I was eager to ride into the rain forest with Bob during this trip, primarily for the experience—honestly, there is nothing like it—but also to connect with those vibrant years and prove we could still do it.
Bob and I rode quite a lot while managing Mountain Equestrian Trails—he more than me—upwards of fifty miles per week. Our guests booked a riding holiday package which included two all-day rides—one to Big Rock Falls for lunch and a swim and the other to Barton Creek for lunch and a paddle into the cave, one half-day ride to the Vega and Red Tiger Cave, and an all-day vehicle tour to San Ignacio and the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. While Bob rode with the guests, I often stayed behind to work in the kitchen or with the other horses. It was always a treat to ride together.
I could have booked a riding tour through the resort, but I only wanted a morning ride, not an all-day-with-lunch-and-swimming experience, and since we were renting a car, we could transport ourselves. So I searched and found Outback Trails on the south bank of the Sittee River in Stann Creek—adjacent to Silk Grass Farms, as it turned out—and began corresponding with Michelle Gonzalez.
I asked the group if anyone else were interested, and Sean said, “I’m in!” because he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t say no to anything. Michelle answered all my questions with warmth and humor, reserved the Monday morning ride for us, and I packed my riding tights and helmet.
The original forecast was cloudy with a chance of rain, but we drew a perfect, sunny day when the day arrived.
Bob and Sean walked over to where Ken had tied our horses, and Michelle and I hung back in the sunshine, chit-chatting and watching the men. “Ken likes to talk,” she said. I nodded. “Well, this’ll be fun. Bob’s gonna give him a run for his money.”
Ken took us across the farm towards the forest, pointing out trees and wildlife, cracking jokes, and trading horse stories. He rode with a lead rope attached to a halter, and I loved how well his mare responded to a lifted rein or a shift of his leg.
At fifteen, Silver was the oldest horse on the ranch. He tested me right off, then quickly relaxed and let me call the shots. Like Buddy and Gallen, the horses I’ve been working with back home, Silver spent his youth pulling Amish buggies. Ken said it had been a process helping Silver unlearn his bone-jarring trot, and I found it reassuring to ride the finished product.
Our horses were confident and sure-footed even when the mud was fetlock (ankle) deep. Ken would bathe them after the ride, just as he had done before tacking them up. He had fed them each three pounds of grain and would feed them another three pounds in the evening.
Michelle has a breeding program in which she crosses the hardy, sure-footed local mares with kind-hearted, sturdy Appaloosa stallions, which explains why her horses are so lovely.
Ken stopped his horse and pointed to a tree limb in the distance. “It’s a Scarlet Macaw,” he said, “I’d been waiting for them to come back.”
I squinted in the direction of his arm and finally saw the form of a large bird. We had hoped to see one but thought it would be when we took a canoe down the Macal River this coming weekend, not on this ride.
According to Caribbean Lifestyle, “Every year, beginning in December, scarlet macaws migrate to Belize’s Stann Creek District to feed. These brilliantly colored birds fly all the way from their usual breeding grounds in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve to the village of Red Bank.”
The last time we saw one of these gorgeous birds was in 1998, and Bob and his phone did a remarkable job capturing our prize. We had left our big cameras behind on purpose, not wanting to risk damaging them. I like that the macaws are vegetarians, mate for life, and have a wingspan of 100 centimeters (~40 inches). Our group at Solvei was working on identifying as many birds as possible, and the macaw was an excellent addition to our list.
When we reached the river, we dismounted, and Ken tied the horses together in pairs, then tethered two of them to trees.
The Sittee looked very much as it did when we saw it from the north bank during the Silk Grass Farms tour.
As he had done the other day, Sean skipped a few rocks over the clear river water.
Sean and Duffy look as if they were made for each other.
Our smiles were even broader after our three-hour tour. Everything about the day exceeded my expectations. The horses, our guide, the rainforest, and the weather were as spectacular as my most golden memory of Belize, and it was a dream come true to share the experience with my best friend, Bob! I climbed into the car thinking I honestly could die right now, in a state of bliss, with no regrets.