As the sun just began to rise over the desert, and we could see our breath in the frigid morning air, we began our journey to Koli Equestrian Center about 30 minutes south of where we were staying. To think I had originally planned to begin our riding adventure at 7:30 AM… Due to freezing morning temperatures we changed it to 9.
My daughter and I looked at each other both anxious and excited as we winded our way down Wild Horse Pass Boulevard through the Gila River Indian Reservation. Over to our left one lone coyote could be seen on the frost covered golf greens that glistened in the sun. It may have been cold but there was sun and for that we were happy.
After several turns down unpaved roads, perhaps missing a turn or two, but all the while making our arrival even more exciting for it was like we had left everything else behind, we saw the stables up ahead.
Our adventure began the moment we stepped out of the car and were greeted by Blass, our Wrangler for the day. This trip was our family Christmas present and each of us could choose one special experience. My daughter’s was horseback riding and so I set out to find the best experience for her. The Internet helped me to find Koli Equestrian Center and my conversation with TroyScott made it easy to know this was the experience we were looking for – A true riding experience from start to finish for two riders with only very limited riding experience.
Blass began our day by taking us right into the corral filled with horses. My daughter and I hesitated before entering both wondering if we heard correctly. We were to enter the corral? At that moment we knew an amazing day was ahead of us. We were introduced to our horse for the day, Joe and Stiltz. Blass taught us how to properly walk up to our horse and tie the lead rope around him. He then had us bring them over to the Tack Room. We learned how to brush and how to saddle a horse western style. Both of us were glad we had worn high boots for mud was up to our ankles. We couldn’t have been happier. For those who do not ride, and only do an occasional trail ride like us, you are missing out the best opportunity to connect with your horse if you do not get an opportunity such as this. Already I felt at ease with Stiltz. Blass helped us to mount the horse – no step – and into another corral we went for practice time. What an amazing way to connect with my horse and for me take control. My daughter’s horse, Joe, was stubborn and took some work on her part. However this was all a wonderful confidence builder for her – a challenge but one that she overcame.
Now in control of our horses, we left the corral and headed for our riding adventure through the Sonoran Desert. This was not tail-to-tail – you know the type of ride where you all must go single file so close that heads are touching tails – but instead us riding side by side, crossing a trench of water and steering clear of jackrabbit holes. (Actually my daughter’s horse was always slightly behind us.) What happened next is what made this ride even more amazing. Blass was the proud new father of a baby boy born Christmas Eve (Nathaniel I believe was his name?). Words cannot explain but from that moment my daughter and I felt at ease . I hope he did not mind my questions. I made no excuse for my stupidity and lack of understanding of life on the reservation. We learned that Blass is a descendant of the Pima Tribe and lives on the reservation. (Hopefully I am stating this info correctly.)
And what happened next was also amazing. Shortly into our ride we encountered the wild horses. We just happen to ride right upon them. First we saw the two stallions who he said had been shunned by the group. Then we met the herd – a stallion, several mares, and a few colts. They all were beautiful and free to roam the reservation. One of the mares came right up to Blass’s horse. It was one of those moments you will never forget in your life. Both my daughter and I were holding our breath speechless to be so close to a creature living free in the wild.
We rode on and Blass shared with us about the different districts and which one we were riding through (I believe we were in District 6), showed us the Sierra Estrella Mountains and shared the story of it’s connection with the people and the land. We saw coyotes running around the butte ahead of us. We climbed a portion of it, another exhilarating experience where so much trust was placed on my horse. (However Tom was not liking this and began to give my daughter a little trouble so we climbed back down).
We rode back to the ranch side by side on our horses, chatting about our different lives, viewing the wildlife, and for a brief moment it felt like I had been doing this my entire life. Stiltz was just an extension of my legs. After crossing back over the creek, both of our horses, hungry, knew home was close by and began to pick up the speed. I wanted to give him a little kick and let him trot back to the ranch but knew I was getting a little ahead of myself. So we slowed them down and enjoyed our last few moments.
My daughter and I will be returning again. There may be many miles still 2 go but we will find a way regardless if visiting a nearby area or just a layover on our travels. We look forward to meeting Blass’s son who within a few years will already be riding his own horse given to him when he was born. This was indeed the highlight of our trip. For my daughter, it was the most amazing Christmas Gift. It was far more then a horseback ride like she asked for. It was a life changing experience for both us. Everything made that that day such a special one; from the horses, to the wrangler, to the surroundings, and yes even to the abnormal temperatures. I continue to share this story with friends and coworkers. Most think I have some sort of experience with riding to enjoy such an adventure. Neither of us did. Horsemanship 101 (name of the program) and a private ride is a must do experience when in the Phoenix area.
(Our plan was to visit the The Huhugam Heritage Center after our ride. Unfortunately we had not thought about brining a pair of shoes and our boots were caked in mud. Next time. )