Thursday, July 9, 2009

In which we head to the mountains and don't come down for a week, part four

Part Four: The Mare

Our mountain trail-crew includes our friend Ryan, a 17-year-old kid from the Yakima area.
Ryan works at the Toppenish Livestock Sale grounds, riding horses through the auction (this raises their potential value) moving cattle around, and generally doing whatever else needs to be done. More often than not, he finds a treasure among the animals up for sale--a horse with potential that won't be used if they win a ticket on the slaughterhouse bus.

Thus, he acquired Wendy about a year ago, with the intention of healing her injuries, teaching her some skills, and finding her a soft landing in a forever-home.

Wendy is a 1997 (that's a birthdate) off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) mare who won some money in her day under the name "One Sweet Song." She was dumped at the auction with two career-ending injuries:
This scar is left from a sizable chunk taken out of her butt, possibly by another horse. Obviously, a missing hunk of muscle might slow a girl down, even a girl with a lot of "wanna win".
She also had a fresh wire-injury around her right front foot when she showed up at the auction yard. Although a year later the scar is still impressive, Ryan says she was never lame on this foot.
After a week of watching this mare at work, I must say that I am very impressed by her nimbleness on the trail and her level head--an unusual attribute for an OTTB! Even when something managed to scare Wendy on the trail (it was her buddy Reno who got scared, but Reno's misbehavior scared Wendy) she regained her composure within a minute. Talk about unusual! She then went on to finish marking another 8 miles of trail, calmly and with her usual grace.
Wendy is currently too thin. Ryan has wormed her repeatedly, but she still needs more food--and probably a nice long visit with the equine dentist. Normally I would recommend a mare with this temperment as a children's mount, except that she is SO DANG TALL--over 16 hands.
I consider her a safe ride on trails, and think that she would make a lovely light-duty trail or pack horse for a timid rider or somebody who doesn't want to ride a drama queen.
She also has a terrific sense of humor (click to enlarge the photo and see that she has her tongue stuck out for this photo!).
If you want more information about Wendy, or know somebody who can give her a good home, please shoot me an email and I'll hook you up with Ryan's contact information. Wendy is located in the Yakima, WA area.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In which we head to the mountains and don't come down for a week, part three

Part Three : The Ride

I don't have many pictures from ride day, because I was much too busy to shoot them!

Hot weather was forcast -- we'd been having temps in the 90's, so we weren't surprised by this -- so the start times were set for Really Dang Early in order to get horses out on the trail and up the biggest hump of hill before the heat of the day hit full-blast. That meant a start time of 5:00am for the 50-milers...and an early alarm clock for those of us on the ride crew, who needed to feed our own animals and hit the road to set up the various vetchecks before riders arrived on the trail.

Filling water tanks was an all-day task. We took turns running the water pump and driving the water truck to various parts of the trail.

The 50 mile course heads out of camp by crossing a small creek (where tightly-wound and inexperienced horses often balk, offering riders the first chance of the day to get their shoes soaked by freezing-cold mountain snowmelt) and then heading up a steep gravel logging road for about 2.5 miles. I always love the start of this ride, because even the silliest horse settles down pretty quickly in order to push up the hill. At the crest of the hill, the trail slopes gently down through the trees, across tiny creeks, and then wanders up again around the side hill to a ridge overlooking the mountains for miles around. If you are crazy enough to ride the narrow ridge after dark, you can see the lights of Yakima in the distance. From the ridge, the trail continues upward, winding through trees and over logging roads, always up-up-upwards.

The water tank at 9 miles featured a wedding party this year! They were getting ready for a ceremony and all-day party. We had to detour the trail a little bit so that we weren't running 35 sweaty horses and riders through the middle of the wedding!

At about 16 miles, riders are surprised to find that they've already found the first vet check at Lindsey Camp. This is a quick stop: only 15 minutes required, which is barely enough time for the horses to grab a few bites of hay while the riders quickly pee, see the vet, and fill pockets and packs back up with supplies for the next leg of the journey.

From the first vetcheck, the trail continues upwards again, over the top of Clover Springs (about 3,000 foot elevation gain total). Clover Springs is the top of the ride, and probably the prettiest place I've ever seen--sorry, no photos! Maybe next year!

After Clover Springs, the trail starts to drop a little, but still has a lot of up-and-down through a boulder-y section of trail. The Toad hated this stretch, so I often ended up on the ground, walking beside him so he would go forward out of the "Doldrums". From the Doldrums, it's just a hop-and-skip over recently improved trails (we did those last year!) to the second vet check.

After a long hold here, the 50-milers and 25-milers share common trail down to camp--about 12 miles. Much of this is on old logging roads built into the side of the mountains, so riders often have a view of 180 degrees or more. After a few miles of road, they drop off down some old elk trails to some even older skid roads, and then alternate between elk trails, skid roads, and meadow trails all the way back to camp.

The Renegade Rendezvous Ride is challenging and strenuous, but completely do-able for a fit horse and rider...and without doubt the prettiest 50-mile trail in the Pacific Northwest region.

Years ago, a PNW rider moved up to this area with her horse for a month to prepare for the Tevis ride. She not only finished Tevis, she took the coveted Haggin Cup for Best Condition....and since Tevis is considered one of the most challenging rides in the world, that gives you an idea about the terrain of the Renegade Rendezvous Ride!

Back at camp, there is one more vet check at the finish line, and the horses judged "Fit to Continue" (i.e. the horse is sound and metabolically stable, and could reasonably be asked to leave camp and trot another 10-20 miles) are given completions.

It is a sad thing to be pulled at the finish line, but not at all unheard-of, especially at this ride. Riders have to be careful AND lucky in this sport, and especially at this ride!

Then, when the horses have been cooled, cleaned, and fed, it's time for riders and crews to relax.

Stephanie is a visitor from Austria who broke her arm three weeks ago...but she wasn't about to miss the ride. Somehow she also banged up her leg, so she's wearing an arm cast and an ice boot!

These kids didn't ride--although they have both finished endurance rides in the past--so they had plenty of energy for a pine-cone fight around camp.

Dinner after the ride is a salmon/ribs/oyster barbeque, which was quickly devoured by riders and crew. Then awards and recognition for everyone participated. And then: bedtime at last!

Part Four: The Mare

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In which we head to the mountains and don't come down for a week, part two

Part Two: The Trails

I have tons of pictures for this post, partly because working on trails was the focus of our week in the mountains, and also partly because it's just so amazingly beautiful that it was hard for me to put down the camera all week!

As I mentioned in the last post, most of the trails were marked by riders on horseback.

We stuffed our saddle bags full of ribbons, and took pack horses along to carry the longer and heavier tools.

Last year was Fiddle's first year of trail work, and she got freaked out by some of the equipment tied to her saddle,

so this year I remembered to longe her for a few minutes so she could get used to the large pack bags. It took less than a minute for her to figure out what that new sensation/sound attached to the saddle was all about, and then she relaxed.

We also made sure that the horses remembered what trail ribbons look, sound, and feel like. It's much easier to do this in camp than to have a horse frick out on a skinny cliff trail, even though the process does look pretty strange.

Heading out on the trails in groups of 2 or 3,

some groups mark trails,

while other groups focus on clearing, repairing, and re-routing trails.

Clearing is sometimes as easy as kicking rocks off the trail, but sometimes requires heavier equipment like chainsaws. This winter was kinder than last winter, and I think there were less than 10 trees that required a chainsaw to clear. Last year, we lost count after 20 trees.

Also, we try to re-route trails that require frequent clearing, because those are the trails that are poorly designed anyhow.

Re-routing takes a lot of time initially (because you basically build a brand-new trail) but a properly built trail requires almost no maintenance once it's built, so it's usually worth the effort.

This series of pictures shows a major re-route that we started last year and finished fixing this year. We start the new trail with the tool Ryan is using, a Pulaski. It is used to carve out a slanted back-cut and flat trail bed in the side of a hill.

The next stage is clearing and flattening the trail bed. Jim scrapes off all the dirt that Ryan loosened, using the rake-blade of the McLeod.

When the loose soil is scraped off, Jim uses the flat side of the McLeod to tamp it down tightly to create a firm trail bed.

You can see the berm on the outside edge of this trail in the upper half of the photo.

We started building this section last year, and it has been heavily used since then, creating a trail "trough", where the water runs straight down the trail and erodes it into a little river-canyon.

I use my foot to remove the berm on the outside of the trail. I walk down the trail and kick the berm downhill, creating a path for the water to flow off the side of the trail instead of down the middle of it.

We cut out any roots and stubs that appear on the backcut and trailbed so that horses won't step away from those things and erode the non-trail surface.

The side-hill trail is now about 48" wide, with a slanted backcut and a solid trailbed. Water will travel across it, instead of down the middle, and this stretch will need almost no maintanence for 3-5 years.

Then, we move on to the next stretch of trail that needs to be fixed!

The ribbons are a source of great hilarity. Of course, they are intended as trail marker, but how can anyone resist decorating the horses, dogs, and each other?

Eventually, we get most of the ribbons hung on trees.

Madeline did a lot of the lime-arrow markings on the ground, because Destry is so much shorter

--and theoretically, easier to re-mount--than Fiddle.


We did some of the trail marking from the truck, as well. Two people sit in the bed of the truck, and clip ribbons to branches, while the third person drives as close to the trees as possible without driving off the cliff.

The Little Fish trail is too narrow and steep for trucks or quads, and there aren't any trees tall enough to mark from horseback, so Jim and Willy flagged it on foot. I dropped them off at the top....

...and met them at the bottom.

(There's a geocache hidden between two tree stumps halfway down--Willy's first geocache find!)

The rest of this post is just pretty pictures taken from the trail.

Life is good!

Part Three: The Ride