July 19, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Playing Hooky on Horseback

"In Santa Fe, we keep watch over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains trying to pick the most perfect day for a horseback ride up Aspen Vista Trail"

By Susie Morgan

Hoof Prints in Santa Fe

Susie Morgan is a lifetime lover of horses, the outdoors and lives for adventures. She lives in Las Campanas, and is reconnecting with horses after working 27 years in New York City.

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Many things signal the arrival of fall: crisp air, the first smells of fireplaces, shorter days and cooler nights. As for me, I wait for the aspens to turn. In Santa Fe, we keep watch over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains trying to pick the most perfect day for a horseback ride up Aspen Vista Trail.

At 10,000 feet elevation, Aspen Vista is a multi-use trail and the most popular trail in the Santa Fe National Forest. On weekend days, it can get crowded between hikers, joggers, mountain bikers, dog walkers and photographers.  In winter, add snowshoeing to the list. So for a serene horseback ride, we pick an afternoon during the week. 

Although we have been planning this for weeks, we have put off picking the perfect day until we suddenly realize it’s now or next year!  Jim and I duck out of work early, while Beth and Ron load the horses to meet us at the trailhead parking lot.  As we wind around curves up the switchback road that leads to Aspen Vista, we get our first up-close look at the glittering gold. The aspens come into view, then disappear around the next bend, and back into view again.  The light breeze is causing them to flicker, as if waving to us.

Horses always seem to create a bit of novelty and tacking up in the parking lot today is no exception.  We spend a few minutes so passers-by can pet the horses.  We saddle up and start the climb into the trees.  It’s a perfect day; the trail is wide, sky is a brilliant blue, and the afternoon is sunny and warm.

The few hikers and dog walkers we encounter smile when they see us and photographers momentarily turn their cameras from the aspens to the horses.  One horse (that has always had a very high opinion of himself) begins to stop as each walker approaches feeling certain that they too will want to take his picture.  We are hoping we don’t encounter a mountain biker which will be moving at faster speed and could spook the horses.

We ride until we have exhausted the aspens and the forest turns into green conifers.  From here, the view across the valley is stunning.  It’s hard to pull ourselves away but we have a downhill ride to cover before we lose the afternoon light.

As we return to the trailers, Beth says, “I have a surprise.”  I said, “I have one too!”  She pulls out a wonderful New Mexico white wine she had chilling in the cooler, and I have cheese and crackers – we are in sync. 

As we unsaddle, load the horses and give them a snack, Jim selects good boulders for a table and chairs to enjoy our treat.  We watch the sun set over the last hill.  Fall is in the air and winter is just around the next bend.

http://www.sdcmountainworks.com/hiking/trails.php

http://www.newmexico.org/scenicbyways/sf_natl_forest.php

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