Winter in Montana can be cold and subject to varying weather conditions, but that does not mean that the adventure has to be put on hold. I opted to go horseback riding alongside a stretch of Rock Creek that runs through the ranch and serves as its namesake. Troy Hedenskog from the regional sales office for The Ranch at Rock Creek decided to join me, so we headed to the stables to saddle up.
Kendall was the wrangler who served as our guide. She helped us mount onto the horses readied for us: Whiskey and Chief. I got to ride Chief, a handsome paint. I had not been on a horse since my days in the Girl Scouts, so I was basically a novice. The stable manager gave me some quick instructions on how to use the reins to command the horse, and we followed Kendall out onto the trail. We rode in the snow at a leisurely pace, first past the arena where the rodeo shows are performed for the summer season, then through a gate into an open field before rounding down to the trail that runs alongside the creek.
Riding alongside Rock Creek was quite the sensory experience. The creek had thawed a bit from icier conditions earlier in the season, which meant that the water level was high and the creek was babbling loudly and happily. The air was crisp and cool with hardly any wind. Whenever we weren’t chatting, there was a stillness in the air that was only broken by the soft sound of the horses’ hooves crunching through the snow. We even saw some deer crossing the creek once we reached the turnaround point on the trail!
I could tell Chief did not take me seriously. Perhaps it was how I held the reins; I was trying to be gentle and held them rather loosely at first. He kept on looking back at me skeptically (or so I imagined), and would not necessarily heed my commands. Kendall suggested that I give him a light kick to show him who’s boss. I did, and he started moving forward at a brisk trot. For me, that was not the scariest thing in the world, but I became acutely aware of how terrible snow pants are for staying on a saddle. I also did not realize how much a person can bounce up and down on a saddle when the horse is going faster than a walk.
In spite of Chief’s quirks and my lack of experience, we parted as friends. I petted him when I dismounted and got a few buddy photos with him. I had the option to ride the horses again after lunch en route to the shotgun range, and I asked the stable manager if I could take Chief out for that ride as well. He was much more cooperative this time around, although he would not let me take a photo of the ice fishing pond near the shotgun range. Every time I tried to get him to stop, he would stop for a moment, but he would not remain standing still. I was not about to show him who’s boss that time around since we were at the top of an icy downhill, so I just let the horse handle the tricky descent. After all, he seemed to know what he was doing better than me. I also chose to ditch the snow pants and opt for jeans and base layers, so I was able to hug the saddle more securely any time Chief decided that he needed to pick up the speed a bit.
Although the afternoon ride went a lot more smoothly than the morning ride, I preferred the morning ride by the creek and hearing the sound of the rushing, semi-thawed waters. I can only imagine what how must sound during the other seasons. It would certainly be just one of many reasons to go back.