Sunday, February 11, 2024

Stormy's Memorial: It's Getting There!


February 11 2024
My beloved Stormy galloped over the rainbow bridge 2 1/2 years ago. Soon after, I started creating a memorial for him. 

I got the outline done, gathered rocks I would eventually fill it in with. 
Time passed, and more time passed. Weeds grew, time kicked the rocks out of the outline, and the pile of rocks I collected for the insides seemed to shrink.
The time has come to start working on it again!

I pulled the weeds, I re-did the outline, and used all the rocks I'd collected to start filling it in. Now, when out on hikes, when I see just the right rocks, I carry them home to fill the gaps.
It will still take some time, but seeing as it took me about 2 1/2 years to complete my beloved Dudley's memorial up on a hillside, I'm right about on my time schedule. :)

Just like every time I see Dudley's memorial on the hill, every rock I carry to Stormy's memorial brings a memory back. I know they are happy with that.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Maiden Voyage of the S.S.S. Hillbillie Willie

Thursday November 2 2023

Super. Star. Standardbred. Hillbillie Willie takes a solo trip to the Weiser River Trail Halloween ride

The last ride of the season was going to be one big adventure: Willie’s first solo Endurance ride. He hadn’t trailered anywhere by himself since 2016, and he’s always had his bestest buddies with him at any ride he’s traveled to.

Loading, transport, and arrival went remarkably well to Cambridge, Idaho, 2.5 hours away… so, so far so good!

There were a few horses already in camp when we arrived at the fairgrounds, but the best distraction was: grass! Willie is not a voracious eater, but my goodness, he loves him some grass. He doesn’t get much of that living in the Owyhee desert. We spent a while grazing, and then I put him in a fairgrounds pen beside other quiet Endurance horses, and I never heard a peep out of Willie while I set up his pen at Regina’s trailer.

When I moved him to his trailer pen, a few more trailers had arrived, and Willie whinnied now and then, but he never ran his pen with anxiety, so I thought things were looking up. When Melissa and David drove in, I flagged them down to park next to us, as we’d all be riding the 50, and they’d finish before Willie and I did, so he’d always have new buddies close to him.

Due to this and that, I got approximately seven minutes of sleep Friday night, but that wasn’t because of Willie - I only heard a few whinnies out of him during the cold night. But come early morning, when people started bustling about in the dark and horses started waking up, Willie let loose. He whinnied every 30 seconds, for like an hour. When I went out to tie him to the trailer to saddle him up, he was uncharacteristically antsy, wiggling about with big wide eyes. This was the most worked up he’d been at the start of a ride in years, which made me a bit nervous. What was he going to be like mounting, and starting on the trail?

I made sure I left our pen saddled and ready to go before Melissa and David left their trailer with their horses. For Willie it’s much harder to be left behind, than for him to leave horses behind. Anyway, it was quite cold, in the low 20’s, and a bit of a breeze already starting, and while Willie already had a good winter coat, I wanted him good and warmed up. So with 15 minutes to start time, we left our pen and started walking around (Willie immediately dove for grass to eat!) to warm up our muscles.

Close to start time, Nance and Goldie walked over, and we both mounted up, and took Dick Root and Alivia along with us and headed toward the start. Willie was still a bit antsy, but he never did anything wrong. We’d be walking the first half mile of the trail anyway, as it was on pavement, and we’d be crossing our first trestle (Willie and I had hand-walked out the evening before and practiced walking over it and back), and there might have been some ice, and I sure didn’t want any slipping and sliding around.

Well, even with being a bit squirmy, Willie was *perfect* starting out. We let David and Melissa and Dick leave first, as they’d all be riding faster, then after a bit, Nance and I headed out. We walked the start of the cement trail, over the trestle, and then started trotting. Willie was raring to go, but he tucked his head and didn’t prance and didn’t pull, and that Standardbred spent the next 50 miles moving out on a loose rein (!!!). We even, for the first time, switched from his bridle to his fancy Hybrid Jaquima Halter made by Maria Phillips of Vudu Tack & Crafts LLC at the out vet check!

The Weiser River Trail is the old railroad corridor of the Pacific and Idaho Northern railroad along the Weiser River, now preserved and maintained by the non-profit Friends of the Weiser River Trail for multi-use recreation (and bears! We passed *lots* of bear poop!). It was deeded to the group by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1997 and is 84 miles long, running from Weiser in the south to beyond Council to the north. This was the perfect almost flat track (10% grade) for a flatlander Standardbred who doesn’t enjoy hills. Sometimes you could see the track for miles straight ahead!

It was a cooooooooold day, particularly heading north, particularly the last five miles before the turn-around point, straight into a 20 mph wind that froze our jaws and made our eyes water. Willie and I were both a bit crabby about the wind, but we had to get ‘er done. When we reached the turnaround at 25 miles, hallelujah! We headed south with the wind at our tail feathers, and it got a bit warm, but we weren’t complaining! We just unzipped our jackets because it did get chilly again along some windy hill corridors and at the vet check.

All day we passed through a dozen gates, all but one of which I could open on Willie. He loves being a good cow horse, and on gates he can perform his one and only trick. When I say, “Push it!”, he pushes the gates open!

And none of the railroad trestles gave him pause, though I was a bit nervous going over the wood, some of which looked kind of old, but which I was assured was sturdy with more than one layer of 2x4s. On one stretch beside the Weiser River, a bald eagle glared down at us from his perch. He stayed there for several groups of riders. We grabbed grass at several points along the trail, and the water tasted good in the troughs set out by Barb and Ann.

Wilie and I finished together with Goldie and Nance after 7:25 of steady riding, making our only 50-mile ride completion this year (best laid plans had not worked out this season), which, hooray, makes seven years on the march toward our Decade Team goal together!

(Of course The Raven rode too!)

Willie was tired enough after his 50 that he didn’t have many whinnies left in him at Ridecamp. I don’t think he made one peep during the night. I looked out the window at 6 AM and saw him snoozing standing near David and Melissa’s horses, and when I looked out at 7 AM he was flat out on the frozen ground (17* in the morning!).

We’re so grateful for Pam to taking over the Halloween ride and putting it on on the Weiser trail. We’d hoped to also ride on Day 2, but Willie’s legs had had enough for the weekend, so we relaxed in camp - going out several times to walk around and graze - and as horses and trailers left during the day, Willie whinnied a goodbye here and there but he never got anxious.

So, I can now conclude, at the end of the 2023 Endurance ride season, that Willie is indeed a Super Star Standardbred, a Champion Endurance horse.

Not because of the miles he’s completed (1115 endurance miles, 285 LD miles in seven years!!), not because of the BC’s he’s gotten (five!!!). It’s because he was brave and strong and intrepid and was able to do what many other (champion) Endurance horses have already done: he went to an Endurance ride by himself and didn’t lose his marbles!

S.S.S. Hillbillie Willie the Endurance Horse Champion!

Steve Bradley photo!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Best Laid Plans: And Along Came Old Selam Pioneer


Thursday October 26 2023

My plan was to ride a 50 (or two) on Hillbillie Willie at Bandit Springs in Oregon on July 7-9. A busy photo-shooting schedule filled part of July and much of August, and then on a very tight turnaround unpack/repack/pack horse stuff schedule, I planned to ride one or two or three 50s, or at least 25s, at one of our favorite local rides, Old Selam Pioneer on September 1,2, and 3.

But then, along came Covid.

And then came long Covid.

I never made it to Bandit, and I managed only a total of three training rides on Willie before Old Selam, each of which about wiped me out. How was I going to ride a 50! Or even a 25! And squeezed in there right before Old Selam, along came a brutal 36-hour migraine.

And then Willie ended up with a big bite out of his side… right about where the girth would go. The girth might miss it, but probably not.

And then along came Old Selam.

And while about to saddle up for the 25-miler on Day 1, along came a friend’s concussion at the start of Day 1’s 50, so we spent the day at the hospital (followed by well-deserved Starbucks, and pastrami sandwiches and cream pie from the diner in Idaho City for treats).

And then along came a freakazoid horse named Hillbillie Unsettled Willie at Ridecamp, who could not stand to be separated from his Best Bromance Bro Barack any farther than 20 feet. I swear Willie was like a two-year-old who’d never been to a Ridecamp or spent any time by himself before. I just was not interested in riding on Day 2 on my Freakazoid. Everything just seemed so exhausting.

Day 3 was looking like it would be a rainy day. I have no problem with riding in the rain. It’s just *saddling up* in the rain that is un-fun. However, the evening before, Willie was finally settling down and able to act like a normal horse in walking around Ridecamp without Barack in his sight. And no rain the morning of Day 3!

So, I saddled up Willie for the 25-miler.

I never know for sure if I’m going to get a hot ex-racehorse at the start of a ride or not, but this year at each of our (only) two rides so far, Willie had been almost perfect, starting out nice and easy, on a loose rein and not pulling. We didn’t have any agenda at Old Selam - Willie was not that fit, and I sure was not - other than having an easy, fun, smooth, uncomplicated, un-racehorse-y ride - and that’s exactly what I got!

Nobody was racing on this day (many horses had done Day 1 or 2), and it just happened that Willie started out in the lead, because he was near the trailhead start when the trail opened, and nobody else wanted it. And we stayed in the position all day, just cruising along on a loose rein, not too fast, not too slow, just nice and steady. John S followed us all day on his mare Annie, and Willie was happy with the company.

Willie was happiest on the gentle downhill soft logging roads in the middle of loop two, shifting from a big trot to a canter to a pace, gliding around corners, galloping up hills, back to pacing downhills. I let him choose whatever he wanted to do because he was having a lot of fun. (He does like to make decisions and not be told what to do!)

The predicted rain had held up till near the end of our second loop; we got very lucky finishing when we did, because once the rain did start it was heavy and the trails quickly got muddy. Willie pulsed down in just a few minutes for the win, and then the skies let loose.

And best of all, Willie got Best Condition again, and truly by a whisker: he just nudged out DWA Hercules by .05 of a point! How’s that for math!

So in the end, I was pretty wiped out for the next couple of days, but Old Selam was a success all around - Willie had a great ride.

Our last goal is a 50 at this weekend’s Weiser River Trail… though we know how the Best Laid Plans have gone this year. My long-term goal is a Decade Team horse…. Willie and I have not done a 50 yet this year, and this year will make seven years.

But this ride will be another Hillbillie Willie escapade, because he’s going to the ride by himself. I ride him alone all the time, but he has never gone anywhere by himself since he traveled solo from California to Nevada in 2016!

Oooooh it’s going to be an adventure…..

Steve Bradley photo!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

It’s a Wild(life) West Out There

June 21 2023

Hillbillie Willie and I regularly see wildlife on our rides in the Owyhee desert: deer, the periodic pronghorn, the occasional coyote (two were sunbathing on the peak of the ridge this morning).

But - whoa! - what was this creature!

Trotting at a brisk pace along a two-track, we came around a bend and two never-before-seen-by-Willie furry creatures were stepping onto the road ahead of us, then suddenly bombing away from us down the road. Willie slammed on his brakes as the two badger butts, a bigger one and a smaller one, ran away as fast as they could. But sensing big danger to her baby, Mama Badger stopped to face off with the super tall creature with an even taller creature on top. She’d probably never seen a horse and a human before, and despite the fact that combined we were more than 20 times her size, she challenged us, holding her ground, stepping behind a sagebrush for protection, then stepping back out to hiss.

Willie and I had a quick conversation:


Willie: “Whoa!!!!!”

Me: “Ooof” - as I adjusted to the sudden change in pace.

Mama Badger: “Hisssssssssssss! I’ll kill you!”

Willie: “!!!!! Should I be scared?”

Me: “Ooooh! It’s a Mama Badger and that’s her baby running away! Badgers are fierce!” 

Willie: “I might be scared! Dudley told me about these things!” (Dudley was scared of badgers.)

Mama Badger turned to run after her baby. Overcome with curiosity, Willie started to walk after them. Mama whirled back at us and stopped in the middle of the road, hissing. We stopped. Mama even charged at us, posturing, snarling, “Come on, I’ll take you on!”

Willie planted it: “Um…. not me. Uh uh. Not messing with her.”

Me: “No, we don’t want to tangle with a badger!” Baby Badger was still running down the trail. “We’ll go around so the Baby can stop running and Mama can get him back.”

So we detoured far around the trail (Mama Badger stood her ground still hunched up in a big fight posture), far enough to get ahead of the Baby Badger. 

You never know what you’ll ride upon the Wild West. What a treat that was, and Willie can mark Badgers off his bucket list!

Friday, June 9, 2023

Hillbillie Willie and the Magic Bubble at City of Rocks

June 9 2023

Best! Ride! Ever! (Again!) on Hillbillie Willie the Standardbred!

I spent two hours in the middle of the night before Day 1’s 25-miler at City of Rocks*, when I should have been sleeping, worrying about the start. We’d be starting on a single track for a hundred yards - not ideal with a crowded field of 20 or 30 horses. Was Willie going to be a firecracker or would he be calm? I want calm starts. Would other riders be running up his butt? I don’t like that and it’s not safe. Would he be trying to run up the butt of the horse in front of him? I don’t allow him to do that because it’s not safe, but sometimes it takes a lot of conversation and effort with Willie to give the horse in front of him space, and sometimes miles for him to calm down.

And what about that gnarly awkward 4-strand barbed wire gate right by a nasty cattle guard, which was just another hundred yards up the single track trail? I could see all kinds of pileups and accidents there if nobody was manning the gate. (Every other year at City of Rocks, we could leave that gate open. This year, some renegade cows on the wrong side of the fence deemed the gate had to stay shut.) 

And, Willie’s bestest bud DWA Barack would also be doing the 25-mile ride*, and Willie can get a little squirrely when he knows Barack is on the trail and not right with him. And so I worried, while my prime sleeping hours ticked away.

Really. I just wanted a good safe fun ride. That’s it.

It turned out that I could have slept those extra two hours instead of worrying. Every. Single. Thing. fell into place on our ride, and we had The. Best. Ride. Ever!!!!!!!! (Again!)

The start set the tone for the whole day: after I saddled up Willie (I tied him to a different trailer from Barack, and he wasn’t bothered), I mounted up and Willie walked around camp calmly, warming up and waiting for the start. When “Trail’s Open!” call came, we just turned and walked toward the single track trail heading out of camp. We ended up falling in behind a line of 10 riders, who thankfully started out on a sensible trot, and Willie and I had a glorious big Bubble behind us. Love the Bubble! In fact, we carried this Magic Bubble with us 99% of the ride.

And, luckily Byron’s mom manned the gnarly gate, leaving it open and keeping the cows away, so all the starters could get safely through. 

The first mile on the single track Equestrian Trail winds through a juniper forest, so Willie and I couldn’t see the string of horses in front of us. We passed two riders right before starting this trail, and ended up behind Kevin and his Rushcreek horse, trotting along at a smooth and steady pace, with Willie kindly agreeing to give them plenty of space. He wasn’t pulling or yanking on me so I knew then that our ride day was going to be a good one. Little did I know yet how good it would be!

It got even better right away when, coming to the first trail junction not a mile up the Equestrian Trail, the other seven riders in front of us took the wrong turn. We didn’t see it happen, but suddenly there were no hoof prints ahead of us. “I think this is wrong,” Kevin said, “nobody else went this way.” 

“No,” I said, “I’m sure this is correct.” The new ride managers of this year’s City of Rocks ride had a new system of trail marking, but I know the trails, and I’d memorized the map, and I knew we were going the right direction. Kevin pulled out his GPS: “No, my GPS says we’re going the wrong way.” Impossible! But he checked again, “It says we should be on the other trail branch.”

I followed him as he turned around, if only to go back and check the last sign, at which point we met two more riders coming our way and confirming we’d been correct and were on the right trail. So I turned Willie back around, and there we were in front, going the right direction, with no other horse in front of us, and from there we trotted onward into heaven.

We didn’t race; I let Willie set his own pace. He absolutely loves the twisting California Trail through the sagebrush (which parallels the park road), and he wove back and forth, zipping along with his ears forward, sometimes trotting, sometimes shifting to a pace or canter, working his way gradually uphill. He never took a breather; he wasn’t racing and he wasn’t anxious. He was happy.

I kept thinking horses would catch us, but onward and upward we trotted, having the entire City of Rocks National Reserve trails to ourselves, up to Elephant Rock (where our timing was great, and some 50 milers coming the other direction held the gate open for us), on uphill to Tea Kettle past a snow drift we’d never seen in that spot before; and yet more gradual uphill to Bread Loaves, on another winding trail through an aspen forest (through a gate we did on horseback) that Willie loves. 

We popped out at Bread Loaves, with still no other riders in sight, where we crossed the park road onto a two-track road we’d never ridden before. I opened that gate on horseback too, and Willie plunged back into his steady ground-eating trot, up and still more up, to the high point of the Circle Creek trail at about 7000 feet. 

While climbing we met two of the off-trail riders coming towards us; they’d just kept on going the wrong way to follow the loop backwards (they would later have to make up a few miles they’d cut off in this direction, and they’d get a completion only; we soon met another pair of riders who had done the same backwards loop).

Just as we crested the high point and started downhill, Laura and her cute bay Arab finally caught us, she’d been one who’d taken the wrong junction at the start, and eventually turned around to retrace her steps and get back on the right trail. We stopped at a water trough together, then they headed nimbly downhill while Willie and I slowed down. He’s like a big barge on switchbacks, and while he’s pretty sure-footed, I was grateful he didn’t feel the need to keep up with them or race downhill. 

We had our big Magic Bubble back as we walked and trotted down, down, down to Circle Creek, back onto the two-track road that Willie picked up a fast canter/pace on, down the steep Lathe trail to the park road, which we turned on to take back to camp. It’s a gradual downhill, and Willie shifted into some kind of miraculous trot I hadn’t experienced before. Hard to describe but it was like he set himself down and hit the Glide Trot switch. I literally felt like I was on a flying carpet, smooth as silk, not posting, not two-pointing, but literally gliding in the saddle as he glided downhill, maybe 15 or 16 or more miles an hour, fast and effortless. Willie saw two horses on the 50 ahead of us, but he wasn’t trying to catch them, he was just in a rapturous glide zone that zipped him back to camp, where his pulse was below 60 as soon as I dismounted.

What a ride! And we had one more loop to go!

Heading out on Loop 2, Laura and her Arab were just a minute ahead of us. But Willie and I weren’t out to catch anybody. We yakked with a friend before heading out, then Willie picked a water trough in camp to dunk his head in and drink deeply (yay!) before we headed out of camp at a stroll.

I’d lucked out on the gate timing so far in the ride, so I paid it back at the gnarly barbed wire gate by the cattle guard heading to the Equestrian trail. A gal trail riding a wound-up green horse was approaching the gate, so I was able to hop off and open the gate for me and Willie and for her. She waited for me to mount up while I got back on, and off Willie and I went.

He cruised the Equestrian Trail again, and this time we took the right fork in the trail, and headed up the Lathe trail to Circle Creek overlook. Halfway up the steep climb Willie slowed to a walk (fine with me!), but once we gained the top at the parking lot, Willie picked up a big trot till our next gate. I opened and closed it on him (he’s such a good cow horse!), and he flew up the two track road to the turnoff to the Boxtop trail. He was willing to trot up the log steps, but I told him it was OK to walk. I opened and closed the next gate on Willie, and at our next gate we opened it for a pair of climbers, and they closed it for us. 

The long steep climb to the top of Boxtop came next and when we emerged near Elephant Rock, Willie dunked his head in the water trough there and drank deeply again. 

Aiming back toward camp on the California Trail, we met and pulled over for the Law gang of about 6 horses, Dave Rabe and Tami, and several more groups of riders. Still in our glorious Magic Bubble, I let Willie pick his pace, turbo-ing down the wiggling trail, shifting from a fast trot to a pace around the corners and a canter here and there. Slightly downhill, it was fluent and glorious and fun!

We popped out onto the road at the Stone House for our last few miles home - downhill again on the soft side of the park road where he shifted into that Magic Carpet trot. By now I could see Laura and her Arab far ahead of us, but we weren’t out to catch anybody - we were just doing our own thing. I even slowed Willie down, but his long gliding stride caught up to them by the time we made the final turn toward camp. We let the boys trot on in together, slowing to walk the last half mile.

Willie was already pulsed down as soon as I hopped off him at the finish - meaning he won the ride - !!!!! We hadn’t set out to do that, and we hadn’t changed our plans anywhere in the ride to do that; everything just worked out that it happened. All I wanted was a quiet start and a smooth fun ride (and it was all on a loose rein!!!!) and it turned into The. Best. Ride. Ever!!!!! (Again!) on Willie, and it would have been the same if we’d finished first or last or in the middle. He had fun, we had the Magic Bubble, and we both just clicked as a team. The win was icing on the cake.

And sprinkles on the icing on the cake was that with his 48-48 CRI and vet scores, he ended up getting Best Condition!

What a ride, what a horse! #StandardbredsRock !!!

Willie and I basking in the aura of Hall of Famer Dave Rabe (2009 AERC Hall of Fame and like a billion miles**) and his Perfect Ten horse Cocamoe Joe (10,000 miles, 10 Best Condition awards, 10 wins and more than 10 years of riding)

Connie Holloway photo!

*the 25-miler was re-sanctioned as a 30 after it turned out the mileage was long

**actually  over 77,000!

Look at that loose rein I had all day!!!

Steve Bradley photo!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Willie’s Endurance Swag

May 27 2023

But wait: there’s even more for Hillbillie Willie!

After the surprise of the vest from AERC for placing in last year’s Northwest LD mileage division, and the surprise of his AERC Northwest Best Condition first place halter, Willie had more swag coming!

I knew he would be getting these awards, (and some, like the cool bench, he got for Best Condition at the Halloween ride), but it’s still thrilling for Willie’s performance last year to be recognized in our awesome little SWITnDR (SouthWest Idaho Trail and Distance Riding) group. Willie and I won’t be making a habit of garnering prizes, so we’re enjoying it while we got it!

Standardbreds rock!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Spotted Wonder

May 25 2023

Hillbillie Willie and I don’t often see anybody out riding in the desert, but coming over a hill last week, surprise! There were our neighbors, Linda on Hattie and Linda’s Menagerie of dogs. (The pigs and goats must have stayed home this time!)

Willie has met Hattie and Company at Linda’s house, but this was the first time he had seen the spotted mule out in the desert, much less with Linda's Menagerie, and much less carrying Linda on her back!

Linda has done a phenomenal job with this wild long-eared thang, from barely catch-able young mule to being ponied in Linda’s July 4th parades while riding trusty Ted, to becoming a riding mule.

She has taken the time (years) to slowly bring this mule along to where she can ride Hattie out alone in the desert. Don’t they look fabulous!