In which we run away to a treasure hunt, and we take the horses

Duana and Freya needed to go camping.

a serene spot in the shade at the South Seattle Saddle Club grounds

An endurance ride is often not a good first camping experience for a young horse or a nervous rider.  Too much energy, too much excitement, too much running around.  

This is a better choice:

learning to use a compass

a weekend of Competitive Mounted Orienteering.

CMO has several advantages over endurance, especially for green horses and/or financially challenged riders:

  • The rides are much closer to home for us (even with heavy Friday afternoon/Seafair traffic, we arrived in camp in less than 3 hours, instead of the 7-10 hours we spend travelling to most endurance camps).
  • CMO rides happen through the summer every other week--and most are two-day events.
  • Entry fees are significantly lower.  I paid $25 including camping.  For families with several kids, this can be a huge money-saver.
  • There is always a potluck on Saturday night of event weekend, which is a great opportunity to trade stories (and learn names...)
  • The atmosphere in camp is VERY laid-back.  You don't need to get up before daybreak; the first riders leave at 10am.
  • The sport welcomes all breeds of horse.  Arabs do not dominate here; nor do quarter horses.  People ride the horses they have, and it works out just fine.  Saturday's ride was won by a guy on a Tennessee Walker.
  • The timing is precise:  if they say your out time is 10:05, they mean 10:05 and no seconds.  (And when they say the potluck starts at 6, they mean that the first paper plate will be filled at exactly 6pm!)
  • Lots of lovely new people and new horses. And some of them have even read my book.  (This remains a thrill to me, even after all these years).
  • New trails!  Who doesn't love new trails!  And a new skill!  What a great opportunity!

Even experienced competitors practice the night before a ride.  

Du and Jim and I got the basic orientation to orienteering on Friday night, followed by a practice session on the "challenge course" set up around the camp.

Humor is not optional in this group

As with endurance, the official start to the event is a ride meeting, where the ride manager lays out the basics of the course and the expectations.

Unlike meetings at a large endurance ride, this meeting ended with a role call of participants, followed by the "draw" for start times.  Single riders and teams are released from camp at 5 minute intervals to prevent trampling.

ride meeting

Also unlike endurance, the event map is given to riders as they cross the start line, rather than posted online days or weeks before the event.

Cedar river trail.  We trotted about 2 miles down this common track to
get "onto the map" where the targets were hidden.

The map is essential to strategy, and teams who can strategize "on the hoof" while leaving camp at a quick trot have a big advantage over those who must stand still and flip the map around-and-around while consulting with team members.

Young Freya got plenty of practice crossing bridges:  six concrete spans each direction!
Dragon led the way over most of them, but by the end of the day,
Freya was able to take point position over a bridge.

Out on the course:

The first target was elusive, and Du and I never found it.  We finally decided to
chase down another target on another part of the map, and we did find that one.

The clues are deliberately minimalistic.

Do you have any idea how many colored ribbons are hung
on trees in areas where logging occurs periodically?  HINT:  lots.

This clue was called "Fragile" and the paper was stapled onto the tree

Hopping off the horse and stomping through the bushes is part of the game.  If you are not good at the game (yet), a good strategy is to look for bushes that have been stomped!

You can tie your horse, hand the reins to a friend, or drag your pony with you into the bushes,
whichever works best.

Some clues are more obvious.

"Basketball with a red ribbon."  This was hanging over the trail above my head.

FINALLY we found a target:

Experienced players write down the letters in bold to prove that they've found the plate.
Since we weren't playing to win, I took photos of the targets we found.

When you've found 5 targets (short course) or 10 targets (long course),

New trail, and ears at the bottom of the photo = a good day

or when you're just done looking, it's time to head back to camp.

Freya's muscles AND her brain got tired.  She did great--and so did Duana

The map and compass are good for navigating backwards through unfamiliar woods, too.

"Is there one more target in these bushes?  Shouldn't we take a look?"

Duana found this on the trail...

Oops: Fiddle walked right out of this shoe!

( she got a lesson in putting boots on a big-footed mare who wears her shoes and nails all the way out)

and when we got back to camp

The house in the background matches my tack.  Just sayin'....

we waded around in the river.

All of the photos I took are more "yellow-toned" than usual because of the smoke-haze
from forest fires in British Columbia.  The thick smoke was hard to breathe, but
it did keep the predicted heat wave temperatures down!

Fox loves wading.  As usual, he insisted on barking at the "otterkin" in the river.

Roo does not approve of water.

Sunday morning, we packed up our camp to head for home, but almost everybody else saddled up for a second day of treasure hunting.

waiting to go again

Thank you to all the CMO folks who welcomed us.  We will definitely return!


  1. Hey, the lady with the Laura Ingalls bonnet - I remember her!

    I got all scared when I saw the Cat Haiku plate, cuz WTH!?! But thankfully you showed a normal plate, whew.

    Nice write-up! I love the bullet points, all reasons CMO rocks. I honestly cannot decide which I prefer, CMO or endurance. You certainly summed up the advantages of CMO, for people in Washington anyway. When I did it, the entry fee was 8 dollars with membership, and I never paid to camp. Did you know J did CMO? And he seems to be a natural-born CMO'er, I was amazed. We beat Cowan that day!

    I get credit for the addition to the rule book that there is a 6 hour time limit. *bow* That was messed up - Barb and I went over 6 hours, but got all 10 plates. No one else had all 10. Plates always win over time. But everyone else assumed there was a time limit, so they all came in. We should have won, but we didn't want to make trouble. Immediately after, the rule book was amended.

    You mentioned you found a plate for Sunday on Saturday. At one ride there was a plate from another *year*, that everyone wrote down. Brandi said, "Hey, it doesn't match the theme of the day - check the date." She was right. Everyone was so pissed off; you really should remove your plates after the ride.

    You asked why I don't organize a CMO here, and I had plans to, until I realized that it is not allowed to ride off trail here, and Germans do not tie their horses in the woods. So, I have no idea how that would work. After all your bushwhacking Saturday, I'm sure you understand.

    So, do you wanna do it again? Don't you admit, it makes endurance seem easy?

    1. I definitely want to do it again. Not sure it will fit the schedule this year...maybe the event in October?

      Get a "normal" German (one who obeys the usual German rules) to help you figure out a German version of CMO and DO IT!!!

      I wish I lived closer, I'd come help.

  2. I want to try CMO so badly - it sounds like so much fun!!!

  3. I love CMOs too, been doing them off and on since the 90s, great for training new horses and conditioning for endurance. People are very laid-back and friendly, very cheap sport. Teaches the horse to move out, then stand quiet.

    I'm in the Midwest, and more and more we are not allowed to ride off trail, which I totally understand. RMs have to figure out how to hide the targets within a foot or two of the trail. Sometimes I cringe at how hard some people ride their horses, some are really competitive. And they come in with horses that would definitely flunk a vet check.

    I've ridden with teams that can read their maps while trotting or cantering, they dial in their compasses, all while moving... Not me! What did you excel at? I don't do well finding the "clues", but send me in and I'll find the target.



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