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!


  1. Your story about Willie has encouraged me to look for my own Standie TY!