For years I’ve had to endure various endurance friend’s descriptions and stories of the mystical Bandit Springs ride, in the Ochoco Mountains outside Prineville. It’s never been in the cards for me, but I made it happen this year through a combination of friendship and sheer willful optimism. Last weekend a friend and I explored the finally dry single track trails at Hardy Creek, which has hardly any flat. Tarma got girth galls for the first time ever, and I tried and failed not to blame myself. Thanks to some friend’s advice, I can now highly recommend Bickmore’s Girth Salve, it really saved our bacon! I also have a large collection of girths somehow, despite only ever using one, so she was fine the whole weekend with frequent lubing up.
Everything about this weekend, minus a few Cody caused mishaps, felt…smooth. It was wonderful to see so many folks, to receive help and give help in turn. Thanks to all the futzing with my trailer for the John Wayne ride, most of my stuff was already packed, and my husband helped me finalize a few organizational things. Tossing in my friend’s stuff was pretty straightforward, thanks to not needing panels (though Cody’s Hi-Tie will take some adjusting, the stinker). I want to point out here that Tarma was a comfortable old professional on her Hi-Tie all weekend, despite the buddy horses loosing all their marbles on either side of us. She even appreciated and did well with the collar our friend loaned us, instead of her halter. Cody, however, pulled off his halter one morning (making it all of twenty feet, only to snack on the beautiful, waist high grass all throughout camp), and got stuck on the rope and popped off the end of the Hi-Tie the last morning. Geldings.
We rolled in Thursday afternoon and nabbed a solid spot up the hill, right where all the trails headed out of camp, in a nice shady spot. A quick evening stroll and we settled into bed, already on camping hours. This was Benny’s first camping trip with the horses this year, and he was stellar, minus a few blown off recalls when folks made eye contact and went, “Cute dog!” Still, something to work on. He slept on my cot with me and we were mostly cozy, even though he’s a bit of a lump that I have to adjust around. At least he doesn’t snore! He did build up quite a stick collection that we had to disperse when we left. Friday was a long day, the trail ride with judged obstacles didn’t leave camp until 5pm! We took the horses for a few walks and I went for a hike with Benny, off the endurance trails, and made my way through a good book.
Finally we tossed boots and saddles on ponies and headed out. Tarma and I were “Hot Mess Express” for a good three miles, I was stressed over her back and her galls and finally getting to ride and man did our friend put up with a lot, and thankfully didn’t judge our “discussions” on speed. We saw cows (who came walking towards us when I yelled at them, because the last time Tarma saw cows she bolted). Turns out the secret to the chocolate’s bravery is telling her to “go get it!” I discovered this a few weeks ago when I jokingly told her to “go get the bikes!” that had passed us, and boy did she try! This worked all weekend when we met cows, she marched towards them with no hesitation. I’m fairly sure that if she’d gotten close enough, she would have bitten them for good measure. Thou shall obey the spicy chocolate mare! Right around the corner from the cows we saw some of the mustangs, which was a much calmer affair. It took roughly three miles for the race brain to subside enough I could take a hand off the reins, and/or for me to force myself to relax and Tarma to also relax. This lasted the next four miles, until Tarma could sense camp a few bends away and it was back to two handing it and lecturing about speed (I choose the gait, she gets to choose the speed within the gait). There was one section we rode through that was so beautiful, I told my friend it was real life Red Dead Redemption, a video came I play in the depths of winter mostly. I couldn’t stop taking photos and muttering about how damn pretty it was. Unfortunately when we untacked she was a bit back sore, in the same place we’ve been having trouble (left back) despite having the saddle freshly flocked.
I may have internally screamed in frustration and given her Saturday off. Well, mostly off. I did pop on her bridle and my helmet and wander around ride camp after the 30 milers finished, popping on different saddles and riding around in them. I liked the Reactor Panel but it was deemed still too long for her. The Tucker was way too narrow, the Duette way too wide. The Specialized was too long and narrow and tippy for me. An older Black Country might work…but it’s an AP, and I really wanted more of a trail type saddle, but may be stuck with a flocked English as all the Westerns and panel saddles I’ve tried are too long for her, between her short back and huge shoulder movement. Of course, the other side of the coin is…me. Between the surrogacy and the losses and the work stress, I haven’t brought myself back into the shape needed to do endurance…or to avoid causing her soreness from my imbalance. Although, to be slightly fair to myself, we managed all last year with this set up without a trace of soreness, so while my fitness is part of the equation for sure, it’s not the only factor…but one I’ll be addressing by finding a personal trainer (if anyone has any local to Canby recommendations, I’m all ears).
She was sound on Sunday, so I offered to unmark trail for the ride manager. I got a ride out to cut some miles, as I wasn’t sure we could do all 20 miles before we had to leave. Tarma was completely unthrilled with our ride in the Horse Uber, the very basic (but nice enough) stock trailer used as the emergency/vet trailer. It wouldn’t have been so bad, she settles once we get moving, but I loaded her fully tacked all alone and then we had to wait for the poker riders to clear out of the way. She quickly settled once we reached the trail, though it took a mile or so for the “ride as fast as you want to the next ribbon and then pause while mom grabs it and shoves it somewhere” to sink in. Also, I fell off. Or rather, rolled off. I was trying to reach for a ribbon hanging over a ditch and she didn’t want to sidepass any farther (I didn’t blamer her) but off I came. I’m actually thankful I wasn’t wearing my borrowed Air Hit vest, as the pop of the cans could have been the factor between her ditching me and her staring at my dumb butt, upside down in the ditch. Other than now needing a new helmet (you need a new one after every fall, as you can’t always see the damage done to the helmet versus your head) I was fine. Saddle fixed, more gall salve applied, and onwards we continued.
We settled into a comfortable rhythm, me singing badly (in part to keep relaxed, in part to scare away any deer/cows/mustangs as we were all alone on this loop), riding ribbon to ribbon at either her fastest walk or an easy, ratable trot. I took a ton of photos and generally enjoyed the peace of being of use, out in the wilderness, my backpack, my pony and me. We took a few snack breaks, Tarma drank well at every water crossing, and though she huff and puffed on some of the steeper hills, she recovered quickly. We did see a few sets of cows, but I had calmed down about them by this time and we waltzed past all of them.
On one of the last, steepest hills, we almost had a moment. After roughly 8 miles of ribbons being stuck everywhere, half way down a super steep hill Tarma caught them out of the corner of her eye and froze, in that pre-bolt that all horse riders recognize. In the space of a breath, I swear I heard Tarma’s thoughts. “I can’t flip out here, we’ll die. Well, hell, let’s keep going and I can freak later!” Thankfully we made it down the hill and she kept going, but it’s one of those moments you can’t manage and no piece of tack will make a difference, just training and hours of work and relationship building with each other.
About three miles out from camp, a friendly nicker came out of the trees and was greeted by an “OH SHIT” from me and pinned ears from Tarma. It was one of the bachelor mustang stallions, and boy did he think Tarma was hot stuff (she was also complimented by none other than Monster’s owner, Kristen Grace, which tickled me!) Thankfully Tarma gave him the mare’s version of the middle finger (pinned ears and a toss off eye) and onwards we went…though apparently he stalked us back to camp, ooopsie. We did just shy of 11 miles and 1800 feet elevation gain/loss in three and a half hours, which isn’t that far off our normal pace considering my fall and pulling a ton of ribbons, only missing a few. I felt so accomplished riding back into camp on a loose rein, absolutely festooned in pink and white ribbons. I know it’s a small part of what it takes to put on an endurance ride, but it’s solid training and every little bit helps. We putzed around packing up, giving Tarma time to stuff her face with LMF Gold, beet pulp and weed free hay before we hauled home. Hauling over the mountains with the Ram 2500 and the Double D makes a huge difference from my last set up, especially when we were stuck for almost twenty minutes by an accident scene in the hot sun, the horses were still comfortable and safe. Now Tarma has three days off before we head up to Quinn Meadows for a work party, which should be less mileage for her, if harder work for me.