It’s Laurel’s birthday today. She’s not too old to go on a Black Butte Stables trail ride with her cowboy, and that’s all I’ll say about her age.
Except, Laurel looks a lot younger than her XX years. Also, those XX years haven’t brought her hugely proficient arithmetic skills, because up until a few weeks ago she thought that today she was going to be XX + 1. When I pointed out her math error, Laurel was greatly relieved. “All year I thought I was going to be XX + 1,” she said. “Wow! You’ve taken a year off of my life—but in a good way.”
I’m happy that I could give her the gift of a year-younger birthday. Otherwise, Laurel’s main material gift was something she picked out herself: the afore-blogged wolf painting. The trail ride counts as a day-before-birthday present, sort of. By “sort of,” I mean that the birthday cowgirl was in sort of a fussy mood when the photo above was taken.
Our trail guide, Rachel, a.k.a. “Iceman,” (we were told that the guides have given each other Top Gun-inspired nicknames) was nice enough to take the photo. And she kept up a smooth conversation with me and the two girls who rode the first two horses in our group. Laurel brought up the rear and was distantly involved in the conversing. But that wasn’t the reason she was fussy, notwithstanding the central Oregon dust kicked up by four preceding horses that left her in a cloud much of the way.
No, Laurel was fuming because of the increasingly tame “Hole in the Wall Gang” two-hour trail ride we had paid our $55 each for. We are longtime Black Butte Stables customers. We’ve gone out on this ride many times. So many times, that for a few years the Stables was letting us go out on our own without a guide. Ah, the good old days.
That was before Black Butte Stables was bought by an attorney. Now, there’s nothing inherently bad about attorneys. Nothing, that is, which couldn’t be fixed by erasing all memory of law school from their minds and taking away their licenses. For attorneys necessarily have legal minds. And legal minds worry about lawsuits. Combine this attribute with ownership of a stable and you have the recipe for a boring trail ride.
Many years ago we used to be able to gallop on this Hole in the Wall Gang ride. Some years ago we used to enjoy extended canters. A few years ago the policy changed to short canters. Then, extended trots. And now, short trots. Whoopee. What a wild gang the five of us were yesterday. Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk (add about a dozen more “walks” for the proper walk/trot balance). Brief trot. Walk, walk, walk, walk…Well, you get the picture.
When we got back to our cabin we legalistically parsed the current description of the Hole in the Wall Gang ride on the Black Butte Stables brochure. “An exciting and challenging ride.” Your honor, a false and misleading statement! The ride was neither exciting nor challenging. “Riders…must have intermediate to advanced horsemanship skills.” No, your honor. If you could sit on a rocking horse, you’re qualified to go on this ride.
Lest I sound unduly critical of Black Butte Stables, I need to stress that we like the staff there; we like their horses; and we especially like the scenic trails surrounding the Black Butte development. And we understand the need for caution in these litigious times. Reportedly the Stables’ liability policy has some sort of “trot-only” clause in it.
That said, after our canterless and barely-trotted ride Laurel and I talked about the sorry state of affairs this country has gotten itself into when a fear of lawsuits leads to pony rides being eliminated by Black Butte Stables. Pony rides! Laurel fondly remembers how much she loved pony rides when she was a little girl, and how they were the first step to her loving horse rides as a big girl.
When virtually all risk is taken out of riding, it really isn’t riding. Especially when those paying their $55 for a two-hour ride are experienced riders who could be safely galloping rather than briefly trotting. Life isn’t risk-free, nor should it be. When lawyers and insurance companies took the fun out of an “advanced” trail ride, that’s when Laurel and I became convinced the legal liability system needs major reform.
Before, liability reform was pretty much an abstraction for us. Walking our horses on a two-hour trail ride for about 119 minutes brought the issue close to hand (and hoof).
The way things are going, next year the Hole in the Wall Gang ride will be entirely walking. The year after that, each horse will be accompanied by two stable staffers with air mattresses in hand, ready to break a fall if a rider falls asleep from boredom.
We’re looking for other riding options in the Camp Sherman/Sisters area. If anyone would like to look into the possibility of sharing the cost of owning and boarding a couple of horses in this area, send me an email. We only want to ride a week or less a month in central Oregon. If we could share ownership of some horses boarded near BLM/National Forest land with one or more other families, we’d be happy riders.