Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak title=
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak
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By Pat Fish

2021/4/25 MeetUp Conquers the Live Oak Chalk Hill Summit


The weather threatened rain, but we did not let it stop us! We rode!

Today I got a wild hair to ride a trail I have not gone on in a decade. My companion riders agreed to attempt the summit of the Chalk Hill.

On the map that is the trail from the midpoint where 3 trails converge, up and over to the meadow close to the lake. From there we went out the plateau to the fenced edge, then returned.The day started with the open gate.

For decades the gate was always locked, and every time we'd ride we'd get the access code from the Rangers. Now the gate will be open all day, and the cherished security we felt protected our equipment is gone.

As we tacked up we saw a loose black lab running wild through the parking area, and a suspicious car drove in and then through the parking field at very high speed, kicking up dust. They left, and I couldn't help but think they left because there were so many people by the rigs. Every other trail head has vandalism problems. We worry that now Live Oak will also.

We can only hope that the new kiosk adequately informs the new hikers of the best practices for them to follow to co-exist with the equestrians on the trail.

Entering the trail through the locked gate we now must pass by the cars of hikers parked right up next to the fence. People were slamming car doors, opening trunks, and then there is the outhouse, with a door whose abrupt opening is enough to spook any horse. Plus the smell.

We asked weeks ago that the outhouse be moved to a location not adjacent the trail.

But our efforts to try to preserve exclusively equestrian access here are a source of aggravation and stress, and it was time to let them drop away, and let the experience of being out in nature soothe us and take us to a better state of being.

First step: fording the Santa Ynez River, which has gone back underground here as the drought continues.

There was a prediction of a 30% chance of rain, and one MeetUp member did back out. But the sky above us was filled with dramatic cloud formations and the opportunity to get out and have a day on the trail with friends was just too good to miss.

It was interesting to see that the trail that goes out onto the upper plateau and borders the Rancho San Fernando Rey was signposted "closed to protect sensitive habitat." 

I suspect this was set up in negotiation with the Ranch and the Parks staff, to prevent trespassing. Which has never been a problem in the decades equestrians have ridden here.

I had heard that new "Cattle Grazing - Keep Gate Closed" signs on the access gates had spooked a horse last week. 

Harumph, I said, no sign would trouble Tobe Mule!

So we walked walked confidently over to open the gates for the group, a cowboy skill we take pride in.

And amazingly enough Tobe was NOT at all happy about the sign.

It was more than just something new, it is painted in reflective paint and also I suspect might have been recently manufactured, because he sniffed it a lot before being willing to do the necessary pivots to put me into position to open the gate up. 

He's a wary beast when necessary.

But like the humans he is mostly relaxed and enjoying the opportunity to spend time in good company. He especially likes his pal Mosca the Horse Fly, who is quite the personality.

And yes, that is a Mule-i-corn horn on his forehead.

I thought that since today would be the first time we would be encountering hikers on the trails I would lighten the mood a bit by dressing him up as a Mulicorn.

We did pass a few hikers and welcomed them to the trail system, but since they don't know squat about trail etiquette I stopped and gave a pep talk to the walkers. Poor guys, they tried to look like they wanted to be good trail citizens but they just kept gawking at the long-eared Mulicorn.

At the top of that stretch of trail is the first overlook where you can see Cachuma Lake. 

I often pose my companions here for souvenir photographs, but today the real display were the fabulous cloud formations.

The weather was rolling in off the sea, tumbling over the coastal mountain range as we watched. And I got the inspiration right here to climb that mountain peak directly above Tobe's ears.

There it is again on the left, with the lake straight ahead. Tobe humors me, he knows which places I like to stop for a Photo Op and he patiently swivels around until his ears are lined up just so.

Because that mountain is made of chalk the trails stand out gleaming white. And I couldn't resist, seeing them there inspired in me an urge to go to the top...there is always an itch on every trail ride to do something different.

Looking inland the view stretches to infinity. Coming from the dense city, how wonderful to be able to be here in 40 minutes and see a vista where there is no one home all the way to the horizon. The politicians want lovely Santa Barbara to build skyscraper housing to accommodate the expected future population, but SO much of California is wild, with just a few cows on the land.

So we got to the bottom of the trail that would lead us up, I proposed the route, and everyone was game. I try not to be too bossy of a trail boss, then again we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves in for.

The higher we climbed, the more we felt like we were getting into the clouds above.
At the summit we looked down directly into the Live Oak Campground, rented out just a few weekends a year for large events like the PowWow and Lucidity Festival. It is my dream that the Parks Department will realize what a gold mine they have there and build pipe corrals and start renting it out as an equestrian staging area for these trails. But of course that won't work if they follow through with their goal of opening the trails to bicycles. We pray not.

Looking to the West from the summit we could look down on the Santa Ynez River snaking down to Lake Cachuma. Then we started back down the trails which immediately became incredibly steep, so much so that I was riding with my head over Tobe's tail on the incline and saying thanks for my good Kentucky Mule, who did his best Grand Canyon descent. And wouldn't you know it, when we got to the bottom of the worst steep stretch there was a handsome cowboy and his gal watching us. His horse took one look at the Mulicorn and got a bit snorty, so we passed on by and left them to climb it.

The trail drops down into a grass plateau, where we often see the bucking horses grazing.

At this point we'd been out for less than 2 hours so I suggested we go to the fenced end of the trail towards the 154, and off we went.

For a place with the name Live Oak, the sad truth is that at least a fourth of the magnificent old growth oaks are dead or dying.

Even with the lake so close, the water table is low and the rain has not fallen, and the oaks on the heights are having a very hard time.

The artistic combination of the cotton puff clouds, watercolor distant mountains, pastel plateaus and sharp focus front trail make for such a pleasing tableau, and as Mr Mule takes us through the various areas at his 2.2mph amble we see the light and shadow play across the landscape.

Myself, I always want to live on the Edge of the Continent. 

And having this body of water as part of the trail system adds so much to the pleasure of the day.

Finally we saw some of the bucking horses, who live a wild life out here on a grazing lease. Some are brood mares, some would be pulled off the land for the rodeo season and sent out to provide lively rides at rodeos around the country. With rodeos largely cancelled this last year they got a vacation.

The bark on the oaks is reptilian, ancient, fascinating.


At the Eastern edge of the trail I snapped some shots of my companions.

CC on Woody and Jamie on Mosca
Simpson on Painter and Liz on Catalina
But then it was time to turn around and head back to the rigs, where a snack awaited us before packing up and going home.

 But first an obstacle course, the shale hill that is a rocky road indeed and drops off just as precipitously on the left into a deep canyon.

And here we are almost back to the starting point. The peak we climbed is directly ahead in this photo, and it is with a sense of accomplishment and a trail well ridden that we look up to that height and know we attained it.

The humans broke out their lunches and we had just enough time to eat before the rain started and our day was done

Tobe Mule got his bag of hay.

And hopefully the bag of carrots made up for the annoyance of wearing a unicorn horn all day.

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Basicinfo805 May 01, 2021 03:14 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

I agree - love the photos, thanks - don't need the attitude-laden commentary though.

YepSB May 01, 2021 03:33 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Totally agree. Pat, if you think your commentary is swaying people outside of the equestrian community to your view, I believe you are very mistaken.

Idesofmarch May 01, 2021 05:19 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

If you knew Pat, you would know your ask is akin to requesting that water be not wet.

EastBeach May 01, 2021 03:57 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

On multi-user trails, it goes both ways - all users have trail etiquette rules to follow. Live Oak is a county park but this is a nice general etiquette brochure published by the Forest Service ....

a-1619919686 May 01, 2021 06:41 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

A lot more bicyclists and hikers than equestrians in the County. Can't we all just get along?

yin yang May 01, 2021 11:22 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

I can somewhat share some general concern, but I rode in the 70's and early 80's. Spent a good part of my childhood on More Mesa, including going up and down the cliff trail.

You've expressed great concern about events that any trail horse should be able to handle. Reminds me of helicopter parents.
I know I was lucky to have such an amazing horse. She spooked once at a bicycle. She was pretty bomb-proof. "Bring them up right" and all that. It's true. It makes a huge difference in horse behavior. Exposure is key. She'd also been in Fiesta parade before I met her; we were both 11 and rode in the parade a few times.
Your caution, to me, is extreme and limits both horse and rider.
I might be the same way if I didn't have a childhood with horses.

I won't go back to look it up, but you were worried about horses walking in sand! Worried about walking on the beach! I'm really sorry you never had such a wonderful experience. I did it regularly.
(I also had a horrific experience getting off the cliff trail one day on the way back up. My mare leaped a section of cliff to get us back on the trail. Good thing I saddled that day, rather than going bareback. I still bless my horse for that athletic leap. Stuff happens...)

I was lucky enough to swim my horse in the Santa Ynez river, under the auspices of Rancho Oso summer camp. It's something I would not do in the ocean. I still fantasize about the sensation of having a horse under me swimming, bareback of course. A kind of heaven.

My best dreams ever are of again riding her cliff-side.

a-1619977373 May 02, 2021 10:42 AM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Agree with Yin Yang. Have trail ridden under different conditions, sand, cliffs, mountain terrain and urban settings, with hikers and bicyclists, and on the side of roads with no problems except a blowing tarp and an occasional balk at a stream. Trained (exposed) horses can handle most circumstances with amazing grace.

EastBeach May 02, 2021 01:34 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Appreciate the perspective Yin Yang. I've been around equestrians and pack animals on the trail (on foot and on bike) and treat them with due respect. But I've rarely seen any as skittish as Pat seems to describe. That's why I posted the trail etiquette link above which says equestrians are responsible for insuring their steeds are well-trained and acclimated before using multi-user trails. A reminder that all users have responsibilities when enjoying the trails.

Lucky 777 May 02, 2021 06:44 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

I will just point out that my MULE is not bothered by hikers, loves to go to the beach in Pismo, and I seem to be horribly misunderstood by you who choose to comment. If I say that horses spook, they DO. And anyone who wants to be critical of my contributions here is welcome to think of a way they can share their enthusiasms with as much care. Show me how to do it better, instead of anonymously throwing shade at me for trying to share what I love.

YepSB May 02, 2021 08:06 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

If your commentary is misunderstood, then it is because you crafted it poorly. "I'm the righteous authority on this subject!" is how your commentary writing reads. Example, "If I say that horses spook, they DO."
"And anyone who wants to be critical of my contributions here is welcome to think of a way they can share their enthusiasms with as much care." -we don't have the enthusiasm you do for your cause, so why would/should we? I/we are simply responding to what you wrote saying "think you are off the mark there".
"Show me how to do it better" - we have. Stop with the scold marm commentary.

MesaBright May 02, 2021 07:04 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

A friend and I hiked this same trail loop a day before the writer of this article did. It was a Saturday and even so there were just a few other small groups of hikers. There were several parties of equestrian riders on the trails and in every instance we stood aside for them quietly without big movements. And most of the time the horseback riders engaged with us in friendly conversation and we also thanked them for sharing the trails with us. It was a pleasant encounter each time. But I'm afraid that wouldn't have happen if we met the writer of this article. She seems predisposed to finding fault in any imagined way possible. To think County Parks had to install dangerous to stock trail signs because of people walking.

Babycakes May 02, 2021 07:13 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

I hate to admit it, but years ago (over 50 years ago) my friends and I used to purposely spook horses on riding trails where we were hiking. We were quite young and didn't really think about the danger to the absolutely frightened riders clinging on to the reins. As for the photos, one could hold the camera up 10-12 inches higher, and you won't get the donkey ears blocking out the beautiful scenery in nearly every photo. If you want the head/ears in each photo, then that's a different story, but the novelty of the ears in the photos wears off after about two or three pics.

dukemunson May 02, 2021 07:29 PM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

And I’d say the ears in each picture is what makes the pictures worth posting! We all live in Sb county and see views like this every time we hike... seeing the ears in the photo MAKES the photo!

yacht rocked May 03, 2021 06:40 AM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Your horse buddies need to do some horse training. See mounted police, polo ponies, and Sierra trail ride operators.

Babycakes May 03, 2021 08:17 AM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Okay, so ears in photos are apparently the rage these days and "make" the photo. I'm a bit old school and prefer clean/unobstructed photos without the ears. How about that long cone "thing" that was strapped to the animal's face? An attempt at whimsey at the animal's expense is a bit much. "Oh look, I put a long colorful cone on my mule's face and now you can laugh at my unicorn, which makes ME feel better" I don't get it when humans dress up their animals for some perverse reason.

a-1620068114 May 03, 2021 11:55 AM
Mule Trail Ride to Live Oak

Don't like it? Then don't read it. I don't understand the complaining. The writer is allowed to share their opinion.

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