Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Riding with civilians

A couple weekends ago, the owners of the barn where I board organized a trip to the Riley Horse Camp near Zigzag, Oregon. Amazingly, this beautiful camp with a few miles of well-maintained sandy trails is only an hour away from us. 

My little trailer is one of only two at the barn, so it was called into service to make the trip possible. Pretty much everyone else would be going up on Friday at some point. They’d be taking both trailers (four horses total) and then bringing my trailer back so I could drive up on Saturday with Blue and another boarder’s horse, Cache. We’d have six horses in camp, which was enough for everyone who wanted a turn riding to have one.

At some point during my work week, it occurred to me that the plan meant the barn owners making an extra round trip with an empty trailer, so I suggested that if they were coming back to the barn anyway, they might as well just pick up Blue and Cache themselves Friday night. I could drive the truck up on Saturday to meet everybody and then tow the trailer home with two horses on Sunday.

Friday evening, while I was slaving away over a hot keyboard with my phone turned off, I got a whole bunch of texts and voicemails. The gist: They hadn’t been able to get Cache in the trailer. Blue got right in, but when Cache pulled back and refused, Blue started getting antsy. So then they took Blue back out of the trailer to give Cache more room to load… Of course, once both were outside again, neither horse would load. I imagine Benny Hill music and horses shuffling in and out.

They sounded exasperated. And they told me to bring Blue up on Saturday, and at least try with Cache, but they wouldn’t blame me if I couldn’t load him—because he was impossible to load and maybe he had been traumatized in a trailer at some time in the past and after all it is just a little straight load and he’s a big horse and he wouldn’t even do it for grain and blah blah blah.

On Saturday morning, it was my turn.

I am not going to say that Cache loaded on the first try or walked right in. The one barn worker who was staying behind to take care of the remaining horses tried three or four times while I was gathering up supplies. When I saw he wasn't having much luck, I opened up the escape door and led Cache in by myself. It took maybe two soft pulls with releases for trying.

Blue balked when I lead him to the trailer (which shows just how fast good training can be undone by bad handling—he normally self-loads without me even touching his leadrope). I set him straight pretty quick.
Because, I guess, here’s another thing I like about endurance: The horses and riders both know how to handle the whole “trailer” thing. 

Cache literally had not left the property in two years. All the vet work these horses have is through barn calls. All the training and riding is on-site. The owners and riders aren’t used to loading, hauling and caring for the horse on the go.

Example: On Friday when they took the first two horses in my trailer, they put buckets of water in the mangers. And they were glad they had because then they arrived, they found their thirsty babies drank all of the water. Remember, this is a one-hour trip.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the carpet in the tack locker under the manger was soaking wet and there were rust streaks on the wall where the water from the buckets sloshed through in welds. I doubt the horses drank a drop from the buckets—it was all in my tack room.

The camping itself was fun. Camping without the pressure of competition really is delightful and relaxing. I ate whatever I wanted. I slept in. I peed in a permanent structure!

Riding with non-Endurance people for the first time in a long time was hilarious/horrible. I saw more falls, more unchecked bad behavior, more trail etiquette faux pas in 24 hours than I have seen in six years of endurance.

Now don’t get me wrong. No horse is perfect. And since most of these horses don’t travel regularly (or even work outside of an arena regularly) I expected they might struggle a bit. So imagine my surprise when my barnmates mounted up bareback or with only a halter and rope for steering. Surely they were aware that a challenging new environment might spook their normally reliable, confident mounts? Surely they would take this as an opportunity for training good trail habits and showing the kids who came along how to handle an emotional horse in an unfamiliar environment?

Nope, that was just me. That was just me training Blue to deal with spooking, whirling horses around him… With riders allowing their mounts to charge up every hill or trot away from the group with no warning… With being left alone in the corral with no other horses in sight... With kicking, ear-pinning mares... I could go on.

But I think the best part was hearing how “tired” the horses were and how “sore” the riders were after… say… 3 miles? *wink*

I went out by myself on the morning of the second day to get some real work done. I took Blue up the Sandy River trail to the Ramona Falls trail, then turned around at the river crossing and came back down. I ran into the rest of party when I was nearly back to camp, and accepted their invitation to go back up the trail a second time at a walk. I didn’t have my GPS on, but according to the trail signs, I probably did close to 15 miles all told because of the repetition. Blue barely broke a sweat in spite of the soft, sandy footing. He offered to jig the last several miles because the horses in front of him were pretty much out of control. We probably did 100 one-rein stops and a bazillion half-halts to keep him at a flat-footed walk and let the other horses go. TRAINING OPPORTUNITY!

As I told my barnmates, Blue really needed another 20 miles. He’s had such a lazy summer, I fear he’s going to be a fire-breathing, trail-eating monster at OR100.

All in all, it was a fun trip. It’s nice to do something different every once in a while and remind myself how foreign my hobby is to most of the horse-owning public. The whole thing was made somewhat bittersweet, though. The trip was, in effect, a farewell party for me and my Lake Oswego barnmates. 

On Labor Day, I I had to move Blue to a new, less convenient location. I'll tell you all about it in the next post: The New New Barn.


  1. Hahaha, you're a brave woman, Ruth. Riding with civilians - the kind who never leave their home barns, #notallcivilians - terrifies me.

    Those poor tired thirsty horses, snicker.

  2. Yeah, what Funder said.

    There's a poker ride next weekend, and I'm torn. It's nice to see *other* horse people, esp the Backcountry riders who always have great stories from their amazing summer adventures. But some of the horses and riders haven't left their home barns since last September, and haven't worked all summer (with predictable results).

    Maybe I'll let the weather forecast decide for me?

  3. Our big, local, "everyone is welcome" trail ride isn't happening this year, though I've gone the past two years. But even at that one, I was always riding with at least some endurance people.

    I can't imagine having the kind of disposable income that allows for keeping a horse and trailer in order to do one ride a year. And yet those people are all around us. :)

  4. The water buckets part was the best: )