Last Sunday (August 16, 2009) Erik, Eppu, Daniel and I all took a trail ride together at North Mountain Outfitter, where I have enjoyed a couple of OASC adventures in the past. Also on the ride with us were another party of four, plus our guides: trail boss Dwight and his daughter Jennifer. The other party of four was a family from North Carolina, composed of mother, father, college sophomore daughter, and sixteen year old son. They said they used to own horses and ride frequently when the teens were younger.

Starting Out

We started out at a corral near the stable where we waited to be matched up with our mounts.
Erik was matched with a horse named Roscoe (if I remember right) and received basic riding instruction from Dwight.
I got lots of pictures of Erik while waiting my turn. For some reason I did not get as many pictures of anyone else.
Meanwhile, Eppu got acquainted with trail dog Enapay.
Enapay enjoyed the attention.
Here Daniel gets matched with a horse whose name I cannot recall while Erik continues to familiarize himself with the operation of his new vehicle.
This picture came out fuzzy but I think it shows Jennifer leading my horse, Jigger, down to the corral from the stable.
Hello, Jigger.
Eppu was assigned to a horse named Diamond. I was amused by the coordination between Eppu's shirt and Diamond's coat.

On the Trail

Not long after we started our trail ride, we were stopping to give the horses a rest when without warning Daniel's horse started acting erratically. I didn't see (or don't remember) everything that happened, but the horse left the trail, tossed his head around, perhaps danced or bucked some; I just remember being frightened and thinking that Daniel was doing a great job of staying on the horse and staying calm. After some confusion we figured out that the horses' hooves had disturbed a nest of yellowjackets on or near the trail, and Daniel's horse had been stung and was trying to get away from the wasps. This was not a happy turn of events. Other horses and humans were stung too, and our party was split up into three sections: Dwight, the two teens, and their father went up the trail to a spot where Dwight got them settled to wait for the rest of us; Daniel's horse, reacting instinctively to the threat of the bees, carried him back down the trail toward the stable; and Jennifer remained at first with me, Erik & Eppu, and the mother from the other family, helping us to dismount and tie up the horses at a spot just far enough down the trail to escape further wasp stings.

My horse was apparently stung on the face, and although he did not toss me around the way Daniel's horse did to him, he became difficult to control as he tried to rub his face against tree trunks and other horses. The other horses were made nervous by Daniel's horse's behavior, and they were further consternated by my horse trying to scratch his face on them. At one point, the woman from the other family was dumped off the back of her horse, but she fell from a relatively low position (the horse was kind of crouching and leaning) and she landed on all fours like a cat, suffering no injury beyond a little bruising. After helping me to dismount, Jennifer took Jigger down the trail with her as she went after Dan.

I think Dwight and Jennifer are generally good guides, but this situation overwhelmed them. There were only two of them, and we got split up into three parties. Daniel and I talked afterward and could not figure out why Dwight went up the trail with the three people from the other family, who were all more experienced riders, while Daniel was getting carried away down the trail and shouting very clearly, "I need help." (Just to be clear, Dwight did come back down the trail after getting the other three people settled farther up.) It must have been difficult for Jennifer to decide where to focus her attention first: the four of us with some horse problems, or the one of Daniel with bigger horse problems. I was distracted by my own horse's behavior, but it looked to me as I glimpsed Daniel disappearing down the trail as if his horse was now calm, just headed the wrong direction and no longer under Daniel's control (the reins, I had seen when the horse was dancing around off the trail, were both on one side of the horse's neck, which means Daniel would have no leverage to put pressure on the horse's mouth to give him the "stop" command; I don't know whether he would be able to steer the horse to the same side as the reins, but he certainly couldn't steer to the other side).

After the confusion had subsided and Daniel, his horse, and my horse had all been brought back, everyone was given the option to stop riding and call it a day. None of us took that option--not even Daniel, whose horse had exhibited the most frightening behavior; nor the woman who got thrown from her horse; nor Erik, who had just witnessed a very frightening and potentially dangerous occurrence at the start of his very first ride! We all chose to persevere.

Erik, Eppu, and I had to wait around in the woods while Jennifer went to help Daniel. I took the opportunity to snap a few more photos. Here are Eppu and Diamond again. Note Eppu's rubber boots from Nokia--I hadn't realized that Nokia was a rubber and tire company before it became a cell phone giant!
Erik and Roscoe. Roscoe was tied to the downhill side of the tree but strongly preferred to stand on the trail, giving himself a shorter lead, which we worried could be a problem. It wasn't, though.

Snack Time

After riding on the mountain for a while, we stopped for a snack break in a spot that overlooked this view of the Shenandoah Valley.
Erik had some water.
Dwight had a conversation with Enapay.
I had a conversation with Jigger.

After the Ride

Back at the ranch, we all hung out on the porch for a little bit while people took turns using the bathroom, changing clothes, etc. I gave Enapay a belly-rub.
He liked it.
After leaving North Mountain, we went to the Blue Ridge Pig for a highly satisfying late lunch of barbecued pork sandwiches (mmmmmmm). They had made one notable renovation since I was last there: the installation of this sign indicating the location of the restroom (at the back of the car wash next door).