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The morning arrived and I knew I would be facing what would be my biggest riding challenge to date. A full day ride was going to be long. To be honest the ranch had always made it clear that as far as they were concerned, a full day ride was just that. Leaving at 9.30 and not getting back till about 5.00 and would involve 7 or 8 hours in the saddle.

I once had a tutor who would often describe our learning processes as ‘falling off of our learning curve’. I was about to move beyond my learning curve to date in a quite a substantial way, but unlike yesterday I was determined to avoid the falling off part of it! Including today I would have gone for doubling my saddle time for a ride on three consecutive days. This may well have been a foolish ploy, but it was there to do and like some climbers climb mountains because ‘they are there’, I was taking the same notion with the ride!

The group was small. Just three guests and two wranglers. There had already been a day long ride earlier in the week so it’s possible that people had opted for that one. This one would mean that I’d be missing the ‘beer and cheetos’ ride, so maybe that had been a bigger pull. I’ve yet to do that ride, so it’s nice to have something different to do on my next visit.

We headed out to the national park through a series of lopes and some trotting along some wide dry washes. These are quite stunning when dry, when they are charged with water during the wet season they must look amazing, especially given that it is normally such an arid landscape. Little cairns could be spotted along the ride, marking walks or specific places of interest to one group or another. After a few hours, we came across out first road (with a horse crossing!) and made our way further into the national park and to an early lunch.

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Close to the roads that run through the national park are small parking areas with both shaded and open eating areas, either for those wanting a break to stretch their legs, those wanting a comfort break or those looking to have a break from riding, and yes that did include there being an area to tie up our horses (away from the car park so that they wouldn’t get spooked). Possibly more important for those of us riding today, was not the lunch, not that it wasn’t welcome, but it was a final chance to top up our water supplies for the rest of the day. Lunch was quite early which meant we were going to be riding for the next 4 or 5 hours without access to any additional water. Canteens filled, the journey deep into the national park was set to continue.

I’ve included some photos of the national park, but I don’t think they really do the place justice. I’d liken it to the Grand Canyon in that respect. I don’t think it matters how good the photographer may be, it’s the sort of sight that you have to see in real life to truly appreciate it. Mountain upon rolling mountain of cacti growing, all flowering with different colours. We rode along paths and washes and I was blown away by each view as we crested each new horizon.

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On route we stopped for a stretch a couple of times. I was thankful for this. Ice was a nice horse but due to his past and having been a race horse (I assume), he had a very different gait when both loping and trotting. Indeed his trot was very springy which left me in more of a rising trot than a sitting one, and the western saddles aren’t really designed for a rising trot.

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As we moved through the desert I noticed how while there were some cacti that were common throughout the park, as we moved into different areas there would be different cacti growing in different areas. This could just be a seeding thing and that in time they will spread. However it was nice to see cacti that weren’t in abundance on the ranch grounds.

Pan 5 - All Day Ride

One of the stops was to view some petroglyphs. This are like cave paintings, but the images are created by scratching away the surface of the rock to reveal the image through the different colour of the inner rock. I believe these are meant to be goats, but I could be wrong. As well as being very old, they are also quite inaccessible (well some are) in relation to them being high up a rock face, also leaving open the question of how the people got up there to create them and knowing that given today’s health and safety rules, they would have also received a formal warning from their superiors!

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We were more than half way home now and I was grateful. I was starting to ache somewhat and I was also beginning to wonder if I was now causing more damage to my earlier injury. Ice was not a fast walker which meant that I would often need to break into a trot every few minutes to just ensure there wasn’t too much of a gap growing and this had taken its toll, especially on my knees.

Pan 4 - All Day Ride

The last hour felt slow. My knees were at a point where they hurt no matter how I rode. The one consolation was that now we were back on the ranch land and out of the national park, we could lope home. This wasn’t as easy as loping out, but it was a more relaxed position and thus easier. My problem was that the rest of me ached so much that my riding style was beginning to resemble something from a circus show. That said, the horses were tiring too. The horse in front of me, ridden by a wrangler, took a massive stumble but both horse and rider stayed upright. Incredibly Ice took a similar stumble on the same lope (not in the same place though) and amazingly there was a similar result with both rider and horse carrying on. Maybe it was the determination to get back to the ranch that enabled me to cling on, or that I didn’t want to spill two days on the trot. I don’t know, but we arrived back at the ranch, tired, achy, but very glad the ride had been taken.

Never has a shower been so welcome, refreshing in a way that a dip in a pool wouldn’t. Checking injuries I’d noted that despite how things felt, I didn’t seem to have done any further damage. The biggest problem now was my knees. Last time they had been hurting in that way I had run 26.2 miles. I would be taking it easy for the rest of the day!

Dinner time came and I was able to walk along the ample buffet selection without too much trouble, but I suspect I sank into the chair at the table a bit too easily. Over the last few days, as a group, we’d got to know each other quite well and there was lots of laughter and good humoured banter, probably to the degree that others would have wondered what was going on.

It was a wonderful way to end the day. So far, despite the aches and pains, it was turning out to be everything that I had hoped for on my return.

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