Mindful of lack of riding opportunities over the last few months (dark afternoons and overloading at work), this year we decided to take the horses camping at Joshua Tree National Park over Christmas/New Year instead of the usual pilgrimage to the Death Valley multi-day endurance ride – there was no way I was going to get anyone fit enough to go 50 miles. A slop-free holiday is a perfect holiday.

As it turned out, there were five horses down at Joshua Tree and not a one in shoes.


A matched pair - one of the red Tennessee Walkers... this one, aptly named "Red".

Big Red (one of the red bookends) and Ann at Black Oak Campground

Our friends Ann and Jess came down with us, bringing their [fairly new to them] red Tennessee Walkers. Although both had spiffy new Gloves on the front, Ziggy–the newer horse–needed something for his back feet. He’d managed to wear them down to stubs and was sore in the heels. Their hoof-worker, Jason, had put equicasts on his rear feet but by the time we got down to the desert one had come off and the other had worn down to nothingness on the bottom. Luckily, I happened to have a pair of old Epics in my boot bin and also found two rather tired but still serviceable comfort pads to go in them. Stuck them onto Ziggy’s feet and he was cheerful for the rest of the week.

In an effort to make the horses less idiotic (the cold weather made for very cheerful horses), Patrick and I took Fergus and Uno on an adventure to the top of Eureka Peak (5,500′) a few days after we arrived. The ascent went relatively smoothly – the trail was a little steep in places (mostly a hiking trail), but the reward of the amazing 360° view at the top was well worth the effort.

Uno summits Eureka Peak

Uno on the top of Eureka Peak

On the way down, things went a little awry. We decided to take a different trail down. It started innocuously enough in a sandy wash until we came across what appeared to be a dry waterfall. We descended this on foot, leading the horses.

Clambering back up the waterfall

Clambering back up the waterfall

Remounted and went another few minutes before coming across another waterfall-like obstacle – this one complete with spikey-downed-tree to limbo around. Once again, the horses managed to get through this without too much trouble.

Waterfall #2

We remounted again and went another few minutes until we came to the next waterfall – a 10 ft sheer rock drop. Ah. Not going to get over that one. So we turned around and scrambled back up all the obstacles we’d experienced on the way down.

Patrick and Uno

Patrick describing the impressive way Uno scampered up the rocky waterfall.
He was leading him at this point because we’d gotten rearranged going back through the second obstacle.

Both Fergus and Uno were completely barefoot. I’d brought boots along for them on the trip but the footing was mostly lovely sandy washes and booting them would have been a waste of time, so the boots remained in the trailer at the Black Oak Campground. But I was still thrilled with how well the horses dealt with the rocky footing when we did come across it. Both had been standing in sloppy mud for several weeks prior to this and I expected their feet to be correspondingly soft and tender – not so.

One of the multitude of washes at Joshua Tree National Park

Patrick and Fergus in one of the multitude of washes

Later in the week, we left Ann and Jess and moved camp to the center of the park – Ryan Campground.

Ryan Campground

Ryan Campground

At Ryan, we were joined by our friend Kaity Elliott and her 21 yr old POA, Sonny. Kaity had pulled Sonny’s back shoes a year or so prior, but had only just started him barefoot in front, so he was sporting a pair of rather fine orange, old-style EZ boots.Kaity told me that in 2004 she had found this pair of boots in the trash after Tevis – someone had had them glued-on with EZ foam and presumably didn’t want the bother of trying to clean them up. As a starving student Kaity took the time and has used them ever since in times of need.

Kaity and Sonny investigating an old mining cabin

Kaity and Sonny investigating an old mining cabin

Kaity and Sonny

Kaity and 21 yr old Sonny enjoying the Lost Horse Mine Trail

We rode the Lost Horse Mine trail, which, it turned out was more of a clamber through a rocky wash, followed by several miles of chunky rock – but once again the gorgeous views were well worth the climb. We took it slow on the worst footing and neither Fergus nor Uno had any problems.

Patrick and Fergus, Lost Horse Mine Trail

Patrick and Fergus, Lost Horse Mine Trail

On the last day we rode out to the huge monzogranite rocks behind Hidden Valley. This would have been a fun ride had Uno not picked this day to be even more idiotic than usual. Still, he did some good speed-walking in the sand… and I did too (better to get off, I finally decided).

Lucy n' Uno, Patrick n' Fergus

Bundled up, but loving the views

In all, we managed about 30 miles of riding on lovely deserty trails filled with spikey vegetation which, thankfully, I managed to miss landing on when Uno dumped me at the start of the Eureka Peak ride. No matter – it was a good start to the year getting the pones on track for further adventures.

 Lucy Chaplin Trumbull