From Endurance to Dressage
We experienced a somewhat rare treat at the ranch the other day, and it involved the sighting of a snake. The ranch is situated on the Kern River which means it's generally a bit too cool for our indigenous snake population, but we do occasionally see them.
As I was walking along the trail I've beaten down alongside Izzy's dirt pasture - it's deeply shaded by two massive Sycamores, I was startled by a long dark object. You know what should and shouldn't be in your path, especially if you tromp by the same spot 50 times a day. I stopped to take a closer look and discovered a California kingsnake on the path.
I am not afraid of snakes, but I do have a healthy respect for them. I instantly recognized this fellow (gal?) as a kingsnake, so I knew I wasn't in any danger; they're non-venomous. I've stumbled across more than my share of rattlesnakes over the years, so I've learned to be cautious.
Speaking of rattlesnakes, the two most terrifying encounters I've had with them have been while training for endurance races. In the first, I was with two friends cantering up Rancheria Road in east Bakersfield. My two friends were ahead of me. At the exact moment that I heard the tell-tale rattle, my Montoya did a 180 at a the canter. As I sailed off over her shoulder, I knew there was a rattlesnake ahead as I could hear it as I was flying through the air. I responded just like a cartoon character. My feet were running before my butt hit the ground. I didn't know exactly where it was in relationship to where I landed, but I didn't wait long enough to see. When the whole thing was over and we were all safely past, we laughed hysterically as both friends had seen my legs pinwheeling through the air as I tried to run even before landing!
The second scary encounter with rattlers was when one of those same friends was riding Montoya while I rode my black Arab, Mickey. We had ridden from my place (back when we had our own property) up through a deep and narrow canyon out onto a nearby ranch. Later that day, we retraced our steps and attempted to ride back through the canyon to get home.
The morning had warmed up quite a bit during our ride. As we approached the canyon, Montoya saw the rattlesnake before either one of us did. She again whirled away, hitting a berm in the process tumbling both herself and my friend to the ground. Both were unhurt, so my friend remounted. As we tried to again enter the canyon, Montoya spooked a second time at yet another rattler, unceremoniously dumping my friend again.
The canyon was the only way home. Montoya was a quivering mess by that time, so I got off Mickey, grabbed a long stick, and led us out of there on foot. There were dozens of snakes - or so it seemed, sunning on the rocky ledges all down that canyon. It was truly one of the most terrifying experiences I've ever had. Fortunately, the canyon wasn't that long, a couple of hundred feet, and we made it through safely. That was the last time we ever rode back up in there.
The kingsnake that I stumbled on was longer than any I've seen in a while. The upended water trough has a three foot diameter, and you can see that the snake is nearly twice that in length, which is not typical for kingsnakes. I leaned down and gently stroked its skin which didn't make the snake too happy. Like kingsnakes will do, it gathered itself together and began furiously "rattling its tail." There aren't rattles of course, but the snake still makes a bit of a noise which must be enough to frighten off a lot of predators who are fooled by the mimicry.
Not wanting to disturb the snake any more than I already had, I walked on down the path another 30 feet and took a seat in the shade on an old tire. I like to check my phone while I wait as one of my horses grazes out in the yard. As I was sitting there, nearly motionless, I heard a scuttling in the leaves behind me. I turned around and saw another kingsnake sliding through the detritus beneath the tree.
Now it definitely could have been the same snake, but the first one crawled into the leaves on the left side of the trail while this one came though a completely different pile of leaves at least 30 feet away on the right side of the trail. If it was the same snake, he or she was creepily fast and had to have been following me. It was so remarkable to spot even one California kingsnake in the yard that I of course texted the ranch owners who quickly came out to admire him (or her!).
California kingsnakes prey on rats, mice, birds, amphibians, and best of all, other snakes including rattlesnakes. According to Wikipedia, "The "king" in their name refers to their propensity to hunt and eat other snakes, including venomous rattlesnakes, that are commonly indigenous to their natural habitat. California kingsnakes are naturally resistant to the venom of rattlesnakes, but are not totally immune."
This kingsnake, or the pair if I really spotted two of them, is more than welcome to take up residence at the ranch. And if it is a pair, our fingers are crossed that we see babies later this fall.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: