Tag Archives: Horseback

Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week One

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve posted logistical information about the trip online for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

Just before my partner Rich and I set off on our 500-mile adventure, a problem with transport left us scrabbling to find a new arrangement at short notice. We were overwhelmed by how the trail community rallied round to find us a friendly local with a horsebox (especially Bill Manning, chief executive of the Colorado Trail Foundation, who made a lot of calls on our behalf). In the end, we received two offers of help – from Richard Johnson, an excellent horseman who came to pick all five of us (two nervous people, three unknown horses) up the following morning and dropped us at the trailhead, and from Pam Doverspike, a true trail angel who we would finally meet a month later at Spring Creek Pass. (Hikers call this ‘trail magic’. this generosity from strangers one meets along the way.)

Both were proven CT experts, Richard having thru-ridden the trail twice and Pam, a trail sponsor, having also completed the trail (on horseback) in sections multiple times. They passed on a huge amount of hard-won advice, which was much appreciated – setting off for a six-week expedition, unsupported, was a daunting prospect for both myself and Rich. I’d love to pay that favour forward, so have typed up extracts from the diary I kept throughout our journey in case it might assist anyone planning the same or a similar long-distance journey by horse. Entries from our first week on the trail can be found below. It was our wettest and perhaps our most challenging week, as we grappled with the basics of backcountry horsemanship and life in the outdoors.
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Pack horses and box hitches: a how to

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

I was warned before we set off that the majority of long distance journeys by horse fail due to problems with the pack horse. Certainly it’s true that this is an aspect of horsemanship that is rarely explored and mastered, at least in the UK, and I found  relatively little information about it readily accessible. So here is a brief explainer for anyone who might be interested.

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Horseback along the Colorado Trail

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This summer, my partner Richard and I spent six weeks riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains along the Colorado Trail.

It’s a fabulous route through a very dramatic backcountry landscape, taking in eight mountain ranges, four designated ‘wilderness’ areas, and gaining (and losing) around 89,354 feet over its length.

Our journey was an amazing adventure – a wild, lifechanging summer in the forest, during which we crossed mountain passes and high mesas, camped in wildflower meadows and bathed in freshwater lakes – and we had a lot of interest from other horsey people that we met along the way. For those interested in organising a similar expedition, I’ll post to this site in the coming days some information about how we planned it, the equipment we used and a few lessons about ultra-long-distance riding that we learnt the hard way.

We travelled unsupported, with three amazing quarter horses I hired from an enormous equestrian venture called Sombrero Ranches. To do so was remarkably simple – I just had to arrange to visit their ranch near Boulder, CO, a few days in advance to pick them out, and to find suitable road transport for them to the trailhead near Littleton, south Denver. After that, we were on our own – carrying all necessary equipment with us in our saddlebags and on the pack horse.

The horses – two paint geldings and an Appaloosa mare – came branded with ID numbers, but with no names, so our first challenge was to select them some suitable ‘trail names’: after some back-and-forth we settled on Pepper (for the little salt-and-pepper Appaloosa), Pinto and Numero (for the two paints). They made a beautiful little herd, and did us proud, taking the most hairy situations in their stride.

As they were unknown quantities at the start, we decided to travel at a fairly leisurely pace until we got acquainted with each other (and our new equipment). Potentially – if one was using one’s own (fit, trail-savvy) horses, and had road support supplying equipment and feed – the distance might be achieved in as little as 4 weeks, but for us the journey is far more important than the destination.

I received some financial assistance towards the costs of this trip from the John Muir Trust’s Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant. I strongly recommend any others interested in “life-changing experiences in wild places of the world” to consider applying for this wonderful fund, and help keep the memory of these two remarkable outdoorsmen alive.

Before departure we made an interactive map of the full route, from Denver to Durango (near the border with New Mexico), on CalTopo, which can be viewed here. A flat image of a map created by the amazing Colorado Trail Foundation can be found after the fold. Continue reading

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