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!

Monday, April 3, 2023

Annnnd… We're Off at Owyhee Tough Sucker!

April 3 2023

The 2023 ride season started for Hillbillie Willie and me at the local Tough Sucker ride that we help Regina put on down the road.

For me it was a tossup as to whether we’d start our season with a 25 or a 50. With the same crazy winter most all of us have had this year, (this Ice Princess is not complaining :) ), and because at home we have so many cows out all over the place it’s hard to get a long hard sustained workout without running over baby calves, Willie wasn’t as fit as I’d like. He *could* do a 50 as this is not a hard ride, but he would be best fit for a 25. Then there was the usual Tough Sucker weather to deal with: it’s always windy, and more than anything, I hate the wind. HATE the wind. Plus there would likely be some rain/hail/snow showers to go with the wind. I was leaning toward the 50, but I’d decide in the morning.

In the morning, after I saw that Willie had not eaten much (I’d brought along some new hay, which, bummer, apparently he does not particularly like, though he didn’t eat much of his regular hay either) nor had he drank much. That was the clincher. We’d do the 25 and consider it a good training ride for our next event. 

We struck out on the trail with one of Willie’s cute friends, Girl, ridden by Jill. We’d ridden together at City of Rocks last year on a 25, and they’d matched up well. Girl set a smoking pace out of Ridecamp and we kept it up for most of the 16 mile first loop. Trails were just about perfect footing - soft but not gopher-holey, and no dust to speak of yet! I always ride Willie with a heart rate monitor now, so I kept an eye on that. While he was running 10-20 beats higher at times that he normally would when he’s fit, he was handling it well and dropping on downhills or flats. And he was enjoying the quick pace with his cute partner, who always made sure Willie respected her space. We loved the winding canal trail after the Snake River.

It’s fun to watch Jill and Girl; Girl is all business and they have both put in a lot of time doing dressage work. She moves along the trail so nicely and balanced.

We eased up a bit the last couple of miles, and Layne and Atlas caught up with us and passed us. It was Layne’s first Endurance ride back after back surgery and a long recovery/rehab process, so this was a big test for her!

Willie wasn’t interested in any water on trail, nor did he want a drink from the troughs when we got back to Ridecamp for the vet check. However, when I picked up a sponge bucket full of water and held it up for him, he took a nice drink. Hey, whatever works! He only took a minute to pulse down to 60, so, so far I was quite pleased with his ride.

I took Willie to his pen for food (he wanted his grain, no hay, though later he did munch on a bit of alfalfa), and by the time I remembered - oh yea, I forgot to take him to the vet, (how long have I been doing this???), his pulse was down to 48. Yay!

We hooked up with Girl and Jill for the 9-mile second loop, which we took at a more casual pace. 

At the finish, Willie pulsed down right away, just behind Layne and Atlas and Jill and Girl. 

We went back to show for Best Condition in an hour; Willie’s CRI reflected a  horse that wasn’t fit yet -  44/52, but that was not bad at all! We had a fun ride which was a great conditioning ride, which will help us toward our next Endurance ride.

And best of all, we finished before the crap weather hit. Bigger wind, rain/sleet/even bigger wind/dust/mud/ice pellets. Willie was safely ensconced in his blankets either dozing or munching, while the braver riders and horses kept doing their thing out on trail. Of course, once you’re already out in it, it’s not that big of a deal, but once you are finished and your horse is tucked away and comfortable and you are hiding in your car out of the elements, you’re grateful you’re not out in it.

A super special shoutout goes to the Volunteers Extraordinaire, Barb, Ann, Tami, Pam, Yvonne, Roz, Lynn and I sure hope I did not miss anybody, for toughing out that weather to patiently wait for riders to come in and pulse horses down. You guys rock! And that of course includes thanks to ride manager Regina and our super vets Jessica and Jake, out there in the storm vetting horses in as usual, with smiles on their faces, until the last ones came in! And thank you Steve Bradley for the photo!

Saturday, March 11, 2023

But Wait: There’s More for Hillbillie Willie!

March 11 2023

I got an unexpected package in the mail from AERC…. opened it up and inside a plastic bag was a heavy, nice yellow halter.


I figured they must have had extras or something??? Or sent it to the wrong person??? There was no note in the envelope. Well, it would look very nice on Hillbillie Willie unless I needed to return it to AERC or whoever it was meant for.

I’d been so busy the last couple of days I never got around to opening the plastic bag and figuring it out. 

Finally last night I had time to pull out and have a look at the halter and - what?! - it has a brass plate on it:

2022 AERC Regional LD BC

Northwest - 1st Place

Hillbillie Willie

Ohmigosh! I’ve never gotten first place in anything in AERC’s year-end standings ever!

Best Condition awards go to one of the horse in the Top Ten finishers of a ride, and it factors in time, vet scores (soundness, hydration, heart rate recovery), and weight carried. Obviously the more weight a horse carries, the harder he works so he rightly gets more points for that in the figuring.

Best Condition awards are so rare for me than I can count all the BCs I’ve gotten in over 20 years of Endurance riding: four. (And Willie got three of them last year!) 

I almost always finish mid-pack, and I just don’t weigh enough to get a high enough score if I ever do end up in the Top Ten and get to show for BC.

So - ohmigosh! Thank you Hillbillie Willie for your hard work and being such a fun horse to ride and being The Best Standardbred Ever, and thank you AERC for making my day/week/year!

Friday, February 10, 2023

A National Award for Hillbillie Willie!


February 10 2023

“Um… I think you’ve made a mistake,” I replied to the email I got from AERC, saying, “Congratulations on a great ride season! We'll be ordering an embroidered award vest for you…”

It couldn’t be me and Hillbillie Willie. We indeed had a great super fun ride season, but we only did one 50-mile ride and seven LD rides last season. 

But no, they insisted, we got “5th place for Regional LD Mileage Championship in the Northwest!”

One season, umpteen years ago, Jose Viola and I ranked near the top of our Featherweight Northwest division in 50-mile rides. I would glance at the current results from time to time throughout the year in the AERC magazine because I was surprised I got to ride so many miles and stayed up there in the rankings. We got a vest that year too! But since then I’d never ridden enough miles to even pay attention. So I was completely unaware Willie and I ranked anywhere for anything last season.

Now, when you magnify our award and look at it kind of like a horse pedigree, it’s kind of like our award is somewhere down in the fourth generation with dozens of other cousins among eight regions, and it's more accurately a Regional award given by the National organization, but toMAto toMAHto, it was such a fun surprise, and it means so much to me what Willie and I accomplished, and how much fun we had last season.

I love my Standardbred, and WE LOVE OUR VEST!