Mike, the horse in the photo with my Great-Grandfather Will astride, was known as an outlaw. At first Mike was tied in the a stall and fed by dropping feed and pails of water down into the manger from the hayloft. Mike was too wild to handle. Probably being confined to a stall didn’t help his temperament, but that’s what they figured was best in those days. Will ordered a series of horse training books by Professor Beery’s School of Horsemanship.

My dad, Bill Smith, had his grandfather’s actual series of books, until they were water damaged. I ordered a complete collection of Professor Beery’s course on eBay. The horse training course offers humane and gentle methods for its time. I suspect that Professor Berry’s methods have influenced a lot of early horse trainers.

Professor Beery’s Mail Order Training Program

Finally, Mike let Will touch him, but still no one could ride wild Mike. Someone known as Uncle Jim, a blind man, was able to ride Mike at a walk around the yard. Why someone put a blind man on an outlaw horse is a mystery, but maybe his blindness made Uncle Jim less threatening to Mike. Finally, Percy Kneeshaw (remember he started a ranch with Will in 1915) could ride him. After that, Will was the only one who could ride Mike.

The Original belt from the angora chaps.

I also have the remnants of a bridle from that era. The bridle once had horse hair embellishments on the cheek pieces. I found some earlier notes from my dad about the bridle. Apparently it was gained on a trade with a First Nation’s man. Bill, my dad, said he was Sarcee (Tsuutʼina), I expect the First Nation’s rider was actually from the Sioux or Lakota First Nation. When out riding, Will met this First Nations rider who admired Will’s white rawhide bosal. I also gather that Will knew this rider and met him on more than one occasion. Will traded his bosal for the Lakota’s bridle with brass studs and horsehair braiding. Supposedly the bridle had an American Calvary or Custer bit. When Sitting Bull and his people, the Sioux (Lakota), fled across the border in 1876, they brought many of Custer’s horses, rifles, handguns, and saddles north into Canada. This bit was later repaired by a blacksmith in Delburne in the 1940s. I have the the bit, pictured below, it does show signs of being repaired and has a stamp that says “inspected” though no other stamp is visible to verify its authenticity. This bit is of the style of the 1860 Custer bits.

Will’s old Custer bit
Remnant of Will’s old bridle

So that’s the story behind my Great Grandfather Will Smith. I know my dad was close to his grandparents as he was growing up. Dad heard many stories and his memory of the details, like which sections of land were secured, is amazing.

by Gayle Marie Smith

Owner and Operator of Sunny Plain Ranch (in Saskatchewan) with fantastic husband and partner, Alf Epp .

Trail Scout: Prince Albert National Park – West Side

The summer of 2020 is one I will remember for years to come, not just because so many horse activities were cancelled due to COVID-19, but also because Alf and I were able to venture on another pack trip.

It was time for Raven, my lovely Off-the-Track Thoroughbred (OTTB), to be a pack horse. I purchased her last fall and have been busy retraining her in dressage and polocrosse. I like to take young horses on pack trips so I can bond with them and teach them valuable life skills. Raven quickly learned to accept the pack saddle and boxes. She stood still as ropes were tossed over her back and under her belly. She had practiced standing tied on our highline at home. She also accepted hobbling and being ponied (led by another horse). She looked ready to go, but I didn’t really know how she would do until we immersed her in a back country experience.

Raven appears nonchalant during her first time with the pack-boxes.

Our other horses were ready to go. I had my experienced saddle horse, Earl, an 11-year-old Connemara. Earl has been to the Ya Ha Tinda and other wilderness areas for several seasons. He also competes in polocrosse, eventing, and english disciplines. Alf had his big 9-year-old warmblood, Dean, who has experiences similar to Earl’s. We also had Classy, a 20-year-old Appaloosa mare, with a calm and confident manner. She has travelled hundreds of trail miles, moved cattle, faced many bears, and is a stoic presence for less experienced horses. She would be our second pack horse. We didn’t have the horses shod this year so we needed a trip that was doable barefoot.

The Prince Albert National Park (PANP), only a few hours north of Sunny Plain Ranch, has vast stretches of wilderness waiting to be explored. I phoned Joanne, the Park Warden, for an update on trail conditions. I applied for a permit and registered at the park office for random back country camping on the west side.

The west side of PANP

We packed our back country essentials including: a small tent, sleeping bags, mattresses, water filtration system, Swedish stove, oilskin slickers, food, bear spray, toothbrushes, and a few clothes. We checked the forecast which looked pretty good before we left. Cooler weather meant less biting insects. All the essentials were falling into place. We were ready to go and explore new country. We were excited!

We loaded horses and gear into our trailer and drove to the PANP west entrance. It was later afternoon by the time we arrived at the parking lot. We quickly organized our gear into 4 evenly weighted pack boxes, tied the diamond hitch on our two pack horses, and headed down the trail. So far so good!

Heading north on the trail.

After 9 kilometres of travel, we stopped to make camp at Lofthouse Creek. This was a good spot as there was grass and water for the horses.

Camp is made. Now for burgers roasted on a small grill over the fire.
Earl is a good camp horse. He wanders around to graze, always staying nearby.
This highline is the safest way we have found to secure horses for the night. Less experienced horses need a short rope.

The next morning was cloudy but we broke camp to ride further north into country we had not explored before. We travelled approximately 5.5 km along the boundary trail until we crossed the Sturgeon River where it changed course into the park.

The Sturgeon River crossing has a solid gravel base. The horses also enjoyed a drink.
We stopped for lunch and let the horses graze.

Soon after crossing the Sturgeon River we headed west on a side trail that led us through a gate and out of the PANP. Now we were on the beautiful trails maintained by the Timber Trails Sno Riders. We followed the Sturgeon River west to Tie Lake. Joanne had told us there was a shelter ahead but we didn’t know what to expect. By this time it was raining and we were wet and cold. (The forecast had changed by the time we started our trip.) I was dreaming of a wood stove and dry feet. We found an old log cabin by a lovely meadow and the river. Our hopes were up, but we were soon dismayed to find caved-in floors and a squirrel infested interior. This was no shelter for us to warm-up in.

By the old log cabin, Raven obviously hears something.

As we were contemplating where to set up our tent, our border collie, Jet, let out a series of impressive barks and growls. We like to bring Jet along on pack trips as she is a good scout, guards camp, and is very obedient. A mother bear and her cub were right near us! We called Jet off. We have often seen bears on our rides, they have always moved on, but this mother bear was in no hurry to leave. She stood up to eat from a shrub. She was glossy and sleek. We were wet and cold and now there was this bear and her cub! We were not setting up camp there!

Alf said, “I’d rather be on my horse.”

We quickly mounted, leading our pack horses on a grassy trail away from the bears. Then, through the trees we saw another building. You can imagine our delight at finding the beautiful Tie Lake Shelter. What a relief! We felt like we had found a castle. 

A perfect fortress from the rain and bears

We swept out the cabin— there were a lot of big fat brown moths. The deck was perfect to store our gear. We highlined our horses in the nearby trees—we used tree savers. We lit the stove and dried out.

This shelter is proudly maintained.
Photos on the wall showed people volunteering in its upkeep.

After supper, we rode 3 kms. to Tie Lake for water. The lake was lovely and had a nice shore for the horses. It looked like another good spot to camp. Alf wished he had brought his fishing rod as there are fish in Tie Lake.

We planned to store our food-filled bear resistant pack-boxes in the clean outhouse, safe from the bears. In the middle of the night I realized a bear could easily open the outhouse door, so I didn’t sleep as soundly as I would have liked.

The next day was sunny and there were trails to explore. We left our gear in the cabin and ponied Classy and Raven, giving them a break from their burdens. The Timber Trails Sno Riders 115D trail wound approx. 6 kms. north to Moonlight Lake through the boreal forest, over low meadows, and across water crossings. We saw a pair of coyotes hunting and heard their pups barking.

The season had been dry enough so most of the trail was not under water.
I took this photo on our return trip (riding Raven) over this crossing with a solid bottom.

We saw lots of bear scat and wolf tracks.

Wolf tracks and bear tracks!

At Moonlight Lake we took the trail west continuing 5 kms. to the Tie Creek crossing. I wondered if the horses would go over the culvert. We dismounted and led them over with ease. After a few more kilometres, we decided we had travelled far enough for the day and it was time to turn back. We were hungry for lunch and the horses needed a break. On the way back we rode over the culvert–crossing with confidence.

I moved extra logs out of the way to make the crossing easier for the horses.
It was still good for ATVs.

We stopped at Moonlight Lake for a long break and a big lunch. The horses enjoyed the grazing and watered at the lake shore. This spot would make another excellent equestrian campsite.

Moonlight Lake
Jet needed a rest, too.

An old cabin, obviously build with care, reminded us of days gone by.

There were signs of chinking between the logs.

I saddled Raven to gave Earl a break. Before making the last leg back to the Tie Lake shelter, we took a short trip to check out Ness Lake. We admired the sandy shore and decided that it offered another beautiful equestrian campsite. There were so many good camping sites in this area!

On a hot day Ness Lake would be the place for a swim!

We arrived back at the Tie Lake shelter, after a 28 km round trip. We were tired and had a light supper. The cabin was just the right temperature for sleeping so we enjoyed making s’mores over the outdoor fire pit.

During the night several rain showers passed through. In the night I set out the dish pan to collect rain water for washing up in the morning. We had a good supply of drinking and coffee water. There had been plenty of places to water our horses on the trail. If it wasn’t for the bears, we would have hiked around the site to explore additional water sources. A small stream south of the shelter would likely provide additional water.

On our last morning the rain held off while we packed up. We tried to leave the site better than we found it. We swept out the cabin, burned bits of garbage, split wood, left the last of our TP in the outhouse, and spread the horse manure. The horses did graze down the grass and you can tell we were there, but hopefully our impact was minimal. We signed the guest book. 

Raven patiently waiting to depart.
Classy was the best pack horse. She carried the heavier load.

We were finally ready to make the 20 km trip back to the truck. After we mounted up and took to the trail we soon we had to stop and put on our slickers. We rode quietly through the rain. Then more showers poured down, but there wasn’t any thunder and lightning. We passed a deer bedded down. She lay still and watched us ride by. The rain puddled on top of Raven’s pack boxes. Since we put a lighter load on her, she didn’t have a top pack to roll the rain off.

We were a small herd travelling through the forest.

Then the sky opened up and the sun started to shine. We stopped for a break and a quick bite of lunch.

Since we didn’t pack feed, we let the horses graze several times a day.
We saw beaver lodges, blue herons, and other water fowl.
We stopped by the warden station to thank Joanne.

Over 4 days of riding, according to our fitness watches, we travelled about 80 kms. I was thrilled at how well our horses handled the terrain and the bears. They sometimes had their quirks. Dean had never seen foam on a lake shore before and Earl wasn’t sure about the waves. Raven needed a duck-tape bandage over one rubbed spot on her thin skin. However, Classy didn’t take one wrong step, showing us how back country travel is done with class…and with bears.

We left behind unexplored trails that are calling us back next year. The west side trail was well maintained, good enough for a wagon.

I sent an email to a member of the Timber Trails Snow Riders, thanking them for the lovely trails and shelter. I received a prompt and cheerful reply saying we could use the shelter again. We happily sent a donation to the club. I left a message with Joanne letting her know we had a fabulous ride and made it safely home.

If you are interested in a horse adventure, then the west side boundary trail is a beautiful option. The opportunity to camp at the Tie Lake Shelter was a wonderful bonus. The well maintained trails in the area offer scenic rides.

I’ll be thinking of this trip over and over during the long winter months.

Happy Trails!

Gayle Smith

Hidden Costa Rica Adventure

We were looking for a unique travel experience and found a travel company called We wanted lots of activity and an opportunity to support local economies. So we booked a 12 day excursion to Costa Rica during the last 2 weeks of January.

We arrived in San Jose the day before our tour started. On Saturday, January 18, we met our tour CEO, Flor, who expertly led a group meeting. Flor grew up in San Jose and we immediately trusted her with our holiday. She had a special skill in giving us clear information for what was needed in the immediate day ahead. She also picked great places to eat and take extra tours. Our group of 16 people from Canada, USA, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy immediately hit it off over a wonderful dinner.

Sunday morning we arose early to catch a tour bus that drove us over a high mountain pass to San Isidro. We relaxed in the pool at the airy hotel and got to know our travel partners. We were about to begin a 3-night excursion with a locally owned adventure company to the community of Piedras Blancas in the heart of the Zona de los Santos region.

IMG_3327.jpegAbove the clouds on the way to San Isidro. 

On Monday we loaded on a small tour bus at 5:30 am and wound our way up the mountain. At the end of the paved road we transferred to benches in the back of 2 trucks. It was still dark as the vehicles climbed along the narrow gravel trail and through mountain streams.

IMG_3380.jpegVehicles built for the back country

By daylight, we were ready for the plentiful breakfast served by local women in an outdoor kitchen in the small town of Brujo, San José Province. There we met our local guide, Manos Lopez, who lives with his wife and children in Brujo. Manos kept us entertained and was incredibly strong and capable. He could carry an extra pack for a weary hiker and skip up the mountain.

IMG_3388Our wonderful guides, Manos and Flora. 

To start our hike, we put on water shoes and waded a fair distance to cross the river. It was tricky as the water was swift and the rocks were slippery. We carried our day packs full of clothing and personal items needed for the next 3 nights.

IMG_3384.jpegGetting used to weight on my back while fording the river.

We were soon climbing on a small road accessible by all terrain vehicles. Only a few years ago this was a narrow trail passable on foot or by horseback.

IMG_3396.jpegThe picture just doesn’t capture the steepness.

We were soon drenched in perspiration from our exertion in the hot and humid climate. Stops at mountain streams offered welcome breaks and an opportunity to refill water bottles. The water out of the mountain streams was always excellent. 

Group cohesion, through the challenging shared experience, was strengthening quickly. We shared laughs and stories. Sometimes we were so engaged with the steep trail that we walked in silence. I took each step in time with my breathing. I was slow but steady. Everyone was encouraged to hike at their own pace, although it was soon obvious that we were a competitive group. 

IMG_3398.jpegPhoto bombed by Sandra and Matt!

We climbed the notoriously difficult “la cuesta roja” (The Red Hill).  The climb required impressive exertion. My apple watch said we climbed 150 flight of stairs and walked 16 km that day. 

IMG_3411.jpegOn person suffered heat heat exhaustion and was assisted by the lunch ATV.

IMG_3415.jpegDon and Perky, both 71, impressed us with their strength and stamina.

Manos’s family sent us trail lunch–called farmers lunch: Corn tortillas, eggs, potatoes, and beans wrapped in an eco-friendly banana leaf. 

IMG_3424.jpegWe crossed the river on a suspension bridge to arrive at the first family home stay. 

IMG_3428.jpegMr. and Mrs. Lopez — Manos’s parents.

Mrs. Lopez cooked all our meals, with the help of her daughters, on a lovely wood stove. We ate a lot of rice, beans, and eggs, a staple on the mountain farms. The food was always plentiful and tasty. Our guide, Manos, is one of 18 children. When his family gets together there are over 90 of them!

IMG_3435.jpegThe outdoor showers and toilets were clean and adequate.

We slept upstairs in a dorm-style setting. Alf and I had a room to ourselves most of the time. The shared accommodations mean that single travellers weren’t paying extra.

IMG_3439.jpegThe Lopez home was open and built around some impressive rocks.

IMG_3476.jpegHorses carry supplies in the rainy season. They walk across the suspension bridge!

IMG_3455.jpegChicks in a wheel barrow are easily moved for temperature control.

We enjoyed the farm atmosphere and the Lopez family grandchildren. Many of us found this stay our favourite experience during the whole trip. We felt privileged to be part of this loving family who have been on this farm for 30 years.

IMG_3441.jpegThe Stable

Solar panels supplied lights in the evening. A water generator also provided power. A gas generator was used for some tools and machinery.

IMG_3486.jpegWe negotiated the rocks and current and had fun cooling off in the river. 

On Tuesday, after a typical breakfast of eggs, rice, beans, fruit, coffee, we met at the Trapiche to make sugar cane candy called Tapa dulce. Extracting the juice from the sugar cane, raised on the farm, was an impressive process. The candy was delicious!

IMG_3465.jpegThe sugar cane was pressed through the Trepiche to extract the sweet juice. 

IMG_3464.jpegThe syrup was boiled and skimmed while we hiked and swam.

IMG_3495.jpegThe rendered syrup was cooled in a wooden box. 

IMG_3496.jpegThe thick syrup was poured in wooden molds to make dulce.

IMG_3498.jpegWonderful lunch with chicken, rice, veggies, beat salad 

After lunch we hiked 3 km back down the trail to the next home stay. We carried warm memories of the Lopez family with us.

IMG_3501.jpeg The Granado’s brand new family home. 

This beautiful new 2-story home, after it was threatened by a recent flood, was reconstructed and located higher up the river bank. Some lumber was reused along with new materials. All supplies had to come by 4×4 up the narrow road. The small community worked together to build the house. Manos worked on it, too. The workmanship was beautiful.

IMG_3517.jpegGorgeous wooden stairs

At this home stay we had coffee with delicious cakes for a snack. Then we made banana cake, chocolate cake, and cheese. An evening hike to the river topped off the day. The sun was down by 5:30. Sunset and sunrise only vary through the wet and dry seasons by ½ hour.

IMG_3506.jpegThe cheese is in the can with a weight to press out excess moisture. 

The evening on the deck was pleasant as we watched the rain and visited. Some of us did a friendly push-up challenge. After our early morning we were in bed by 9 pm.

On Wednesday, January 22, we ate a lovely breakfast: pancakes, eggs, rice, beans, and our cakes and cheese. The coffee was always good in Costa Rica.

Then we departed with our back packs and down the Red Hill to the next home stay. At a rest stop by a creek a patient horse and mule were tied to the trees. I couldn’t resist taking a look at their tack. The animals were in good condition.

IMG_3530.jpegA typical Costa Rican saddle on this mule.

We hiked to a river crossing and 2 people at a time were loaded onto the cable car. Manos expertly pulled the rope for a speedy trip. 

Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 12.06.57 PM.pngThe cable car had been rebuilt after it was washed out by the recent  flood.

We arrived at the Fonseca family home. This home was older, but fascinating. The family had an extensive garden and raised cocoa trees for chocolate making. Our snack on arrival was pancakes topped with chocolate sauce. 

IMG_3592.jpegCurtained bunks lined an open living area. 

IMG_3580.jpegFlowers decorated the tables. 

Soon we were on to the next activity–tree climbing.  I didn’t think I could make it to the top of this gigantic tree, but I did. Alf had a great climb too. Manos skipped up the tree with ease!

IMG_3556.jpegTree climbing like this, was a lot of fun.

IMG_3601.jpegThe Fonseca family home overlooking the river.

After the exertion of tree climbing we were refreshed by swimming in the river. Following a short rest, Mr. Fonesca took us to the sauna and instructed us on its local tradition. We were to keep silence, to stay in the sauna for 10 minutes, go into the river for 3 minutes and repeat this cycle 3 times to cleanse the body, mind, and soul. We really enjoyed this quiet experience in the beautiful forest.

IMG_3611.jpegAn Owl Butterfly at rest.

On the quiet walk at dusk after the sauna, I photographed a very large brown butterfly with eye spots on its wings. I was impressed by the many types of butterflies. In particular, the large, Blue Morpho butterflies were incredible.  I found them to be a lovely symbol of the beauty and wonder of Costa Rica. 

After supper we learned about chocolate making. The chocolate pod was sliced open and the cocoa bean was roasted in a pan over the open flame. The chocolate seeds cooled and then we worked together taking off the skin of each bean. We took turns grinding the beans. Cooked with a little milk and sugar added to the cocoa, chocolate sauce was made and served on banana slices.

IMG_3621.jpegPealing the beans. Many hands make light work.

Thursday, January  23, we had another early breakfast and hiked back to the cable cars and crossed the river back to Brujo. This time a truck forded the river and took us to the Savegre River to get ready for a 20 km, 4 hour, whitewater rafting trip through some class III and IV sections. After an extensive safety and training talk, the Authentic Adventures guides, including Manos, expertly negotiated the best routes over rapids and around rocks. We stopped to swim in several place and also had a delicious lunch on the shore. This was a fun trip, with teasing and pranks along the way.

IMG_3638.jpegReady to go. I didn’t take my camera on the boat.

Out of the rafts, we changed into dry clothes, gathered our belongings, and hopped on the tour bus to drive to the surfing town of Dominical along highway #34. We checked into the Hotel Diuwak for 2 nights. We showered, dropped off laundry, and went out for supper.


Friday, January 24, provided free time on our own. Alf and I enjoyed a late morning and coffee and chocolate cake. Costa Rica has delicious coffee, chocolate, bananas, and pineapples. We swam in the ocean surf, walked the beach, and watched some of the crew take surfing lessons. Other tour members did a day of snorkelling. Souvenir stands lined the beach, cool surfers slid across the huge waves, and the weather was hot.

IMG_3671.jpegSurfing lessons start on the ground.

IMG_3652.jpegThe town was hosting the Dominical 2020 Costa Rica National Surf Circuit 

BWDI1034.jpegWatched the sunset over the ocean with the group.

IMG_3740.jpegEven the dogs like the waves and the beautiful ocean sunset

On Saturday, January 25, we travelled by van to Diamante Verde, a set of 10 waterfalls hidden in the jungle.

IMG_3757.jpegGroup photo before our hike. 

We hiked 3 km, climbing 800 metres up hundreds of stairs, to the Case de Piedra Cave. It was a total of 2000 stairs up to the river. On the way we stopped at a garden and learned about edible plants and herbs.

IMG_3773Beehive Ginger

At the spectacular cave, we ate lunch. We selected our sleeping spots on the top of a raised rock platform. By now we had been through a lot together and sleeping in the open was accepted readily by the group.

IMG_3806.jpegThis cave was a lovely cool spot and mostly free from insects. 

IMG_3818.jpeg We hiked further to cliff jump and swim in the natural pool.

In the late afternoon we hiked to another high section of the falls to watch a spectacular sunset. I was quite nervous on such a high view point. Some stood closer to the edge than I would have dared.

IMG_3846.jpegThe sun is reflected on the ocean in the far distance.

IMG_3856.jpegThe sunset was spectacular from such a high viewpoint.

IMG_3867.jpegWe walked back in the dark with headlamps to find a magical, candle-lit cave.

On Sunday, Jan 26, after an early breakfast we rappelled down the Diamente Verde Cave. This was my scariest experience. Alf was set to rappel down with me. We started together at the top of the cliff. I was shaking and took tiny steps while leaning back to get over the edge. Alf said his brain worked faster than his feet—he released too much rope and tipped up-side-down from the top of the cliff. He soon righted himself and we made it to the bottom.

IMG_3871All suited up and ready to belay down the cliff face

IMG_3790The cliff face ready for our belay down. 

Then we hiked down the steep steps to the trailhead and drove to Uvita for our last 2 nights on the tour. We stayed at a lovely place, Luz de Luna, managed by a couple from Saskatchewan. We booked an optional Uvita 360 mangrove kayak tour. Don and Perky joined us.

IMG_3910.jpegMangrove roots

Mangroves grow where the ocean tide ebs and flows and meets fresh water. It is a harsh environment. We saw a flock of ibis, lizards, crabs, and other birds.

IMG_3912.jpegPaddling down one of the channels to a small lake 

On Monday, Jan 27 in the morning we walked several kms down the beach to the whale tail formation. We swam in the ocean in wonderful waves and incredible warm water. We didn’t last long in the heat.

IMG_3929.jpegLooking towards the mainland at the tail – a spit of land.

A rock formation makes the flukes at the end of the tail. This beach is part of the Marino Ballena National Park. It is accessible to everyone. After 4 pm there is no entrance fee. I was impressed that this beach did not have any developments crowding the shoreline. Uvita was my favourite town on our trip. It was very rural and clean.

IMG_3930.jpegOne fluke of the tail in the distance.

That evening we had a horseback ride from 3-6pm. I really wanted to ride on the beach but our guide said the river we needed to cross to access the beach was too high. So a ride up the mountain was the plan.

IMG_3956.jpegThe Criollo horses were sure-footed and fit. I’m on Choco.

Our guide, Saul Castro Mendez, grew up in the area and used horses in farming and ranching. His family helps him with his touring business. Saul knows the traditional Costa Rican way with horses.

IMG_0053.jpegWe enjoyed visiting with Saul Castro Mendez 

His horses were small and wiry, just like him. The horses climbed a steep trail with ease and were careful with their feet as we descended a rocky creekbed through the jungle.

IMG_3986.jpeg Stopping for a drink. Our travel friends, Don and Perky enjoyed the ride.

Once in town, along the beach, the horses tolerated the busy evening traffic of trucks, bicycles, and motorcycles. Locals greeted Saul warmly as he rode by. We rode to the hotel and dropped off our riding friends, Don and Perky. Then we helped Saul pony the horses to his nearby home.

Tuesday, January 28, the group voted to hire a private transport and take in the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. In the park we saw several 2-toed sloths (I even videoed a sloth moving) and many white-faced monkeys.

IMG_4084.jpeg A young white-faced monkey lounging by the trail.

IMG_4047A male sloth climbing in a tree.

IMG_4099.jpegLoving the beach

We really enjoyed the warm water at this beach. It was a beautiful spot, even with mischievous monkeys. Alf caught one looking through my back-pack for food while I was swimming. Our bags had been inspected to make sure we didn’t bring food into the park.

Then we loaded into our tour bus and made another stop at a bridge to see crocodiles! This particular river was murky, just what the crocs liked.

IMG_4114.jpegThese crocodiles are dangerous. No one dares go down to the shore. 

We arrived back in San Jose for our final supper together. The next day people started to disperse; some to do more touring, others to fly home. Our plane left very late in the day so we arranged another tour with Ian and Celina.

The four of us took a tour, recommended by Flor, to the Irazu Volcano, a coffee plantation, some historical sites, and a botanical garden.

IMG_4148.jpeg We were up 11,000 feet.

The Irazu Volcano was impressive with a lake in the crater and the Caribbean ocean in the distance.

IMG_4212At the Lankester Botanical Gardens

It was time to say good bye to beautiful Costa Rica. We had a great time with our travel friends and have plans to stay in touch.

If you want an active holiday, then we recommend G-Adventures. We knew our tourist dollars were going to families and independent tour providers. Costa Rica is a fascinating country with an interesting history. Instead of investing in an army, the government invested in education and health care. Costa Rica is one of the ‘greenest” countries in the world. Energy is supplied by hydro, wind, and solar energy.

Adios Amigos and Pura Vida!

Trail Scout: Moose Mountain Provincial Park

Moose Mountain Provincial Park

Boreal Forest trail

A typical established trail in Moose Mountain Provincial Park

A horse camping facility was recently (2018) opened in Moose Mountain Provincial Park (MMPP) located in southeast Saskatchewan. The MMPP maintains an extensive network of summer riding trails that are also inviting cross-country ski trails.

Early September in 2019 offered a four-day stretch of fair weather while forecasts on the southwest side of the province indicated rain. Alf and I arranged chore detail with our wonderful boarders at Sunny Plain Ranch then loaded up two horses and gear. Five hours later we registered at the MMPP administration office for $20 a night and were directed to the southwest edge of the park where four sturdy metal pens, manure dump, fire pits and firewood, outhouse, yard light, running water from a pump house, and a large cement pad provided all we needed for a comfortable stay. Soon we were greeted by Lee, a park employee, who gave us emergency contact numbers, advice on trails, and directions to nearby park showers. He advised us to wear high visibility vests as indigenous hunters were in the area.

Thursday evening we enjoyed a short ride from the campsite on the Boundary Trail — a designated equine trail — winding into the forest. The trail was marked and cleared and several horse-safe low bridges allowed us to cross boggy sections. The clear skies and light breezes made idyll riding conditions, then a cow elk cross our trail! We spied several signs that a black bear had recently enjoyed a feed of choke cherries. We didn’t know bears were resident in the park.


On the Boundary Trail

The next morning we rode the 3 kilometres to the trail head going to Cabin #1. The first day we rode for 23 kilometres over a winding southern loop from Cabin #1, to #2, to #6, then #5, then on back to camp. The tidy warmup cabins provided a place to rest, eat lunch, and graze the horses.

The trails curved around small lakes with low water levels and empty beaver lodges. Wolves were once active in the park, but by 1920 they had been hunted out so beaver proliferated without a natural predator. Programs to reduce beaver numbers are part of the park’s management plan to maintain the water level of Kenosee Lake and return the park, as much as possible, to its original state.

Cattle are pastured in the area so we were able to water the horses at the occasional watering hole. Trail improvements were obvious as we followed freshly cleared trails  diverting around boggy and wet sections. Then well established trails carpeted with grass invited us to gallop the horses. We spotted large barred owls, a couple of young sharp-shinned hawks, signs of bear, and another cow elk. There are estimates of 1100 elk residing in the park along with 300 moose.

Colourful red cranberries and changing fall foliage were picturesque. The rolling upland deciduous forest consists of an interesting mix of balsam poplar, trembling aspen, white birch, green ash, and Manitoba maple trees. 

The next day we rode a 25 km loop in the northern section of trails. It was a cooler day so we lit a fire in cabin #12 and dried our feet and grazed the horses. Warmed and refreshed we carried on with new energy. The Pipeline and Stirrup Lake trails were especially interesting with rolling hills, scenic lakes, and the sighting of a young moose and another elk. On the way back we enjoyed more gallops on smooth sections of trail. 

On Sunday afternoon, after a lovely brunch with friends who live in Kenosee Lake, we enjoyed a short trail ride in the back country. Earlier that morning we drove on the Centre Road and Stevenson Lake Road to find another set of trails leading to warm up cabins largely used for snowmobiling. While these trails are likely not maintained for horses – be prepared for boggy sections — they are certainly worth exploring while wearing a high visibility vest, of course. We met a group of Sunday riders who had ridden to the Stevenson Lake Shelter.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 6.12.04 PM.png

The evenings around a toasty bonfire were magical as we viewed the stars and listened to beaver work in the near-by pond. Then an elk bugle echoed through the still night air. We were enchanted. We recommend the MMPP as a destination for trail riding in Saskatchewan. Watch the weather and avoid periods of high rainfall as the soil is like gumbo. The terrain is a likely breeding ground for biting insects. Our fall trip was comfortable with few flies bothering the horses. The park is certainly motivated to encourage more trail riders as continued site development and trail improvements are in the plans. 

Next time we will bring our electric fencing in case the pens are full or muddy. We arrived after a few weeks of heavy rain and only one pen was dry enough for our horses. Call the MMPP office ahead of time to book your site. There is an overflow area for additional horse campers. 

While we were on the edge of the wilderness filled with elk, moose, and bear we were also a short drive away from a variety of activities. Hiking and mountain biking trails look inviting as well as the upgraded beach and marina. Water slides, a beautiful golf course, restaurants, the nearby Bearclaw Casino, and a Minimart also satisfy a wide range of interests. We enjoyed an evening drive to Cannington Manor Historical Park and one morning we drove into the lovely town of Carlyle for delicious cinnamon buns and propane.

There will be many more dry and sunny days left this season giving our riding friends an opportunity to explore the MMPP trails and maybe you too will see a moose, or an elk, or a bear! We hope to venture back to MMPP and try out the ski trails.

Grandma in Pony Club: Journey to National Quiz

fullsizeoutput_14eaAt 2018 National Quiz in Ottawa our team left nothing on the table. Plus, the experience proved to be more hazardous than falling off my pony. Let me start from the beginning.

In the March I competed in the Saskatoon Regional Quiz competition for the first time. I had helped at Quiz before as a parent volunteer and education chair when my daughter, Maria, was a member. The experience wasn’t entirely new, however, it is different being a competitor. I enjoyed the enthusiasm of our Saskatoon pony club members and admired their dedication to learning about the horse. GFOxiOn2Tiq4J4rKqolC3wI had studied, in part to prepare for my Equestrian Canada testing, which also helped me to do well in Horsemasters. The most fun was had in the team competition. Our team was knowledgeable and we qualified to move on to Nationals in Ottawa.

Before the Thanksgiving weekend Karen, Alyssa and I arrived a day early and enjoyed team bonding while touring the Parliament buildings and Peace Tower. I was moved to tears on several occasions. When reflecting on the tomb of the unknown soldier with solemn sentries standing like statues I could envision the horror of the shooting death of a sentry on October 22, 2014. Another time I was moved by the symbolism and view from the top of the Peace Tower. The bells even played, “It’s a Small World.” On the grounds and along the Rideau Canal red maple leaves carpeted green lawns and flowers bloomed in manicured beds. Numerous statues captured our attention and educated us on significant historical events.fullsizeoutput_14e7

Then it was back to the hotel to register for our big event. We received a welcome package and met up with our fellow pony clubbers from Saskatoon. We enjoyed ice breaker games and a delicious supper. Then off to our room to study. In the morning we wrote our individual tests and then after lunch completed the identification tables. A couple of tables really captured our interest. One table was dedicated to the hunt and was like a museum display with vintage items. Old leather cases, boots, and saddle gleamed along with brass horn, flask, and canteen. We were entranced. Another table featured tiny coloured stadium and cross country jumps, some complete with miniature jump cups, set on green banks, ditches, and hills.

After we finished our tables we loaded on buses downtown for a scavenger hunt. We were full of energy and jogged from one attraction to the next. We took photos on the fish ladder (stairs with salmon painted on the risers), the dancing bear, and the statue of Laura Secord. We saw the giant spider guarding the entrance to the National Art Gallery and the beautiful horse sculpture by Joe Fafard. Karen skillfully wrote up our submission and captured our positive team spirit. Then back to the hotel for supper and more studying.

Sunday morning were the team games. Our team was cohesive and sharp — we even had Unicorn uniforms. We were a blended team with, Kayleigh, a Horsemaster from Alberta South.fullsizeoutput_152cWe moved through the challenges with skill. Charades, 20 questions, Pictionary — we were on a role. Until we came to the game called hungry hippo. This games involved the use of a small square “scooter” on about 4 inch wheels to roll across the floor to pick a slip of paper off a small clothes line. Once the paper slip, with a breed name, was retrieved it was scooted back to the rest of the team to match with a country. I was making great progress rolling back and forth across the carpet on my tummy on the scooter, until I took a hard chin dive into the floor. I knew at once I was injured. My jaw joints screamed and my chin was numb and bleeding from carpet burn. My team mates quickly administered to my injuries by securing ice and band aides.

We rallied and continued with the remaining challenges! Again my team members were successful at putting a bridle together while blindfolded and doing twister on a plastic sheet printed with a horse skeleton. Battle worn and weary, we were convinced we had seriously challenged the other Horsemaster team. They had a vet on board and she was a serious contestant. We had feedback such as “Your team really worked well together” and “Congratulations, no other team has made it this far through the questions.” We were in suspense about which team would capture first place. We had to wait until the banquet. But first Karen accompanied me to emergency for an X-ray that proved I had no broken bones. Alyssa gave us updates on the tour of the apple orchard.

Then we dressed up for the banquet. I could eat the mashed potatoes. In the end, the vet from Ottawa Valley was first in individual scores and our Saskatoon team members captured second, third, and fourth place. We received giant ribbons — epic in size — like dinner plates. Then we waited for the Team Placings. We were called to receive second place for the team event. It was so close! But, we won first place for the scavenger hunt – our enthusiasm was obvious.

Being a grandma in pony club was a lot of fun. I tried not to make too many references like “The last time I was in Ottawa was before you were born” or “I remember watching Ian Miller and Big Ben” and other relics of  knowledge. Being mature does have its benefits. I have accumulated decades of horse knowledge and experience that came in handy for Quiz. Most of all I enjoyed interacting with fellow horse enthusiasts. We loved competing and we tried to do Saskatchewan proud.

Grandma in Pony Club – Testing

For some crazy reason I decided to subject myself to the rigours of Pony Club testing. This morning, before the riding test, I fought back nerves. I tried not to say to myself, “I could die today.” I shoved that lurking gremlin aside. Thinking about anything but death was a necessary strategy. But, I don’t know why I was so worried. I’ve had a good life. I don’t fear death like I did in my thirties and forties when I had young children and so much to accomplish.

I knew I needed to recite constructive and realistic thoughts — such as, “I have been well coached and prepared. I’ve jumped three feet before. Stay focused. Ride up to the jump.” Those were my mantras — well, most of the time. Besides, my friends (and coaches) believed in me. “You’ve got this, Gayle.” Their encouraging words helped.

My daughter, Maria, came out to help which was super special. Her presence helped me relax. It was just a few years ago when I was her support on her Pony Club testing days. I also chatted with my riding partner, Alyssa, about our turnout and we encouraged each other through our jitters.

I had been preparing for this big day for months. There was the winter of evening riding lessons given by Judy and Vic. We practiced shortening and lengthening strides, suppling circles, cavaletti, ground poles, and gymnastics. After lessons I trailered home in the dark and tucked Earl away in his warm winter blanket. I participated in the Equine Expo clinic taught by eventer and Equine Canada coach, Amy West. I also caught extra weekly jump lessons. This past month we jumped outside and increased our stride. It was great to be outdoors experiencing freedom and speed. I was well guided through my lessons.

Not all lessons were on horseback. There also was book work! I had monthly homework assignments, requiring reading from various Pony Club Manuals. For example, I charted a conditioning program, studied saddlery, and listed the parts of the foot. My brain is full of knowledge through studying for my C1 test. I also completed the Equestrian Canada written rider level tests – all 8 of them.

Then there was quiz! Yes, I went to Regional Quiz as a Horsemaster and qualified to travel to Ottawa for the National Quiz! Just imagine Grandma goes to National Quiz! (That will be another blog post.)

So not only was there studying, there was also the requirement to demonstrate practical stable management skills during a separate testing day. I presented my cleaned and restocked vet kit, demonstrated how to fit a running martingale, and wrapped Earl’s legs.  Sometimes my memory blanked for a moment — at one moment I wondered if I was failing! (Those nasty gremlins again) Most times I answered with confidence due to years of experience and knowledge under my belt.

I arrived at Ebon Stables early, and reminded myself to take a few deep breaths — to smell the flowers and let it go! I methodically readied myself, while going through a mental checklist of details. Best of all my partner, Earl, was calm and relaxed. He was also very clean! We had overcome several challenges and had many good rides. His quiet demeanour helped and maybe my unhurried preparations helped him feel like this was just another ride. I also wore my flak jacket — it gives me a hug with that secure feeling. Besides, if I do fall it doesn’t hurt as much — which does help me feel more confident.

I started my jumping round with my talented pony, Elodon Earl Grey, and we flew around the course. I was elated with our performance!

At the end of the evaluation I felt enormous gratitude and thanked everyone. It takes a team effort to make this opportunity available. Parents volunteer time and energy, members make the club vibrant and fun, evaluators give their time to test, Vic, the stable owner provides the venue, coach Judy provides wise instruction, and we must remember  our horses who trust their riders and help us fly!

We actually aren’t quite finished our testing. Due to a downpour, the arenas at Ebon Stables were too wet to complete the Cross Country portion of our test. That test will come in a day or two but, I love cross country riding!

Testing and evaluation are experiences that never have to be over, even if you are a grandma.

Grandma in Pony Club: Smell the Flowers

0FD85F60-8FA1-47CA-BD24-7ED4757E01FF.jpegMy red-haired and dynamic four-year-old granddaughter, Violet, has several memorable expressions — all useful when pursuing a sport like riding. Every Thursday she spends the afternoon with us and she insists on one or two pony rides. Violet has been fearless, until a little mishap occurred a few weeks ago. Yes, we’ve all had those riding mishaps to overcome.

Her pony, Maesa, like many ponies before her, learned how to pull the reins out of Violet’s hands. (I teach kids not to use the reins for balance but still, Violet is only four). The incident came together when Violet asked Maesa to halt at the same time Maesa cleverly dropped her head. Violet kept her determined grip on the reins, thus she was pulled out of the saddle, and landed with a little thud. She was able to get back in the saddle with lots of wonderful encouragement. Violet’s confidence was briefly set back for a few weeks, understandably.

On Violet’s next ride we did some problem solving and added side reins. Now Violet’s confidence is building again. When she got in the saddle this past week I heard her say, “Smell the flowers, and let it go.” She must have had a little worry, but was determined to work through it. I think her teacher at school had taught Violet this breathing technique to calm anxiety. Wow!

All week I’ve repeated this saying to myself knowing how useful it is to take a deep breath in through your nose and blow out through your mouth. In my counselling career I’ve taught children and adults this technique. When we regulate breathing, we calm anxiety. I’ve taken several deep breathes many times before I entered the show ring or started a challenging lesson.

Another Violet expression happens when she rides Maesa and spontaneously says, “I’m so happy.” I get it. Violet gets that wonderful, addictive, and compelling rider’s high.

When we ride, happy chemicals in the brain are released leading to feel-good emotions. When we reach a small goal or achieve a certain riding skill, our brain releases dopamine. When we groom, pet our horses, and care for them, our brain releases  oxytocin. When riding gives us a sense of significance and as friends we encourage each other, our brain releases serotonin. When we feel the exertion of riding and laugh, our brain releases endorphins. Even when we recall memories of good times with our horses and friends, our brain produces happy chemicals.

So ride where you can (not where you can’t), set achievable goals, hug your horses, develop fun friendships, recall the positive memories, and remember to talk positively to yourself. Now I have a mantra, “Smell the flowers and let it go.” Inspired by Violet!

Grandma in Pony Club: Flying Lessons

I am uncomfortable with flying and afraid of heights. On our honeymoon Alf and I travelled to Acapulco — in 1989 it was a nice place to visit — and checked in to a high-rise hotel overlooking the ocean. Alf enthusiastically stood on the balcony and encouraged me to take a look at the view. I crept on to the balcony, looked down 30 stories at the toy people, and jumped back in as fast as I could. I think I hit the floor sprawled like a cat clawing the air. We only spent one night in that hotel. We also took a small plane over the mountains to Mexico City. When we finally stepped off the most turbulent flight of my life, I recall kneeling to the tarmac in relief. I imagined kissing the ground.

To get over my anxiety we could have stayed a month in Mexico, gradually renting rooms higher and higher off the ground. After 30 days I could have handled a 30th floor room, all while enjoying the ocean.

Tonight, at my weekly Pony Club riding lesson I watched the riders before me and a knot of anxiety started to build in my belly. I have considerable life experience with anxiety. Being a retired mental health professional, I have a repertoire of tools to manage anxiety; I use just about all of them on myself. So I started some encouraging self-talk. ‘There was no way I could possibly do what that rider was doing!” and how’s this one? “Coach Judy won’t make ME (meaning a grandmother) do that!” I had to change that mind set pretty quick.

I entered the arena to warm up honestly believing I wouldn’t be doing the same lesson. Denial does come in handy. First Earl and I started with a line of poles set at 10 foot intervals and we trotted the line on each rein until we were comfortable. Then we cantered the line. Then the height was raised. I told Judy we hadn’t jumped since September so she dropped the height a little – to about 2 feet. We cantered each way. Then she raised the jump back up. So far so good.

Then I rode with a driving hand position (you can’t pull on the rein as easily that way). Then I tied a knot in the reins and held onto the knot while pressing into Earl’s neck in a release. Step by step I was instructed to ride with less grip on the reins. Then, I held onto the tail of the knot with my left hand and my right hand behind my back. I WAS doing the same lesson that I had watched before. I couldn’t believe it. Next, Coach Judy gave me the option, if I felt comfortable, to ride the line with my hands out like I was flying! I had to trust Earl. I had to fight the urge to grab for the reins but, “I could do it.”