In which we go to ridecamp, visit Iraq, and the Peeps grow some wings

We loaded up the SS Illegible on Friday and headed out to ridecamp at the Milwaukee Rail Trail Ride in Kittitas, WA.

This is an old picture of the Illegible--we didn't take horses with us on this trip, just humans and dogs. This time we didn't go to ride, but merely to volunteer at the vetcheck and socialize with our friends: mostly horses and people and dogs...but also mules.

Jim and Willy drove the water truck in the early morning hours, ensuring that every horse and rider would encounter a full water tank on their 25, 50, or 75-mile journey. Any rider who has ever encountered an EMPTY water tank (as I have) knows how vital the water truck guys are. As far as I'm concerned, water tank guys deserve to get two t-shirts plus as much of the Pirate's rum as they can find in my camp.

The water tank task requires a reveille of 5am, so it's not very popular.... I didn't participate in the water tank stuff, so there aren't any pictures of it. Instead, I got to sleep in to a luxurious 6am and took some pictures of a few riders leaving camp to start their first loops.

The wind was so strong in camp that we couldn't hear the horse's hearts through the stethoscopes until we built a windbreak to hide around. Because we had limited tools and materials available for building, we just stacked up horse trailers until the wind couldn't get through.

The most challenging thing for me about pulsing horses is doing the math : you count the horse's heartbeats for 15 seconds, and then multiply that number by four to get the beats per minute. When I get tired, math is the first skill-set to abandon ship. Fortunately, I have a cheat-sheet available.

The US Army uses the desert terrain surrounding this portion of the Iron Horse Trail to practice their "sneaking around" skills. In years past, I've had my trusty mount point out the soldiers in the bushes with his ears...they may be too sneaky for humans to detect, but the Toad's nose is nearly 2 feet long; he knew EXACTLY where they were, and he'd point his ears right at them whenever they were close to the trail.

If I'd been riding Story on that trail, she would've figured those guys with guns were hunters, and she would've wanted to veer off trail towards them; Story's experience with hunters led her to believe that they always carry candy and beer and are always willing to share with a horse who asks them sweetly to share with her.

The Army guys have added to the training routine this year: they've built weird little Iraqi villages in the middle of the eastern Washington State desert so they can practice more Army-guy skills before they ship out to the Sandbox. The village "houses" are shipping containers (like you see on trucks and trains) with fake siding added, and windows and doors cut in. There were also some fences, and even a burnt-out "car" to practice with before they ship out to cope with the real thing. It looks like they're even practicing their graffitti vocab and spraypainting skills. Anybody out there want to translate this for me?

This sign gave us endless giggles. Since the majority of endurance horses are Arabians, the joke in camp was that the Arab horses had to go around the circle, and all the other horses could just walk past it.

Here's the biggest and best reason for riding this sport: often, the country you can only see from the back of your horse is the most beautiful view in the world.

Returning to camp from the trail, I am always amazed at our own funny little village. If I look closely, I can pick out the Illegible, (far left margin) as well as the rigs of my friends. For a few days each month during the season, camp is my home.

Then we return to our real home on the farm, and discover that (like teenagers who seem to grow 2 feet overnight) our Peeps have sprouted wings, complete with the barred markings of adult hens. They are growing up so quickly.
Next thing we know, they'll be wanting to borrow the keys to the car.


  1. Sounds like a great trip! I should really look around and figure out if there are any nearby rides. I've always wanted to try an LD. Not with Dixie, at least not this year, but I could still go volunteer/watch, couldn't I?

    The Peeps look adorably horrible! I love the half-grown gangly stage; it's the very definition of "so ugly it's cute."

  2. Funder: absolutely you can volunteer!!! They will teach you the skills you need to help them, and your brain will just about explode from the stuff you can learn in a day of volunteering at a vetcheck. I highly recommend it. We try to volunteer at least twice each season (usually more).

    GAITED is the new big thing in endurance these days. I saw all kinds of gaited horses, esp in LD (although my good friend Paul and I did our first 100-miler together a few years ago: I rode the Toad, an Arab, and he rode Pete, a paso fino). Standardbreds--gaited or not--have always done exceptionally well in endurance.

    Peeps: they are getting to the really ugly stage--heads are balding, wings are fledging, and they seem to be mostly beak and feet. Ugly-cute, and funny as heck!

  3. i love the hand with the cheat sheet for pulsing.

    so, is the tunnel still an option for those who like that kind of risk? (dizzy, gonna fall off, can't see, hold on to the saddle, gonna fall, can't see the blood on the walls, the horrid clattering of hooves behind me that i know will cause a collision cuz they can't see either, all alone, mare whinning in fear, gonna fall...)


  4. Yah, the "tunnel of doom" is open, but only on the return journey--and the route up-and-over is available to the smart people who want to avoid the tunnel entirely. This year's crash wasn't as spectacular as the time that Toad and I crashed in the tunnel, but my friend Katie got her knee crunched pretty painfully and she had to take a Rider Option pull so she could go to the hospital for x-rays and pain meds. :-(

    I did take Toad through the tunnel the year after our crash: I was tail-end so I knew that nobody was behind me, and I got off and walked and sang him through it. I could feel him trembling through the saddle. Once we were on the other side, I mounted up and told him, "Okay, we NEVER have to do that again!" Sure enough: I never have.


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