Before I dive into a deeper review of my five days with the John Wayne Riders, I have to note why I’m a week behind getting this out: Total and complete writer’s block. To come back from such a high of riding through beautiful country with my brave and willing mare to another and yet somehow even more horrific school shooting…I just couldn’t. For several days I existed in silence, I couldn’t watch a show or listen to music. I was just in my own head, taking care of the dogs and fussing over Tarma, eating cereal and Goldfish, whatever required absolutely no effort.
I have nothing to say, nothing to add to the vicious ugliness of what happened in Uvalde, no right to say anything that adds to or deflects from that communities pain…and yet, all the words, half of them incoherent. It didn’t help that my boys have spent the last week having the time of their lives in Florida, so I wasn’t able to stare at my child and make sure he was still breathing, the only normal response to such a thing. Tom had to do that for me. The only conclusion I’ve come to is a resolve to be more involved in my son’s school district, in some form I haven’t figured out yet. There’s a lot of reasons I’ll get into later, but it will mean I’ll be stepping back from my position on OET’s board when my term is over, I just can’t juggle everything going on and give the position the time and effort it needs.
This has always been the weirdest and hardest part of living in such a connected world, to watch terrible, gut wrenching things happen, to fight to make your corner of it better…and yet, go about your day. There’s really no other transition possible to talking about how the ride went for us, nothing graceful I’ve come up with anyway.
So here goes: I loved it. Tarma was a freaking rock star. Aside from two things, she was amazeballs in all ways. I am so proud of how far she’s come and how solid we’re doing for just over a year together, and her about seven this year. I’ll be hoarding my PTO so I can join for longer next year, and figuring out a way to take Benny and Kade along. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was magical, even with the day to day details of keeping camp moving and a horse alive and yourself alive to juggle. It was nerve wracking and peaceful by turns, uncertain and utterly right. I’m so glad I was able to do this solo, it deepened my relationship with Tarma and gave me some confidence my twenty year old self never doubted. It was a bit hard going as a single, without a support person dedicated to watching Tarma while I drove my rig forward each day, but strangers quickly became friends and she got the gist quickly enough. I still double tied her every day, just to be safe.
My favorite moments, aside from pretty much enjoying the whole thing (minus two moments I’ll get into below) including trotting on a loose rein for miles, barely needing to post her powerful Morgan road trot; riding across the Beverly Bridge while singing Hamilton to keep us both relaxed, the Columbia River sliding beneath us; the shaved ice cone with sweet cream I devoured in Kittitas; waking up in my cozy sleeping bag, opening my trailer door, and handing Tarma some peppermints (this will never get old); parading through Ellensburg, Tarma being more concerned with making her way to the front than with all the traffic; being serenaded by a guy outside Ellensburg with a banjo; napping in my trailer with the door open, listening to Tarma chow down; that feeling of deep relief every morning when I hop off the bus and my horse is fully tacked, still calmly tied to the tree where I left her. My absolute proudest moment was untying my Artic Skirt from the back of my saddle and tossing it on at Tarma’s fastest possible walk with no hands on the reins, moments before it started to hail! Luckily it only lasted a few minutes and we were able to trot and canter out of it.
A quick overview of lessons learned:
- Double tying: I will probably keep doing this for next year, it was that extra bit of security I needed. Also, don’t tie to your bridle if you can help it, even for those with endurance halter bridles (Aarene’s Dragon broke her bridle one day!)
- Tighten your girth or cinch before leaving, not quite to riding tightness but definitely more than you think you’ll need. The first day I didn’t do up her girth enough, so the saddle slipped and hung sideways by the breast collar. Luckily Tarma was calm enough for some total strangers to approach and untack her.
- Truck: I sent the truck in for a pre-trip check two weeks before the trip. This was the BEST IDEA, as she needed another brand new fuel pump. You know what you need to tow a fully loaded horse trailer up out of the Columbia Gorge? A fuel pump.
- Coffee: Even with my “quicker” combo of JetBoil stove and Aeropress, two mornings I didn’t give myself enough time to make coffee. Next year I’ll bring cold coffee and just deal. At this point in my life I’m not ready to give up coffee on ride days.
- Human food: I brought too much food for just myself, considering I eat like a rabbit for breakfast and lunch (yogurt and a banana in the morning, fruit leathers and cheese in the saddle), and they feed us dinner via a combination of food carts and local group’s fundraisers. I could have gotten away with one small cooler, instead of a drink cooler and a larger food cooler.
- Horse food: Finally, I packed enough food for the horse! All it took was an entire bale bag of mostly low sugar orchard, some flaked alfalfa, a Rubbermaid can full of coastal, both alfalfa pellets and cubes and beet pulp and LMF Showtime and an entire Costco bag of carrots, plus her prepacked supplements each day. I did run out of flaked alfalfa the third day, which Tarma wasn’t thrilled with, but she did have two other types of alfalfa so she didn’t suffer, I promise. Taking the Rubbermaid can was a stroke of genius, as I could put the hay bags in there to stuff them full each day.
- OH! I used the coolest damn thing in Kittitas! It was an ice vending machine!!!! This saved my butt!
- Hooves: The Easy Care Glue Ons were the perfect choice, and totally worth the extra expense. Tarma didn’t take a bad step the entire ride, and I can rest easy knowing her feet and legs were extra protected from the rocks and concussion of the trail, and I didn’t have to futz with boots twice a day.
- Go with the flow: Literally take a chill pill of some variety and keep that grace with you the entire time. The third day was supposed to be riding from Thorp to the Ellensburg Fairgrounds, where there would be showers! Instead someone majorly fucked up and the fairgrounds were full with another event’s rigs, so we ended up camping on the trail in Kittitas at the last moment (we were lined up for the daily caravan and sat for almost an hour while the ride organizers scrambled to find out where to put us!) This meant no showers and an extra 4 miles or so of riding, plus rescheduling the police escort through Ellensburg. I wasn’t involved in any of this of course, but still had to handle the changing circumstances and Tarma was tied to a tree for close to three hours that day (luckily a place that still had grass!)
- Ankle: Most of you know I’ve been having various ankle issues for years. I’ve been doing PT for about a month now, and combined with a hefty brace I survived the entire ride without a numb foot! However I did make the mistake of trying to switch back to my Easy-care comfort stirrups one day, and that was a total no go, so I’ll be selling those for sure.
- Horse and human clothing: As this ride goes West to East, it was colder to start so I’m super glad I brought Tarma’s midweight winter blanket, the first two nights it was almost freezing! By the fourth night she didn’t need any blankets thankfully. The only thing I forgot of my huge packing list was my raincoat, which luckily I didn’t need, though I did have a cheap back up poncho. With my new trailer almost laid out exactly how I want it, I was able to organize all my clean clothes and keep them separate from the dirty clothes, and keep my PJ’s hay and dust free. Also, I finally packed the correct combination of blankets to sleep comfortably without having to turn on the Buddy Heater in the middle of the night (that number is four, including the down sleeping bag itself).
- Baby wipes: OMG this was a stroke of genius, thank you A for the suggestion! I was able to give myself a baby wipe “bath” every night and it made all the difference. Also due to my organizing, there was never a moment I had to dig for anything, and nothing got lost. However, my genius (stolen) idea for my top storage rack needs some remediation help from the husband, the tension rods refused to hold tension so the whole thing is currently only supported by hook magnets.
- Have I mentioned I love my trailer? I LOVE MY TRAILER. Every idea I had and feature I chose when designing it proved out perfectly during this trip, especially the side load paired with the lower divider, so I could load and unload Tarma and keep all my extra gear and horse food in the second stall. I also talked to at least 20 folks and gave tours, people loved it.
- Hi Tie: As much as I love my Hi Tie, and Tarma figured out how to be comfortable on it, I’m so glad I didn’t let my inner laziness leave my corral panels at home. I needed them two days in a row, once for the Army’s requirement of double containment when we camp on base one night (apparently a couple of horses from the ride got loose years ago and having folks riding and driving all over the base looking for them made the Army uncomfortable) and once due to camp being too tight at Beverly to swing out the Hi Tie for the night. Also, for the first two days Tarma refused to pee on the Hi Tie, instead choosing to holler at me until I took her for a walk. I ignored her the third morning until I heard her pee a storm at 5am. HA!
The two low points are fixable, one we just had to live through, and one I’ll have to penny pinch for. The last day was basically an LD, from Renslow to Beverly (which we were told in the morning was about 21 miles but was actually over 24, due to the addition of riding over the brand new Beverly Bridge). This included around 15 miles of downhill at a steady, relentless 5% grade down to the Columbia River. I’m told this was more fun for the bikers. There was a water stop just before the half way point but not much else besides.
At roughly 17 miles in, Tarma decided I was forcing her on a death march and she was going to die in the howling, waterless wilderness. She alternated refusing to take another step with an angry, jarring, jiggy trot, that kind that makes you bite your tongue. It’s this kind of discussion that makes me glad I ride bitless, by design I can’t really hurt her by hauling on the reins. I had to do so about three times, including an actual one rein stop when she finally caught sight of horses in the distance and by Jove, she was going to catch up to them so they could save her from my evil, unreasonable demands. This was the only moment I felt disconnected from her, when I wondered if I’d asked too much. My solution was to hop off and walk a few miles. It took at least a mile and a half before she would accept treats from me. That’s Tarma’s sign that I’ve pushed her too far or worried her too much, she won’t take food until she’s more relaxed. The morning of the Ellensburg debacle, when they ended up tied for almost three hours, it took her a solid minute after I returned and untied her for her to accept a peppermint from me.
The second is a bit harder, I do need a new saddle. Some combination of that relentless downhill (which we did trot a decent bit of to make time), my too small Wintec, extended trotting, both posting and not, and something else sored Tarma’s back. It didn’t happen the first four days of riding, and I checked her shoulders, back, loin and hips each night with not a hint of soreness and I swapped pads twice, so it was definitely the last day that caused it. She’s getting better with a combination of rest, liniment and cold hosing, though I’m going to kick the budget for room for another body work session before I do any heavy riding again. Any other tips to help her recover, and avoid this (other than getting myself fitter and a new saddle of course) are super welcome!
Now, who wants to do the shorter, East to West Fall Ride with me?