Ride ’em cowboy, but not the Western way

Declan with cowboy Joe and on a horse named Joe.

Joe is a real cowboy, or at least he totally looks the part. He’s all blue-jeans, a big hat, droopy moustache, leather chaps and lovely musical silver spurs. As he walks about getting us mounted on our horses he spurs make a great tinkling sound as the strike against the ground – a sound that makes me think of gunfights at high noon. That same sound formed the background music throughout our ride through the Californian hills.

From the beginning it was clear that this was a little different to the other riding experiences on this trip. For a start the horses were big; no ponies here. Declan looked tiny on the back of his huge steed. Then there was the Western saddles, with their raised saddle horn and cantle, and the Western bridle which you hold with one hand instead of two. I must say I found the Western saddle much more comfortable than the ones we used in Scotland and Iceland.

View out to sea from the trail.

We rode up a little “crick” at the bottom of a tree-lined valley with Joe pointing out the various trees and plants on the way. After a while crisscrossing the creek in dappled sunlight we started upwards into the clear air of the valley ridge. There we found enormous views all the way out to the ocean and dry embankments dotted with yucca and cactus. The valley forms part of a National Forest preserve and is filled with oak and sycamore trees; dragonflies flit amongst their branches and there are deer tracks along the path. Overhead buzzards ride the thermals with only the mildest twitch of their outstretched wingtips.

On the trail.

We couldn’t have visited the States without having a cowboy experience and our ride with Joe certainly fitted the bill. The funny thing, as the more observant might spot in the pictures, is that we didn’t wear our normal hats – which do look sort of cowboy-like and so would have nicely complemented the experience. When we said we wanted helmets, Joe and his colleague looked at us like we were some strange beasts: “We don’t get many folks round here that want helmets”, Joe drawled “Y’all must be from Europe, right?” When I explained we were Australian but had last ridden in Iceland with a Swiss guide, Joe shook his head and said, “Well, that sure ain’t the Western way.”

3 thoughts on “Ride ’em cowboy, but not the Western way

  1. If you go most horseback riding places around here, especially those that cater to or allow children to ride, helmets are pretty common. At least I thought so. So, it’s not always “the Western way”. =) Sounds like you’re having a great time, though! I love reading your updates.

    1. Interesting; according to info available on the Web, many horseriding places in the States don’t have helmets at all because that generates a legal risk they are not prepared to carry. So we phoned the place we rode at yesterday to check they had helmets available before we went. When we arrived it turned out they had five helmets so finding something to fit the four of us was a bit of pot-luck. It was a strange contrast with Europe where if you didn’t wear a properly fitted helmet you didn’t ride – we had expected the US to be even more safety conscious, but perhaps they covered themselves with the waiver we signed which I think ensured I could not hold them responsible for anything from a fall to World War 3.

  2. That is interesting. I think Americans consider cities to be dangerous, so activities happening in cities require helmets. Like bike riding. Activities in rural areas don’t… Helmets are not required at ski resorts, either.

    Or, one might cynically point out that this country’s laws are made by city people, and city people don’t have horseback riding top of mind!

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