Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Costa Rica!

We've had Costa Rica on our list of places to visit for some time (well, ok, that happens to be a pretty long list!)  Also on that list was a trip that did more than just the trail riding that we had the great pleasure of doing in Italy, but a trek that had us riding from one location to the next.  Last fall a trip came to our attention that fit way too many pieces of the puzzle together for us to pass up: A Costa Rica horse trek that included not only 6 days riding from the mountains near San Jose to the Pacific coast, but also a preceding 2 day workshop honing the Parelli horsemanship skills we've been studying for nearly 2 years now.  AND I'm not done yet: OUR own Parelli Trainer was to be the guest Workshop director! Really, we had absolutely no choice but to sign up.

Friday, March 1st we met up with Teri our trainer at DIA and then during the layover in Houston, Patty, another trekker, came over to find us. She said she had identified us as being her trek-mates by the new riding/hiking boots we are still trying to break in.  LOL.

In San Jose (Costa Rica) we were met by a driver, who introduced us to Christine from Calgary, who was also on our trip. It was an hour's drive - which was typical hair-raising experience of driving in about any other country but the US can be, except for the observation that there were NO horn honking. Once we noticed that it became sort of weird - plenty of cutting in and out of rush hour traffic on roads too small to take that many lanes of cars, but all sort of on mute.

Anyways we arrived here at Las Alturas B&B where we met the proprietors Patsy and Bob, as well as Mary and Vicki who had flown in from Colorado the day before.

We had a relaxing chat out on the back lanai overlooking just a stunning view of their farm - at least the parts that are visible despite the steep dropoff of their land down into the canyon. Horses were just visible below, appearing in and out of the trees, the pool looks to die for, and the trees, flowers and birds surrounding us were heavenly.


At dinner we had the chance to go around the table to tell our stories, How similar and yet vastly different were so many of our experiences! Liz, the director of the trek business, gave us a little bit of a run down of what the trek portion of the trip would be like, and after having heard some of our background, assigned us the horses that we'll start working with tomorrow. I'm getting Lincoln, and Dave gets Montanes (the "Mountain Man"). We giggled as Dave would have very much resembled his horse's namesake had he not shaved off his rather unruly beard he'd been cultivating these past months!

Saturday 3/2

After a great night's sleep, I got up shortly before breakfast and shared a mug of tea with the others out on this amazing lanai porch. It runs the length of the back of the house, covered, and tiled with highly polished red terra cotta bricks. Looking out over the farm we can see tons of fruit bearing trees - coconut palms, guava, and mangos.

There are several large dormant trees that stick up out of the lower foliage which provide an excellent perch for the amazing array of birds. I don't know any of them, but a couple ladies in the group are big bird watchers and they are calling out different names. The toucans, at least, I can recognize. :-)

March is the end of their dry season, so while the wet season was just around the corner when the vegetation would spring back into full force, they never the less refer to the wet season as their winter. Through out our trip we heard of the work that goes on in the dry season to shore up drainages and what not to prepare for the wet season. I guess the rain is something to behold!

Breakfast was another great meal - egg frittata and fresh pineapple, guava, water melon and cantaloupe - most of which came from this farm, including the strawberry preserves and the honey! Patsy is a fantastic cook and kept us well supplied all weekend long.

Teri started off our clinic with a discussion - what her expectations are, and ours, for the week. That her job is to get us out of our comfort zone, but our jobs were to make sure we didn't get so far out that we actually fall off the fear-cliff.

And then first thing we went out to practice a new knot - the Horseman's Bowline

About 9 we went out to the playground and the interns (working with Liz, the trekking organizer) brought the horses up. My guy, Lincoln, is a little bay guy. Through the morning we did typical level 1 exercises. Getting to know our horses. Lincoln was a bit... resistant shall we say? Liz had said when she assigned him to me that he needed some extra motivation. Huum, sounds familiar. He definitely was a Left Brained Introvert, like Gib. Some of his behaviors resembled how Gib reacts, but it was really interesting to see how he differed as well. Lincoln is even more withdrawn than Gib and shows less curiosity and mischievousness than my big clown. But it is pretty fantastic to be able to just drop the rope and walk away, knowing he probably isn't going to move even a foot.

At once point while we were struggling a bit, Teri asked me to try and 'get serious' with him about backing up. Yeah, well, I flubbed that - getting my stick wrapped up in the line. So Teri asked to demonstrate which was fine with me, and she had him back peddling so hard he was nearly trotting backwards. And boy did he wake up! Suddenly it was Yes M'am! I took him back and concentrated on not letting go of the advantage Teri had given me, and we finished up the morning better off.

Heading back down for the horse's lunch.

Yummie lunch and a nap, then 2:00 found us back down the hill catching the horses. I was quite thankful that Lincoln was right up by the gate and let me walk right up to him. The hills in Costa Rica are so darn steep! The livestock pastures are easily identifiable because of the miniature terraces that have been worn into the hillsides by the animals moving back and forth. Even the area close to the house was quite steep, with a lot trees here and there. Teri commented she's never seen a more challenging catching environment - ha, course the horse she was working with, Beau, is a challenging one that Liz wanted specific help with. But she got the job done - befriending him and getting the halter on. And then turned him loose! All the better to be able to catch him easier the next time.
Lincoln, meanwhile, was a different horse this afternoon. He was much more willing. Over my shoulder at one point I could hear the interns remarking that Lincoln was TROTTING over the pole! Liz also complementing me on doing well with him. Later Mary commented to me that she'd watched the interns working with Lincoln the day before and they had had a hard time getting any response from him. So I felt pretty good about things at the end of the first day.

Dinner was again fabulous, but after 6 hours out with the horses we were all begging for 8:00 to come around so that we can head for bed without completely losing face. Little did we know this was to become a feature of the entire trek - early curtain calls, but also early wake up calls!

Though not before dessert.  Here's Dave's impression of a giant eating a banana.  Despite this banana's diminutive size, I have to say it was one of the tastiest banana's we've ever tried!

Sunday 3/2
Sunday at breakfast we all noted that the screened in eves of the house were great for keeping it cool, but really doesn't keep noises out!  A big wind storm had blown most of the night and kept most of us up during it.  Around the table in the morning we all jumped when there was a mighty bang on the metal roof, then the sound of a ball rolling off. "Guava wake up call!" our hosts explained.   LOL!
Day 2 we would be riding the horses. (day 1 was all on-line ground work). Again Lincoln and I had impulsion issues. Actually we weren't the only ones, so we had a chat with Teri about motivating introverted horses. Teri suggested we use an over the shoulder tap with the line instead of squeezing with our legs. Worked amazingly well!
We ended another long day with some fun exercises - backing thru an L shaped obstacle (which we did in spades). And a game where half of us were trying to move some plastic cups to the center of the arena and half of us trying to move them to the edge. Shifting our focus to the game really changed how we were riding.
Finally Teri eyed the steep hillside that bordered the playground, and announced that of course any trail ride preparation must include hills. But these were STEEP hills! She led us up and down the stuff right next to the level area, and then took the group way up high on the hill, and came down a particularly steep section, that ended with an 8 foot long section of what felt like about a 60 degree slope.
Yowza! That was exciting! But also an incredible learning experience, because these incredible horses live and graze on slopes like this all the time - they had no troubles squatting down to descend in a controlled manner. We had to learn to trust them - and to lean our hands against the saddle horns so as to keep ourselves pushed to the back of the saddles. It took awhile for all of us to make it down, but then the line went through a second time - considerably quicker.

A funny note - though the wind had continued much of the day at a stiff breeze, I found that I kept bracing against the clouds of dust that wind in Colorado inevitably bring. But no - there is no dust to blow around there - all the soil is kept so moist by the humidity!
After a couple hours of riding in the morning, I was quite concerned that the saddle I had wasn't going to work - it just hit my seat bones wrong. I mentioned this to Liz and she suggested Dave and I swap Lincoln's saddle with Montanes's since he too wasn't very comfortable. Alas, it was not better for me. But Dave was a bit happier. Liz said she had one more saddle that might work - and that she would bring that the next day.
Sunday evening I was dismayed to see when I was untacking Lincoln, that the crupper - the part that goes under his tail to keep the saddle from slipping forward on descents - had rubbed a blister! I showed it to the intern and she said she'd talk to Liz. Starting off on a trip with a wound is far from ideal! The next morning Liz and I looked at the third saddle, but decided it would not fit Lincoln, so I agreed to stick with Montanes's saddle. But I had her look at the blister under his crupper - which didn't look any better to me. But no, she said - that's not from his crupper. That's where he got a bad vampire bat bite some weeks before and the crupper had just rubbed off the scab. Oh - well! Don't know WHY I didn't recognize a vampire bat bite! The vampire bats, apparently, pick their victims and then continue to 'attack' them in the same spots - because the anticoagulant stays in the flesh for some time making that an easy and profitable target for many feedings. *eeeew*

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