September 7 2022
OMG I love this Standardbred!
And OMG I love the Old Selam Pioneer Endurance ride near Idaho City, Idaho. It’s one of my favorite Endurance rides, in the forest, on some of the best footing anywhere in the USA.
This year I couldn’t handle the thought of riding 50 miles in the heat. I’ve toughed it out before but the older I get, the more I hate the heat and just can’t take it anymore, and I don’t have to. So Hillbillie Willie and I opted for a different goal: 3 days of Limited Distance 25-mile rides!
Willie had done just two 25-milers before. He’s used to 50’s and we almost always place mid-pack on his rides, not fast, not slow, just steady. I never know exactly where we place, and I don’t care. (Willie’s way more competitive than I am.) My main goals are always to have an easy start, a sane, forward horse to ride on a loose rein, and to finish with a low heart rate. Criteria is always 60 beats per minute at the vet checks and at the finish, but when Willie finishes a ride with a heart rate in the 40s, I’m positively giddy.
We didn’t really have a plan, or a riding partner. My goal was simply a smooth and calm start and a fun day. And it all magically happened! We fell in near the front of 18 riders, just because that’s where we were. Simone and Boogey took the lead, and stayed there all day. Willie ended up behind Sarah from Oregon and her handsome Arabian Batman, and ahead of Jo from Wyoming and her big honkin’ Tennessee Walker Jake, and we 3 pretty much stayed together all day with our horses moving well and comfortably together.
Willie and I were both enjoying the faster pace, and the morning was deliciously cool (starting out in the 40s) and we wanted to get ‘er done before the heat came out. As the forest tracks flew by beneath our feet, I had a fast, smooth horse on a loose rein, and I was so happy about that because I had reached half of my goal for the day!
During one stretch on the first loop Sarah and Batman ahead picked up a canter, which became a fast gallop, and Willie’s big Standardbred trot morphed into his pace (he was a pacer on the track), and ohmigod, we flew. I have never ridden that horse so fast at a pace.
I wasn’t sure how to ride it but I just hunkered low, as motionless and balanced as possible, leaning forward a tad over his rocking motion, and let him do his amazing thing. Uneven footing, curve left or right on the logging road, he never missed a beat, never put a foot wrong. My mouth was gaping in awe. I tried not to giggle because that throws me off balance. What a thrill! We must have been flying at least 20 mph, which is 2/3 the speed of what pacers can race. I really think Willie was showing off to me a bit of what he could do in his former life!
The 3 of us riders finished the ride together 15 minutes after Simone and Boogey. Willie has the lucky genes (and he’s quite fit) so he was already pulsed down by the time we got to the finish line. “Did he even do anything?” asked Jennifer, who pulsed him in. “Does he ever sweat?”
We never finish in the Top Ten so this time we got to show for Best Condition. Best Condition is judged by the vet to be the “fittest, freshest and soundest” of the Top Ten finishers, taking into account heart rate, metabolic parameters, soundness, attitude, and weight carried.
A Cardiac Recovery Index is an indicator of how a horse recovers after a ride. Ten minutes after finishing, the pulse is taken, you trot your horse out far enough that you yourself would like to pass out, and back to the vet, and a minute later the pulse is taken again. Yep, I was giddy again when Willie’s CRI was 48-42. My goals for the day done! And he ended up with High Vet Score which was icing on the Standardbred cake!
Jo and I decided to ride together because our horses paced so well together. 15-year-old Jake is a massive horse. At 17 hands he makes Willie look like a normal sized horse!
Somebody must have told Willie he finished second on Day 1 because he was AWFUL for the first 10 miles of loop 1. He thought he was back on the track and supposed to appear in the winner’s circle after the Race. All my 5 years of chill-out training went out the window. Like never before at any ride, he pulled and snarled and bulled and roughly pounded his way down the trail after whoever was in front of him. My hands went numb. I could not convince him to settle down and stop fighting! Jake was no help, encouraging Willie onward. I dropped Willie behind Jake for a while, but that didn’t help either as Jake was hot to run-walk, while Willie egged him on.
Finally Jo and I got into our own little Bubble (LOVE The Bubble - a nice space between the horses in front of you and horses behind you so it feels like you are the only ones out on the trail!), and our boys settled down and cruised along at a finally-comfortable happy pace, I got feeling back into my hands, and the last 5 miles of the loop were back to super fun enjoyment of the smooth trails through the forest, looking for moose and bear, Willie winging around blind corners eager to see what he might encounter!
Willie set the pace most of the day, and Jake would keep up or catch up, and with his smooth running walk, he totally out-walked the Standardbred on the downhill climbs or when we took a walking break. Willie was in awe of Jake’s power walk but he couldn’t emulate it, and he would have to trot to catch up.
Loop 2 was pleasantly perfect (eager horse, loose rein), and we stopped occasionally for grass, and we effortlessly finished in the Top Ten again. It feels so good to ride a calm, forward horse that makes everything feel so easy. Willie’s CRI today was 40-40 (I was giddy and floored), and he ended up with High Vet Score again!
Our last day was pretty much all magical. Easy start on a loose rein, we had a nice Bubble most of the day, and when we didn’t, Willie didn’t feel the need to try to catch anybody. He would motor along, looking back and checking on Jake, slowing down if he needed to, or picking back up the pace. We had a great time on the cool morning climbing up a winding ridge-line logging road, then back down, an easy downhill you could trot on for miles.
Willie had developed quite the thing for Jake. On Day 1, Willie, who’s always easy-going, pinned his ears at Jake a few times, but by day 2, he would turn his head and gaze fondly at big Jake as we trotted alongside each other. Jake taught Willie it was really is OK to stop and grab a bite of good grass along the way. We grazed quite a bit on loop 2, and I was sad this Best Ride Ever on Willie was coming to an end.
Top Ten at the finish again, Willie had a great 40/44 CRI again. He again had the High Vet Score and this time he got Best Condition! Which, with my light weight is almost impossible, but miracle of miracles, it happened. I’m so proud of Willie!
BEST RIDE EVER!!! I LOVE THIS STANDARDBRED!!!!
I had the best time riding with Jo, and Willie really enjoyed Jake as a riding partner. Here, Willie says, “Does this horse make my head look small?”
Now it must be said, while Willie is a fun ride (except for Day 2 loop 1, which we will just expunge from our memories), he is the worst Ridecamper. Always messing with stuff, testing his fencing, trying to nuzzle then bite his camping partner, trying to get into the other horse’s pen because of course the other horse’s food tastes better.
And while he’s quite independent and I ride him by himself all the time, he’d never be able to handle the stress of solo camping in Ridecamp. So we brought along Regina’s 25-year-old Arab, Mufasa, to babysit this 10-year-old Standardbred. And it worked! Mufasa didn’t really care being left alone, and Willie always had a companion when he got back to his trailer. And Linda’s Indy was camped next door, and both Indy and Mufasa always enthusiastically greeted Willie when he got back. His personal fan club! Hay, whatever works! If it takes a babysitter to de-stress my horse we’ll take it.
Old Selam has always been one of my favorite rides, and this year was the best ride Hillbillie Willie and I have ever had!
I tried to get all our heads in this selfie but our horses’ heads are way too big!
Thank you Steve Bradley for the trail pix!