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Horseback Riding at Hay Creek Ranch, SD

Last August I finally went on an "Out West" trip – a shade over ten years ago my mom, sister and some family friends loaded up the horse trailer and drove out to Wyoming to stay with more friends for a week of horseback riding. Every year since that one, the same group (more or less) has gotten together at some location west of Minnesota for a week-long horseback riding adventure.

In the beginning, I didn't get invited because I didn't have enough vacation time...and, to be honest, they were doing some rough riding – I don't do straight-uphill or straight-downhill climbs on a horse :)

Well, 2012 was the year The Group decided they were going to the Black Hills...specifically, to a place called Hay Creek Ranch in Nemo, South Dakota. The riding would be rugged but not steep, so guess who got invited! I was ecstatic; I'd always wanted to go along and do a trip like this.

I was even more excited to take the journey west when my BFF said she could go, we got to planning. Soon it was time to head's a day-by-day account (along with some snapshots :) of our trip to Hay Creek Ranch:

August 11, 2012
Stacy, Max, Mom & I met at the barn at 5:45am to get the horses loaded (trailer & truck had been entirely packed the day before, of course). We had a wheels-up goal of 6am; I believe it was 6:02 :) Met our "sister rig" at the gas station down the road and took off. Mom drove first; Stacy in front (I was confined to the back bench – with Zada on the floor next to me – since my back is bad and I need to lie down a lot). I was ready for a 12-hour-long drive in the car: I had taken a muscle relaxer and had Mom apply one of my several icy-hot bandages for my lower back.

Aaaand we were off.
We were the second rig so we got to see every detail when the string of baby raccoons ran across the road right in front of John...and he barrel-rolled the very last one. We watched in horror as the damaged baby tried to get up (my eyes were welling with tears) but as we drove by (it was in the other lane) it got up, shook, and tottered off. Whew. Crisis averted! We called that the first "Journal Entry" of the trip.

While Mom's truck is diesel and we didn't need to stop as much as the other rig (gasoline), we'd stop alongside them and top off the tank anyway, so as to stay together. I forget how many times we stopped in our 12-hour trip (5? 6?) but each time it'd be someone's job to fill the tank, someone else would have to head to the bathroom and I'd take Zada out to do her business and we'd check the three horses (Ben, Laredo & Tío). Then it'd be back in the truck and off again.

The last 10 miles or so of the trek were the slowest and most winding...the "driveway" into Hay Creek Ranch is a one-way dirt track that wends its way up and down, around hills and is surrounded by massive pine trees. We pulled in around 7pm. Doug – the owner of the ranch – greeted us, cleaned out our trailer after we unloaded the horses, told us where their stalls where & then hopped on the running board to guide Mom into a spot. He even helped her level it out in no time flat...he's obviously done this a time or two :)

Stacy & I were tenting it for the week but of COURSE as we were setting up our 10-person tent (I borrowed it; there was no way I wanted to spend a week getting dressed in a lying-prone position!), it started to rain...and then to lightning. We'd already gotten the tent assembled and didn't know what to do...we decided to wait to see if the weather abated and hung out in the back of Max's trailer, wet & cold.

The weather kept up and we knew there was no way we were staying in a tent during a storm, so we rented a bunkhouse for the evening. The three of us (Zada, too!) were snug as bugs in the cute little house – we referred to it as the "Paint Your Wagon" guest house.

August 12, 2012
The next morning we were rarin' to go – I was up at 5am and ready to start chores! By the time we'd mucked the stalls, fed the horses, and taken care of our own needs it was getting light out and we headed out for our morning walk. After ~15 minutes of walking (and talking) we were huffing and puffing, so we turned back for camp.

Then it was time for breakfast and to get ready for the day's ride – we missed the main group that left at 9:30 so we headed out around noon for a couple-hour ride led by Les ("The Cowboy") and Linda, who've been to Hay Creek before. In spite of the long trailer ride the day before, all of our horses were rested and ready to go (especially Tio, as evidenced by his antics almost the entire ride :). Beautiful country, and a wonderful ride!

When we got back, it was still sunny and warm so we cooled the horses off and let them graze a bit before putting them back into their stalls. Then it was time to sit around and solve world problems :)

Dinner this evening was courtesy of Patty & John W: finger-lickin'-good BBQ ribs with cole slaw, potato salad, veggies & bread. For dessert they served apple crisp with peaches & ice cream. YUM (even the dogs agreed it looked QUITE tasty :). We ate under the pavilion and chatted and listened to stories.

Zada took off after a resident "barn cat" that couldn't have weighed more than 1 pound...I felt sure it was going to be a snack but that damn bundle of fur puffed up and stood its ground and totally stymied my 70-lb German shepherd :)

To bed early – I think Stacy and I made it to 8:30 before retiring to our tent to read! Ahem. Well, SHE read; I just slept :)

August 13, 2012
Up at o-dark-thirty again to start our routine: bathroom, mucking stalls, feeding horses, exercises and morning hike. Went farther this morning; either we talked a bit less or were a bit more acclimated to the altitude (~5,300ft).

Back at camp, we got the horses tacked up and headed out with the big group – led by Doug on his mule Izzy – at 9:30am for a 5-hour ride. Stacy and I were at the back of the large group, since Laredo (aka "Rae-Rae") was a bit antsy. We fell behind a bit since the rest of the horses were power-walking. Once Rae-Rae settled down Stacy said, "let's trot to catch up." So we started off and a brisk pace and all of a sudden Stacy said, "um...I've only got one rein. One of them broke!"

She got Laredo stopped and I yelled up to the rest of the group – "Hold up! Broken rein!" – while she jumped off and started tying a makeshift knot on the broken rein. Doug came trotting back on Izzy to see if we were all right and needed to head back for more equipment; we said it was okay and off we went. Journal Entry.

We crossed lots of water on the ride, which is no biggie for the Bernier horses but Stacy's Laredo had to learn how to go through this scary wet stuff! We stopped for lunch in a beautiful little meadow nestled against a bluff, near a stream.

The dogs flopped down in the grass, panting; we humans sought the shade to eat our lunch and the horses grazed...all of them munched on the sweet mountain grass except Will. He decided the dead tree he was tied to was quite delectable. It was a beautiful spot, rife with photographic opportunities.

At one point this day we had to cross a small stream and right at the narrow, muddy place we had to take our horses over a cow had died so we had to get the horses to go over/around this very scary carcass. The Bernier horses were okay (although they all cocked an ear at the dead body) but many horses – and even Izzy the mule – did NOT want to get near that spot. It took awhile to get all the horses across.

Back at camp we cooled the horses down (we'd done some pretty big hills and it was a warm day), got them squared away for the evening and then settled in for a relaxing evening in camp. This night it was Mom's & Max's turn to feed us: they started out with chips & dip for an appetizer; main course was grilled pork tenderloin with cheesy potatoes and grilled peppers, onions & mushrooms. For dessert they served apple cake with caramel sauce & whipped cream. Stuffed ourselves silly.

Bedtime was about 8:30-9pm again! Stace & I got teased for being the "old ones" on the ride, going to bed so early :)

PS: they weren't getting up while it was still dark out!

August 14, 2012
Up at 5:30am for the morning routine again (mucking stalls, feeding horses, exercises, hike). Went even farther on this morning's hike – we were definitely getting used to the altitude and were already in better shape.

For today's morning ride we let Les & Linda dictate the trails again, so we had a nice, small group for our ride (couple of hours). We crossed more water – Rae-Rae was getting ever-so-much better at it; we didn't have to make sure his nose was right in Will's butt each time – and saw more beautiful vistas.

At one of our resting points Topper – John's Walker – decided his neck was itchy so he almost took down a small pine tree. Met some other riders from Hay Creek Ranch on the trail.

Went back to camp for lunch and then a smaller faction of us headed out for another ride in the afternoon. This time we let Max lead the way – she'd never been there before – which made for some VERY interesting riding on "practically" trails. As in, we'd hear her yell ahead from the waving foliage, "hey, this is practically a trail!" She had SO much fun that day and, frankly, so did I! There were a couple spots where we really had to maneuver around fallen trees or wend our way between the whipping branches of living ones.

After finding our way back to camp, we un-tacked the horses, hosed them off and let them graze in the sun while we had an adult beverage for happy hour. What a wonderful day of riding! I could really get used to this life :)

Once chores were done it was time to head to the pavilion for dinner. John was in charge tonight (well, technically his wife made it or told him how to make it, so she deserves honorable mention, even though she couldn't make it): chicken stew with mushrooms and carrots in a creamy sauce, biscuits, salad and corn. For dessert we noshed on pound cake with ice cream and whipped cream. FULL.

Bedtime was, for us "little girls" – you guessed it – before 9pm :)

August 15, 2012
I think this was the day I overslept...I didn't get up until 6am. Disgusted with myself, I hastened to catch up to my normal routine timeline :) Although today we weren't worried about catching the main group (led by Doug) for our ride; Stacy & I had decided to give our horses a day of rest and take the truck into Deadwood and Lead. Rae-Rae had started to stiffen up in his shoulders and Will was getting sluggish on the trail...we figured we'd play tourists for a day and let the ponies have the day off.

After our chores & morning walk, we decided to take our ponies for a stroll down the dirt road, where Stacy gave me my first lesson in natural horsemanship. Good stuff. I'll need to learn more about this way of "conversing" with horses. It really worked on Will (a 19-year-old Arabian who has little to no personal boundaries :).

We watched everyone else ride out with Doug & I took snapshots as they rode past...we'd planned on having a photoshoot with Stacy & Rae-Rae, but before that happened Zan (Patty's horse) got out of his stall and decided to hightail it after the receding group of horseback riders. Thankfully there was a fence across the only opening he could've followed them through so he wasn't too hard to catch (not that I'd know; I didn't help...while Stacy tracked him down & got a halter on him I took pictures instead!).

Then we had our planned photoshoot – Stacy wanted some good shots of Laredo for in case/when she decides to sell him. Of course, I couldn't help myself and had to take some sentimental, fun pictures, too :) Those are always my favorites!

Her little chestnut is so chock-full of personality and is so easy to "pose" for the we got to thinking we'd get some shots of Will, too, for Mom to have...nope. Not only is he NOT photogenic; he was having NONE of putting his ears up and looking happy. Sorry, Mom, the thought was there!

After we put the ponies back in their pen it was time to get on our cleanest dirty clothes and drive into "town" for a day of sightseeing. We were also looking forward to being able to use our cell phones (no reception at Hay Creek) and call our husbands.

We parked in a public lot and took care of the phone calls right away. Then we walked around Deadwood and ate lunch (and of course had a beer) at Saloon 10. After the museum we decided we were done there and got back in the truck to head to Lead. If I remember correctly we had to go there because we couldn't find a liquor store in Deadwood (we'd been instructed by Linda to bring back Bailey's Irish Cream for that night's dessert).

The countryside is so pretty there we just enjoyed the scenery and I took pictures through the window of the truck (I realized after taking pictures while driving it was probably best to let Stacy have the wheel, so I had her drive on the way back :). We got the booze like the good "little girls" we are and started making our way back to camp.

(Kinda hard to miss the main turn-off to head towards Hay Creek Ranch: just take a right at the Ferris wheel!)

Back at Hay Creek after our lazy day of touring, it was time to get down-and-dirty once more and take care of the evening chores before dinner. Once everyone was gathered at the pavilion I decided it was time for a group photo – so I set up my DSLR on the tripod and threw everyone together on the flattest part of the lawn I could find...which happened to be right by a 6-foot-tall pump. It's cute and everyone looks good but NEXT time I'm going to include EVERYONE (dogs AND horses!). Note for next year.

Les & Linda hosted this evening's dinner: a slightly-spicy and UBER-tasty mole de olla with beef, corn on the cob & potatoes...and of course some good soppin' bread! For dessert they served up sliced mangoes, ice cream and, of course, Bailey's :) SO. TASTY. Good thing I was hiking every morning!

Guess what time I was in bed? Yup. 9pm.

August 16, 2012
Up at the butt-crack of dawn per usual to start our ritual. This morning we had to hustle more since we were planning on heading out with the main group, led by Doug...but also it was our night to cook dinner so I needed to get some of the taco meat into the crockpot for Patty & John W to plug in while we were out on the trail.

It was another bright, sunshine-y morning...a perfect day to head out on the trail in the Black Hills. The group was smaller today; there were only 10 of us: our group, another couple and Doug. We were out for ~4½ hours and covered hilly terrain, flat meadows and – of course – the ubiquitous streams.

About halfway through our ride today Will took a big stumble and almost went down – everyone knows how I feel about THAT scenario (I've been fallen on one too many times in those situations) so I switched with Mom and rode Big Ben the rest of the day. He was, of course, perfect and didn't put a foot wrong...but I realized after a couple hours of riding his long, scooping walk that my back can't take his stride for very long :)

At one point we crossed a long, flat pasture and the horses had to scrabble atop a sort of drain hill which we rode on into the woods...but first they had to cross a little creek surrounded by marshy ground. Not all the horses were thrilled about this set-up; they all eventually crossed safely but Boomer (Bob's little Arab) decided to hightail it over – literally :) Bob stayed in the saddle, tho'!

Lunch this day was in a beautiful, serene, Serendipity-like meadow (à la Robin James' illustrations in Stephen Cosgrove's wonderful books). We took off the horses' bridles so they could graze, the dogs stretched out in the shade and we humans enjoyed the scenery and some food...which the horses soon realized might be very tasty :)

The ride back to camp was uneventful – no Journal Entries :) – and, after hosing down the horses and putting them back in their stalls, it was time to get crackin' on preparing dinner. Thanks to Patty & John W for tending to our crockpot meat while we were off horsing around all day! I think they also watched Zada this day – I left her tied to a tree in the shade by their motor home since she'd started limping a bit.

We chopped vegetables outside on the "front lawn" of P&J's motor home while sipping on delicious adult beverages. When everything was ready, we hauled it over to the pavilion and set up our taco stand: for starters we had chips & salsa and Stacy's homemade jalapeño butter with cream cheese & crackers; the main meal was chicken tinga (spicy) and chorizo (very spicy); flour tortillas; green onions, bell peppers, cheese, black beans, lettuce, limes and salsa; for dessert we offered up Stacy's homemade chocolate chip cookies.

While the meat got a tad spicier than I'd anticipated, everyone said it was really good and the tacos were a hit. If I remember correctly we had minimal leftovers! Success.

After cleaning up, it was time to sit around the pavilion and chat for awhile before giving a last check to the ponies in their stalls...and then off to bed. Early :)

August 17, 2012
Awake before first light to start our last day of riding at Hay Creek Ranch. Chores were followed by a brisk 50-minute walk, then saddling up the ponies for a quiet ride. This day Stacy and I decided to head out on the trail with Patty, just the three of us. First we had to have John W take a few snapshots of our little band, of course :)

We headed out on a trail "loop" that Doug had told us about; I think Patty had ridden it earlier in the week. I'm not sure we did the exact route laid out for us on our map, but we had a wonderful ride with just the three of us (and Zada).

The horses just strolled along the dirt tracks and we enjoyed the quiet ride through the woods. There weren't many streams on this ride but when we got to the first big mud puddle Rae-Rae finally figured out these wet things in the trail were not only not scary; he could quench his thirst, too.

Laredo had conquered crossing water on this week-long trip, and he also LED the trail ride on the last day! No big deal...he performed like a seasoned champ. It was fun watching him mature as a trail horse throughout the week.

We saw a lot of prospector holes on this ride – it was neat to see some of the history of the land.

Our ride was only ~2½ hours but we thought it was a good way to end the trip – an easy last ride and having the afternoon off for the horses before their long trailer ride home the next day.

Back at camp, after we hosed off the horses and let them munch on grass, it was time to start packing up what we could and get ready to break camp early the next morning. Stacy & I headed up to the office to settle the bill. Zada tagged along, doggedly refusing to let us go anywhere without her escort services.

We chatted with Doug in the cozy sitting area in his office and he gave us some magazines for which he'd written articles (he's not just a ranch owner and trail ride-leader; he's quite the natural horseman). He asked us to jot down our email addresses so we could keep in touch (I'd told him I was in the market for a big, well-bred Quarter horse and he said he'd keep an eye out :).

After bidding him a fond goodbye, we ambled back to our campsite sans Zada. I figured she'd gotten tired of waiting for us and had returned to camp to hang out with Mom. When we got back, she still hadn't made an appearance...I asked Mom if she'd seen my dog; she hadn't. Not concerned but curious, I started towards the tent to put my purse away and then realized Zada was inside. On her bed. Ready to be done for the day. She'd put herself to bed earlier than even I was ready to hit the sack :)

After evening chores it was time for another delicious dinner: tonight it was Heather & Bob's turn to serve us. They didn't have any appetizers but they opened up a big ol' jug of Carlo Rossi wine to pass around (they know this crowd well :). For dinner they'd cooked some of Bob's buffalo meat in the crock pot all day for buffalo sandwiches. They also served crisp, creamy coleslaw and baked beans as a perfect complement. EXCELLENT meal.

The only complaint with the eating area we had was the mass amounts of flies we had to fend off our food and drinks...finally, the last night I figured out how to keep the nasty pests out of my wine: with a souvenir pine cone I'd picked up out on the trail. Worked perfectly.

That evening, after we'd all stuffed ourselves with too much food, I decided to snap some portraits of everyone while we sat around telling stories under the pavilion. Unfortunately, one of our group (Sharon) had already left to head back home, so I didn't get her mug shot. (Next year I'll plan that better!)

The couple who rode with us today came over to hang with us and share in the story-telling; we exchanged email addresses so I could get them some of the pictures I took. Nice folks.

As the sun went down it was time for the evening check on the ponies: filling up their water, picking some apples & giving one last pat before bed. Some white tailed deer crept out of the woods behind the stalls to have a was a beautiful evening.

But, it had started getting pretty chilly at night so Stace & I broke down and let Heather loan us a feather bed she wasn't using...of course, instead of deflating ONE of our queen-sized mattresses and sharing one mattress and the queen-sized featherbed, we just pushed our beds together and shared the featherbed. Heaven forbid we share a BED together ;)

We set our watch alarms for 5am – we'd have to get up, start breaking down the tent, deflating the air mattresses and get all packed up and on the road by 6 bells!

Asleep by 9pm...

August 18, 2012
Woke up before the alarm this morning and got dressed under the covers – cold! It was really dark so we threw on headlamps and started breaking down the tent and air mattresses. We waited to do chores until it lightened up a bit – we couldn't see well enough to muck out – and got the tent & everything in it packed up.

We'd been charged with waking up "the adults" so proceeded to do that and then mucked out the pens for all our horses. Quick hugs goodbye to everyone who was awake and we were ready to start on the 12-hour return trip home. Target leave time was 6am; I think we were pulling out at 6:04!

The sun was just peeking through the trees as we drove the winding dirt road away from Hay Creek Ranch...while I was determined to stay awake longer on the return journey Zada was barely able to keep her eyes open for 5 miles. She was soon conked out dreaming beside me :)

Stacy was driving for the first leg, chatting with Mom while I took pictures from the back windows. Pretty soon I felt myself getting drowsy and the talk was dwindling in the front seats so I offered to plug in the iPod and cue up a playlist I'd thrown together for the occasion (country music, of course ;).

Pretty soon we were all bopping to the beat and perking up. More snapshots out the window and then, inevitably, I laid down and gave in to my muscle relaxer :)

At one of our gas stops, I hopped out of the cab to check on the horses. We'd left the trailer windows down so the horses could get some fresh air and I noticed Laredo's forelock was in a crazy, windblown tangle. Then I looked at Ben in the next stall – his forelock was perfectly coiffed, laying nicely alongside his forehead. It was just too perfect.

Several pit stops, gas-ups, and MANY hours later, we were rolling through the last 10 miles or so to the barn and we were greeted by slate-blue storm clouds, a smattering of rain and a welcoming rainbow.

Upon arrival at the barn, everyone was quick to get unloaded and then take off; Mom & I were the last ones, unloading from Max's trailer & re-loading in ours for the last little leg back to the Bernier Ranch & we were hustling to get things moving we hit the last Journal Entry of the trip: Mom got cracked on the noggin by one of the drop-down windows on Max's trailer. She instantly got a lump and I ran to get the less-than-frigid ice pack from one of the coolers.

She drove home with it pressed to her head...the irony of course being she'd diligently worn a helmet the entire week while horseback riding. Who knew she needed it to unload the trailer?

I stayed overnight at Mission Narrows & the next morning started the 2 1/2-hour trip back to MY home and my husband. Everything was moving smoothly and the traffic was humming along...I stopped for gas near Milaca and then 2 miles later zipped by a State Trooper, who immediately pulled out behind me and threw on his cherries.


He asked me if I knew how fast I was driving; I said no...he grabbed my info & went back to his cruiser. Thinking, "oh well...he caught me, I'll have to pony up for a speeding ticket," I was shocked when he came back and said, "you know you were speeding, what's the hurry?"

I told him, "I've been in South Dakota horseback riding all week; all my clothes are dirty and smell like smoke, my dog's lame and all I want to do is get home and see my husband. I know it's not an excuse but there it is..." He looked in the window of my car at the complete MESS of stuff I had back there, with Zada's head poking up above the back seat...

He smiled while handing me back my license and said, "I'm going to let you off with a warning this time. Get home to your husband but mind the speed limit, okay?"

"Yes, sir," I replied.

And that, my friends, is the final Journal Entry of our week-long Out West Horseback Riding Trip, v.2012. Can't wait to see what next year's trip will bring...

*Thanks to Heather for providing HER journal ... it helped to look back & see her account*


Anonymous said...

Well done Sarah, made me cry. Linda