What's your level of experience riding a horse? That is one of the first questions you're going to hear when the staff at Smoke Tree Stables, in Palm Springs, California, gets ready to match you up with your mount. You can tell they take it seriously. They have about 90 horses to choose from, and they want to get it right so that your ride is safe and fun.
It doesn't really matter which you are, there don't seem to be any "unsafe" or "green" horses in the string at Smoke Tree. They've all been carefully worked into the program. They assess the rider's height, weight and ability, and then match them to their horse. No matter what your riding level, they have a horse for you.
They also outfit you with a saddle bag and as much water from their fridge as you'd like to take along for the ride.
And, of course, hats or helmets. You choose. My husband chose a hat. (You can see he was pretty happy with it, below) I travel with my own hat.
My hubby got partnered with Frankie, the big palomino, and I got sweet, sweet Dusty, the little palomino that I wanted to take home with me after our day together. Oh, Dusty, how I love thee. I got Dusty to turn and acknowledge me on both sides after I mounted up. He had a big, kind eye and curious nature.
I wasn't used to the saddle; mine is a bit cushier. But the stirrup length was perfect.
Both the horses were sure-footed--able to walk up and down more rock than I've ever ventured over with my own horses. One of the hikers even commented that she wondered how horses got over those rocks, but once she watched us, she found out. I was impressed.
Our guide was called Buck. I think it's better to have a guide called Buck than a horse called Buck, don't you? He was great. A real cowboy, and a wonderful guide. He was able to tell us a lot about the area. We got him on his last weekend there. Buck is heading to the Grand Canyon to work, but apparently, it'll be with mules.
We trailered the horses about five minutes away from the stables into the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The Agua Caliente is owned by the Cahuilla tribe and was founded in 1896. It's 31,610 acres, 6,700 acres of which is in the Palm Springs city limits. We rode through the Indian Canyons portion.
"This is a place of contrasts;
It is a place of ancient and new,
A place of peace and turbulence,
It is a place of power.
Come with the right purpose and a clear mind
To enjoy its beauty and mystery."
There were times, during the ride, where I closed my eyes and tried to get a feel for the area with my other senses. It was magical. I thought of how I wanted to take that feeling with me forever, and I hoped that I could.
The mountains in the background, I believe, are the Santa Rosa and possibly also the San Jacinto (below). You can even see part of the Pacific Coast Trail where there is snow.
Looking toward Palm Springs.
We saw the creosote bush. (photo credit NatureSongs.com)
Desert lavender. (Photo Credit NWBirding.com)
And, the Smoke Tree, which used to be all over the place (thus, the name of the stables), but now are scarce. (Photo Credit: DesertUSA.com)
And, Cary Grant came to ride at Smoke Tree Stables. Our guide, Buck, said in the old days, they'd let you rent horses and go out without guides, but times have changed.
Our ride was 3 hours, but I was wishing I had booked it for the whole day. Buck said the guides love to go on the day rides, but people rarely do them anymore. I would highly recommend, if you're going to Palm Springs, to take the day trail ride--and, at the very least--the 3 hour ride. It was my most memorable moment in Palm Springs, bar none.
I hope that Smoke Tree Stables, and others like them, are open for a long time. They provide a rare and priceless experience. I have my own horses, and beautiful trails, but I doubt I'll ever trailer my horses that far. I felt so grateful to experience the desert, Agua Caliente, on the back of little Dusty.
I think I'm addicted to riding horses wherever I travel.