Riding Through the Sage

Riding across Prosser Creek.

About 40 years ago I had the opportunity to ride a horse through the sage and aspen groves into what is now the Mount Rose Wilderness to spend the night under the stars. It was truly a memorable journey and made me feel like I was living in an Old West movie. Since that time, I’ve found myself on a horse only a few dozen times and the last time was way too long ago. So it was with a great deal of excitement and a bit of anticipation that I took on the assignment of hoping on a horse and going for a ride at the Piping Rock Equestrian Center on the sage brush outskirts of Truckee.

When I arrived mid-morning, the enclosed barns and open corrals were bustling with activity, but there was a relaxed, accommodating atmosphere. I immediately got the feeling that this was a place that nurtured horses and was intent on helping everyone who visited learn to have fun riding. There was a group of kids doing crafts in the shade, getting ready for Critter Camp where they get to play with mini horses as well as alpaca, goats and chickens. Meanwhile, an older group of kids were learning technique, riding around the corral as part of a summer camp. In another corral, a row of horses were all saddled up waiting for trail riders.

Campers learning the ropes in the corral

I joined a couple from Arizona and our guide Sam Bouchie on a two-hour ride. Bouchie has worked at Piping Rock for four years and she hosted a big smile and a comforting demeanor. I found myself on Duke, a gentle steed who came to Piping Rock from Montana. As we headed out into the sagebrush it didn’t take me long to discover that Duke was a steady horse that followed the other three, but was not to be hurried. While I could hear Bouchie regaling the couple on Tahoe history, I missed some of the details because Duke liked to ride with a bit of a buffer zone between him and the next horse up. Every once in a while, Duke would start trotting to catch up with the other horses and then slowly his pace would drop back again. This was all fine with me, slow and steady might not win the race, but it is a bit less dusty.

Our ride really felt like what a ride in the West should feel like. We walked along narrow trails surrounded by sage and grassy meadows, crossed Prosser Creek a few times and eventually made our way past the Prosser Reservoir Dam to the shore. We also got to see the now-debilitated dam, which 150 years ago was used to harvest ice in Prosser Creek. While enjoying views of Mount Rose, we rode past perhaps a half dozen deer, with neither the horses or the deer looking the least bit alarmed. The only time I saw Bouchie get a teensy bit flustered was when one of my fellow riders thought he saw a bear along the river bank. She was about ready to send us riding in another direction, before we confirmed it was indeed a rock.

Being on a horse again for me was a true joy. I’d spent a lot of days hiking Tahoe’s trails with a backpack, so it was nice to experience being on a trail, but without the aching feet and back. While the view from a horse is similar to what a hiker sees, you get a higher and wider panorama of the world on a horse and you have more time to look out and enjoy the view since you are not worrying about where you are putting your feet. It was a quick reminder of why horses were such an important part of life in the Old West. I can’t wait to get out for another ride. | pipingrockhorses.com