Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Goldilocks and Her Fear of Bears

As I am getting ready to leave for my trip and have plans for many trail rides in the woods, this topic has come to mind a lot lately.

This is a tale of blackberries. And horseback riding. And bears. Somehow, it will all fit together.

When I was walking My Boy through the little meadow to the arena the other day, I noticed this:

It's a struggling blackberry vine. As an avid blackberry connoisseur, I was excited. However, I will not be picking or eating the berries from this branch. Can you see why?
Luckily, a trek around the farm showed me a few other strands of berries, many still red and waiting to ripen.

Then, there are these. Himalayan blackberries. Invaders of the land. Choking out native flora in it's thorny path. On the farm, they are still finishing their spring blooms. Aren't these blooms delicate? Many of them slightly laced pink.

After the bloom wilts, you can see all of the stamens and pistils (um, that would be technical flower terminology) begin to shrivel and curl up and turn brown, looking like a little nest cradling the beginning of a little hard green berry underneath.

Of course, you can hardly get to the blasted berries once they are ripe because of these:

Have you ever been trail riding and come across one of these deadly arms reaching out to grab you? Hopefully you weren't half-turned in the saddle chatting with the person behind you at the time. If you're like me, you probably had to break a branch off a nearby tree or bush then use it to hold offending sticker aside as you rode by. If you and your horse stand there long enough, one will probably start growing up around your horse's legs.

When I was a child, we often went blackberry picking. There were numerous logged areas of land that were a haven for the new growth of blackberry vines. Off we'd go with plastic bowls or buckets. One time, when I was around 10 years old, I went with my sister, my mom, her friend, and her daughters. We were picking berries and started to hear a strange sound far away. My mom's friend said it was a bear. We kept picking and the sound got louder and closer. It was a strange roaring and grunting sound. I can still hear it in my head to this day. I began to get very nervous. We kept picking and "it" got closer and then someone said "let's go." I don't think I ever ran to a car faster in my life. As we drove out of the logging road I kept seeing huge overturned black burned stumps among the logged brush. To my imaginative 10 year old mind, every one of them was a bear. Who knows if that sound was really a bear (are they really that vocal?) but I am glad we didn't stick around to find out.

When I first started leasing My Boy, he was boarded at a stable that had access to trails near a river full of salmon. With a lot of berries right on the trail. What do bears eat? Hmm....berries and salmon? I tell you this because the first time we rode around the gate at the trail head, there it was. On a tree, posted for all to see.

Well, it didn't look exactly like that one. But it read: "Warning: A Potentially Aggressive Bear has been Seen in this Area." Luckily, the sign was dated several months before we started riding there. But that did not settle my nerves. What aggressive behavior did this bear exhibit to deserve getting it's own sign? Did it attack a dog? Charge a hiker? The friends I rode with laughed it off but to me, it was no joke. I said, um, people, do you know what season it is? Spring? Yes. Do you know what bears are doing? Waking up from hibernation? Yes. Do you know how they feel when they wake up from hibernation? Hungry? Yes! Now do you see why I was worried? I wore a helmet on every ride, and I made sure we talked and chatted up a storm so that bears could hear us tramping down the trails and move far away. Oh- why did I wear my helmet? Aside from it being the smart thing to do on a horse I was still getting to know, I figured if a bear scared my horse and I fell off and the bear attacked me, maybe the helmet would save my head. Goodness, I know that is silly but it made me feel better. I researched bear and horse encounters on the Internet and read what to do and what not to do. Realistically, I know that I will most likely never see a bear during one of our rides. Still, there is a chance. My biggest fear is of my horse reacting negatively to seeing or smelling a bear, spooking and galloping off, leaving me on my bum in the dust with a bear standing ten feet from me.

I was never comfortable riding in those woods. We saw fresh berry-filled poo (skat) all over those trails. We were pretty sure it was from coyote, or a stray dog that ate berries? Hmmm.....

My sister and I made it out on a trail ride for her birthday a couple of weeks ago. Once again, the berries are beginning to ripen everywhere. The country we ride in is just like that logging area where we heard the bear when I was 10 years old. As we started out on the trail the other day, I saw this rather large pile of berry skat.

Now, if anyone is a skat expert out there, please let me know what kind of animal this is from. It was not a huge amount so unless it was from baby bear, I am not sure it belongs to a bear. Probably a raccoon. Or a possum. Right? Please? Since there had been a fresh rain the day before, we were very well aware by the copious amount of prints that Bambi and her whole extended family had been using our horse trails, but could find no other prints other than horse and dog (a lot of people ride with their dogs out there.) But, it definitely raised my bear awareness hackles.

I have had a fascination and fear of bears for many years. I have read books and watched documentaries on grizzlies. I do not know what it is about them that is so intriguing and yet terrifying. I suppose it is their sheer size and ability to be the king of the forest.

So, are my bear fears unfounded? How many of you have encountered bears while horseback riding, or do you know of anyone that has?

Goodness, now I am craving blackberry pie more than ever!


  1. My guess is coyote. If it was down here that's what I would call it anyway. lol

  2. You have to tell me where those berries are!!! I want them!!! Not the Himalayans of course. Need to make jam/jelly/syrup!!!

    The scat does look like bear scat.

    Good berries are worth treading in bear territory. Just need to be wary and careful.

  3. Sorry, but that looks like bear scat to me, and I have seen a lot of it over the years. You can also look for rubbings on trees, hair caught in bark or dead logs that have been ripped open. I rode in the back country for years alone and came across more than my fair share of bears. I do always carry bear spray on my waist and if I have dogs I make sure that they are well trained if they are off leash. The last thing you want is your dog pissing off the bear and bringing him back to you! I also put bear bells on my dog (a big and fairly loud bell that is annoying at first but after a while you dont hear them anymore). I also sing a lot if I have no one to talk to. It is great that you have read up on what to or not to do. Most bears will leave you alone but hungry or mother bears will be more aggresive. I have been charged twice by a bear and was able to walk away unharmed. Good luck, be safe and remember, "leave no trace"

  4. Btw- here in the southwestern part of BC, we could feed an army with the amount of blackberry bushes that shoot out of every ditch, or field left uncut. On my own property I could fill barrel with them right now!

  5. Have fun on your trip! I would tell you to take lots of pictures to post later...but I have a feeling you are already planning on doing that. I always used to wish I had a horse loving family...I am so jealous of you! Have fun!

  6. Several strange bear attacks in our area and I am now going back to putting the bear bells on John when we ride out. I have such fond memories of blackberry picking as a tiny child, when my dad would let me sit on his shoulders and just hand me up some blackberries now & then, as my older brothers grumbled and picked their own...Dad was 6'4" and I felt like the queen of the world up there.

  7. Your fear of running into bears while trail riding is not unfounded, Pony Girl!
    (BTW...we both have blackberries on our minds right now. I even posted a link to another bloggers berry cobbler.)

    I have run into a bear only once in my lifetime-at least on horseback!-and it was definitely an adrenaline rush...both for me and the horse!

    My friend and I were galloping up a long hill, and when we slowed down the horses, ran right into a bear. The horses, who were nice and fresh from the gallop, immediately whirled around and ran like mad in the opposite direction. was more like they dashed off in any direction BUT straight ahead, and we had to gather them up-somewhat!- and turn around. It's a good thing that we were young and still had our cat-like!!

    The scat in your pic does look like bear scat, but if it is too small to be a bear's, then it could be a coyote's. They also eat wild berries, and leave berry scat laying around :)

    I will admit that I am more worried about being ambushed by a hungry cougar, when I am out riding. Have you ever seen them attack an elk?? If you have, then you will know what I mean! My husband actually shot one out where we ride, and I have seen them in the woods behind my parents old place...also where we ride!

    Hopefully you will never have an encounter with a bear, and I hope that your family has a great trip this weekend! Do you mind adopting me and my sister? Teeheehee!!!

  8. Looks like a chicken has been there! Just kidding of course. We don't have bears where I live, at least not to my knowledge. We have coyotes and fox that we could run into while riding but I never have. We hear the coyotes at night. What is really scary is when we can tell they have their prey. It is an awful sound.

    A few months after we moved out here in the country I saw a dog running across my front yard with a fawn in it's mouth. It couldn't have been over 1-2 days old. It really upset me though.

  9. My farrier recently went to Montana where he and his wife got married. They took bear spray with them. One never knows.

  10. I totally love that you have pictures of "skat" posted. :)

  11. Why do you think you have grizzlies in your area and not black bears?

  12. If you have not done so already, Oh Goddess of the Packing and Lists, GET BEAR GRADE PEPPER SPRAY. Since you are unarmed, this is your next best bet.

    Make noise. Lots of it. (Chatter and laughter is GOOD.)

    Big bells are GREAT.

    And just be alert. Look for scratches on the trees, and prints. Check out prints online before you head out, so you know what to look for. Have your Bear Spray HANDY, on your waist- not in a pack somewhere. (Cant use it if you cant GET TO IT.)

    Dont dwell on the bad encounter- just be educated and alert, and I bet you are fine.

  13. I have seen bears a few times in my area, and where I ride is a bit “closer in” than where PG rides. Black bears are pretty common in lowland Pacific Northwest areas. Grizzlies, none that I have heard of, thankfully. We’re just too low and close to sea level and too warm. If anyone spotted a grizzly around here it would make the local news, big time!

  14. And bears don’t scare me near as much as cougars do! Cougars stalk horses and people on horseback. Black bears will run away unless you are threatening a cub.

  15. love the pictures on this post. man, you take some clear and pretty shots!

    i'm still in awe you have wild-growing blackberries!

  16. Okay, now I am more worried about cougars than anything! ;)

    I am not worried about grizzlies (whew!), we only have black bears around here. For the most part, those will not attack a human unless they feel threatened or caught off guard, or have cubs.

  17. Kinda looks like bear poo to me. Here in Maine we have black bears, tons of Moose and dear and coyotes. I have never run into a bear on the trail but am not really that afraid unless they have cubs. Wer all know what a mama bear will do if she feels her cubs are threatened. I'm more worried about Moose in our parts during rutting season (mating season) I've seen them bust through the pasture fence and chase all the mares around. Usually it's younger males, but it's still a sight to see.

    But while on this topic I couldn't help but remember the book my mom got for me that was written by a maine author, a childs book called Blueberries for Sal. You can google the title and look it up. I also love the illustrations, I won't give it away but it's about a girl blueberry picking and bears.|Blueberries_for_Sal_:_Books&ref=tgt_adv_XSNG1060

  18. Oh my!

    never encountered any bears here! Coyotes are about it! But I think with most wild animals the more noise you are making it will keep them on the move!

    Not sure on the scat~sure could be coyote!

  19. TWO WORDS for you "THE EDGE!"Eeee!

  20. I love blackberries...

    Regarding your post below on deworming:
    Whenever I deworm my horse I give her an old deworming tube filled with applesauce first (one or two) then I give her the tube of dewormer-in that way, she thinks it's just another applesauce tube! :)

    Oh, and btw, that picture on the top with your title is beautiful. :)

  21. I have never seen a bear or bear droppings, sorry I am no help.

    We have black berries in our yard and in the pasture across the street. We make black berry pie from it. Very good. Those berries grow like mad down here. Yummy!!

    Have fun on your trip and this post made me think of the movie Parent Trap when the twins take the "step mother " camping!! LOL!!

  22. Yikes! Lions and tigers and bears OH My! Can't say that I've encountered a bear, however, I did feed a baby bear once when I was a kid and my Mom knew all the DNR people in Wisconsin.

  23. Sidetracked: Thanks for the book rec, it's a classic to read in the classroom but I haven't in a few years!

    TW: The Edge, ha ha, very funny, that movie freaks me out! ;) Especially the part where he's making a sandwich in the lodge kitchen....

    Speaking of movies, Andrea, I love The Parent Trap! I've only seen the remake w/Lindsay Lohan, I have never seen the original.

  24. I watched the documentary about Tim Treadwell last winter. He was eaten by Grizzlies. It still gives me the heeby-jeebies!
    I think some of your commenters are right on about the cougars and mountain lions, I guess they can be super dangerous, pulling bikers off their bikes and stuff.
    I think bear spray on your BELT is excellent advice.

  25. I think you are wise to wear and helmet, especially when considering a bear attack. They typically seem to go for the head and neck area, so the helmet would help protect your head.....until the bear cracked the helmet with the shear force of it's jaws. gah!

    If I were you, I'd also carry Bear Spray...and make sure you test it out before head out.

    You are so lucky to live in an area that has wild berry bushes. I don't know of any up here at all.

    As for the scat, it's really hard to tell because there is no size comparison. It could be a small bear scat, but I'd wager coyote.

    We have packs of coyotes that roam our area and I find piles of scat that look similar to that(without as many berries). We have tons of juniper and pinon trees here, so their scat is packed full of juniper berries and pinon nuts.

  26. Oh yes, I almost forgot to add that my husband was driving down our county road about 2 weeks ago at dusk, when a mountain lion leapt across the road directly in front of him. He braked hard and it shook him up pretty bad.
    He was only a mile north of our house.
    I was so worried about our animals up at the barn all night!

  27. Check this video of a bear scare on a trail ride out of Camp Richardson Corral.

    We stopped in here on one of our trips to the South Lake Tahoe area to check it out- maybe in the future to bring our horses up here for a camp out. We live about an hour or two away - on the Nevada side.
    It's a very clean place and well taken care of horses.

    I found this vid when I was first checking the place out online.

    I think things would have been 'cooler' with experienced riders.


I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

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