In which a Guest Blogger tells her story about Elbe Hills Challenge

Everyone, say "hello" to Sky and her standardbred mare Cricket.  Sky wrote today's post about the Elbe ride.  The pictures all came from my cameras.

Elbe Hills Challenge. Not For Wimps.

This was the second year of the Elbe Hills ride and as a fledgling ride with fledgling ride managers, there were a few bumps that needed to be smoothed.  The biggest bump being the 400+ feet of climbing we had to do at the end of a hard 50 mile climb.  That part was the hardest to bear... just when you thought you were in smelling distance of the camp, up you go again!  And down you go again.... ugh. 
But I am getting ahead of myself... lets start where rides really start... at the beginning!

Tight quarters for horses and rigs (and Tinydog, center)
 I pulled in on Friday and met up with my Pirate buddy, Aarene.  She had saved a camp spot for me at the back of the Sahara horse camp in the Elbe State Forest.  The public camp gets used by lots of other horse campers and had to accommodate us all by squeezing in endurance riders where ever we could.  I nosed in and dropped my horse pen right next to my trailer.  It was tight, but we managed! 

Backwoods horse campers rode all around us, big horned saddles and cowboy hats perched jauntily, an odd counterpoint to our rough and tumble helmets and biothane.  This was my first camp in 10 years of endurance where we mixed with a regular camp crowd and it took some getting used to.  I found myself making a point to remember it wasn't "just us".  That became pretty clear at the ridecamp meeting when we started a half hour late because management was out repairing ribbons and plate markers that had been sabotaged.  (Considering the amount of traffic on our trails, I thought the trails were marked quite nicely.  We only had one place where the ribbons were completely gone and we had to cast about at the intersection looking for the right direction.)

Aarene's note:  I really thought the trail needed a lot more "confidence" ribbons.  I know I'm spoiled by Gail Williams' style of trail-marking, where you can see a ribbon ahead on the trail OR a ribbon behind (or both), but considering the number of twists and turns on these trails and the potential for vandalism by local riders or local elk, it isn't a waste to post a bunch more trail ribbons.  Ride management did use a lot more lime (actually, they used pancake mix!!) on the roads this year, which helped a lot.
Sky adds notes from the USGS maps to the map supplied by ride management
Once that was cleared up, the meeting continued on to outline what trails and roads and loops we would be taking for the day.  Another first for me was the wonderful building available for our meeting.  No one had to drag chairs down, it was outfitted with rows of picnic tables.  Later it served double duty as the dining room for our wonderful after ride dinner.  In the center of the room was posted a large topographic map of the terrain with all the regular trails outlined in color. 
This giant map was posted inside the meeting hall
Management provided us with corresponding maps and did a great job adjusting the ride loops to a more do-able endurance ride.  Apparently last year it was hard to make time as the trails aren't really very trottable.  These are mountain trails, they wind and twist and are narrow and full of roots.  Some rock is to be expected, bridges and dips and lots of climbing.  The place to make time was on the roads which were hard, but the edges were loose enough for trotting. 

Aarene's note:  Ride management really listened to riders' comments from the 2010 ride, and the elevation gains and losses were much more reasonable this year (except for the afore-mentioned last-minute pitch up a 500 ft elk trail and a corresponding pitch back down the other side of it).  The trail contained frequent but not overly-long stretches of road to allow riders to "make time"...and we did!

We started the next day at 6AM.  Still dark at this elevation and time of year.  I've started at dawn before, but never so pre-dawn that I wore my headlamp to the start line! 

One of the few photos from the first loop--my camera doesn't like early-morning twilight!
We stashed them away pretty quick though and began our ride at the back of the pack.  I thought we were the very last to leave camp, but we were passed within a mile by Heidi L. who took away that honorable position from us.  She finished 6th, so it worked out fine for her in the end and we were happy to "give trail" over to her and Ash.

After that, we were pretty much alone on the trail most of the day.

 We climbed up and up and stopped to take pictures of the sun as it rose above the lake and mountains.  It was stunning!  Lovely weather accompanied us all day.  We wore cooling vests but only soaked them for one loop in the mid afternoon... I never felt really hot. 

We sponged the horses at every chance we got though, they worked hard to drag us up to 3100 feet after leaving base camp at 1400 feet.
Both horses drank like camels all day
The middle of the ride was a repeat loop at the upper elevation.  I found it to be relatively easy, but the amount of trail vs road slowed us down over and over again.  We did the loop 3 times so it did get repetitive.  Good thing it was so beautiful.  The views of Mt. Rainier were amazing.
It was everywhere, so Aarene dubbed it the "stalker" mountain.  She'd say, "oh, there's that Stalker Mt. again!"  We took lots of pictures and took our time.
 My horse had a little trouble at the vet checks.  She didn't want to eat all the delicious things I brought her. 
While Cricket and Sky consulted the vet about low gut sounds,
Fiddle happily gobbled up all the delicious stuff that Cricket had declined to taste.
She'd only eat grass out on the trail. 
The grass on the trail was very tasty!
This was a concern, but it was the only issue so after spending extra recovery time at the vet checks we decided to just get back out and let her eat where she was actually eating.  On the trail!  We took  it slow and stopped for bites here and there and she improved by the time we got back in to camp.  As we were trotting the last mile, the mix of riders in camp became a problem as we ran into a couple of campers riding a stallion and dragging a large German Shepard on a leash.  They hollered at us to get back, but we needed to get back to camp... we were on a time limit!  After a little bit, they pulled off trail and we were able to finish our ride.  I sure was glad we didn't run into them on the narrow trails up above.  It would have been hard to get by them and cause us even more anxiety as we got in with only an hour to spare.

And while an hour is plenty of buffer time... it was my closest shave yet.  I don't like cutting it that close on a 50.  A long day on the trail for all of us; the horses looked great by the end.  Cricket's gut sounds made it back up to a B and the two Standardbreds got A's on most everything else!  We had a grand time and came in 14th and 15th out of 21 entries on a very hard trail.
Camp dinner as previously stated was delicious.  Corn on the cob, ribs, pasta, salad and loads of dessert.  The awards were that night and we all got a horse shoe hanger.  As the tail ender, I also got a new poop fork!  They called it the "hind end" award.  Cute.  Aarene and I traded awards... I got her pink halter from last year and she got the fork.  I have 3 already!

Fiddle models the pink string halter--definitely not her color.  I didn't photograph the manure fork.
The next day, we took a "class picture" of all the Standardbreds at the ride. 
L-to-R: Fiddle, Aarene, Cricket, Sky, Hector, Penny, Effie, Morghan, Victor, Bunny, Heather 
All the standies at this ride finished their distances!
It was great to see so many at an endurance ride.  We adore these horses, they have such great minds.  As an example, see our videos of table walking

Table-walking, not to be confused with "table dancing."
This object is designed for humans to climb, not for horses.
They just hopped right up... hardly any work at all. 

After most of the camp left on Sunday, we moved across the road to a better equipped camp site where we could spread out and have a more private camp. 
New camp site = lots more room!
We stayed 4 more days and rode the trails again.  But that part is for Aarene to tell. Cheers!


  1. Guest blogger or not, I'm beginning to realize that a Haiku Farm blog is not complete without my standard request:

    Can someone please mail me the bay standie (Victor?), second to the right?

    Me gusta muchisimo.

    Would it help if I forwarded a self-addressed stamped envelope? If he curled his legs up he just might fit.....

  2. Becky, you know I hate to refuse any request from you. However, Victor is 16+ hands high, size three feet, weighs probably 1400#....

    ...I think we'd need a Very Large Envelope.

  3. That sounds like a great ride! Love the class photo, I had no idea there were so many STBs competing here locally.

  4. i wish i knew what you mean my "across the road"

  5. Great guest post! Sky, you should go pro ;)

    Sounds like a wonderful ride. What are the tables for? They look like horse obstacles for me - why would a human want to climb that?


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