Night Riding in the Desert

Campfire Story by Joe Rolak from Desert Hills, Arizona.

Trail riding is so overlooked! I’ve heard people say it's not cool, it's not performance, it's not show, whatever whatever.... when really it's so great for your horse. It’s an adventure every time.

I got into trail riding because it was the easiest type of riding to do as a beginner. I could saddle up and ride from my driveway. I didn’t need a trailer; I didn’t have to wait on people; and best of all I didn’t have to pay money to ride.

In my opinion, the desert is the best place for extreme trail riding. It’s fun to take on all the challenges and overcome obstacles. You have to be very tough to handle it’s gnarly beauty.

I have had so many adventures out on the trail. I’ve run into some crazy people, snakes, and even a rabid coyote at 2am on a solo full moon night ride! But my favorite experiences are less dramatic—when I've witnessed my horses gain confidence and develop on the trail over time.

For example, I do a lot of night riding. At first the horses are like, “What the heck are we doing?!” They're tense and on edge. I try to stay as calm and confident as possible, which helps keep them mellow.

Also, figuring out how hard you can push while still gaining ground is a big thing. If your horse starts to shut down on the trail and no longer wanting to work with you...well that's tough when you're ten miles from home at 2am with no moon. So it's a balance. But after a few really long night rides, they start to calm down and get it. I can just feel it.

It's a whole different world in the dark. Sometimes you can't see, sometimes they can't see. Sometimes you have to be firm with them to stay safe; other times you give them the reins and trust them 100%. You have to trust each other more than normal, which is saying a lot! It’s about being a team in every moment. It takes time like everything else, and it’s not for everyone. But it’s my favorite thing to do.


What advice would you give a new desert rider?

If you want to get into desert riding, do yourself a favor and find a good farrier. When I first got into it, I went through so many farriers. We were always throwing and losing shoes. Being stuck sore footed in the desert sucks! My current farrier, Riley Cameron, is great. He does what’s best for my horses in desert terrain, and I don’t have to worry about losing shoes any more.

What rides are on your bucket list?

I definitely want to ride down the Grand Canyon. I've ridden all over Arizona, but never at or down the big ditch. Also, I'd love to ride in other countries with my horse! South America would be rad!

A big thanks to Joe Rolak for sharing his trail riding adventures with the community.

Photo credits: Feature photo by Taylor Steele; Bottom right photo by Amanda Ellis.

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