I had never been to the Wild West Pioneer 3 day ride before, or even Skillman horse camp itself, despite it only being about an hour and a half haul from home. I’m very glad I’ve rectified that and have now discovered what a beautiful camp Skillman is and how much fun Wild West is. After a turbulent start to the year and ongoing soundness issues with my mare, this ended up being my first ride of the 2013 season. I was so incredibly glad to be back in a ride camp and saddling up for an AERC ride or two, and all the shade and gorgeous scenery only made camping with friends and my little pony that much better.
To begin at the beginning, here’s Blaze and I, ready to head out for ride camp on Thursday morning:
It was just Blaze and I, and our little crew gremlin, Georgia:
I met up with J and her niecewith their rig at a convenient gas station on the route and we followed each other the short drive up past Grass Valley to Skillman horse camp:
J was planning on 2 or 3 LDs and I planned on Friday and Sunday’s LDs. Our good trail buddies N and Willow arrived that afternoon too with plans to ride Friday and Sunday, and we soon had a neat little camp made up with our three rigs.
$5 olive barrel+spigot+length of hose= this simple camper doesn’t haul water buckets! Love it.
J & S setting up camp
Camp was beautiful and shady and I was glad I didn’t need the canopy I hadn’t brought. I know everyone places value on various features of ride camps (proximity to water, bathrooms, etc) but lots of natural shade is *the ticket* for this redhead to be happy!
Parking ended up perfect so that I had about the only flat spot to set up my tent, Arabian Nights lite edition:
N has arrived and we’re all cozied in a great camp spot, complete with picnic table
And here is where the title comes in. Starting on Thursday afternoon, Blaze decided he wanted absolutely nothing to do with his own hay. The flake of hay hanging in the bag you see below, on Thursday night, remained there until we left Sunday night, while the flake of grass hay in front of him in the picture is from J, who together with N, kindly fed my horse all weekend! I know the old “endurance horse wants everyone else’s food” thing but really, this was a whole new level. I think he took 2 bites of the hay I brought, and ate half of J’s bale and flakes of various types from N.
He also unenthusiastically ate all of 2 mashes while we were there, and only deigned to finish the second because N poured it in one of her buckets for him to eat! We decided to experiment after that and sure enough he wasn’t wild about the same mash now poured back in one of *my* other buckets of the same brand and color as N’s. I swear I wasn’t trying to poison my horse at any point! Well besides the awful salty crap (Endura-max Plus) that I syringed into his mouth Friday and Sunday morning, but boy, he sure drank phenomenally all weekend thanks to that! Blaze is a picky eater at the best of times but he was in full mooch mode at this ride. I am just so glad and grateful I was camped with generous friends!
I slept great Thursday night and had hope I might be creating a new ride camp sleep pattern, but no, only that one night. Still, that 9 pm-4 am hard sleep Thursday night was glorious! I was super toasty in my tent under a blanket and sleeping bag with my little gremlin crew dog on my feet. There were rigs arriving and departing until midnight every single night of this ride, which wasn’t exactly peaceful, but I generally sleep like crap at rides anyway, so oh wells!
Friday morning the 30 miler started at 7:30, and having been wide awake since 5 am and with the shorter distance I had plenty of time to get ready with what little I needed. The one vet check was about halfway through and was back in camp so I only grabbed a few saddle bag snacks that I never ended up eating, but did bring my bottle of Redmond electrolyte capsules and did my best to take one every hour, in my continuing search to balance my hydration and eating and avoid headaches and feeling crappy as I’m prone to at any ride, LD or otherwise.
Blaze ready, Friday morning
J and Sedona ready to head out on the Friday LD also
As I said I syringed half a tube of Endura-max Plus into Blaze at the start, and again at the vet check back in camp. It worked GREAT and he drank the whole weekend, whether out on the trail or hitting the troughs on our frequent walks around camp. He even drank from a stream which isn’t usually his style!
Heading out, Day 1 LD
Trail marking was great, with ribbons and very helpful arrows on neon signs. The trails were a mix of awesome single track, some wider dirt road, and some really really rocky, nasty stuff. I always train and ride Blaze barefoot in the hind as he is a little narrow back there and has an old injury, about a 1″ bulb, on the inside of his left hind fetlock that makes interference even more likely and painful when booted or shod. He has done rocky rides like Whiskeytown Chaser while barefoot in the hind without issue but this ride I was definitely nervous on both days with the amount of rocks and gnarly footing. Let me say, the footing was generally not bad at all, especially if your horse was fully booted and protected, but in his case, in those bad sections, I was nervous. I haven’t had success putting anything on his hinds without interfering though, so I just put on his hind splint boots and prayed, and luckily we came through all right.
N and Willow and Blaze drinking, on the trail Day 1
Blaze was a bit of a giraffe for most of the LD, sticking his nose in the air and just generally giving me the horse finger when I asked him to slow down and pay attention while behind Willow. His terrible farm plug walk made him instantly fall behind at the walk, which resulted in constant jigging/trotting to catch up. N and I switched off leading and it did work pretty well, aside from the giraffe horse trick which is rather uncharacteristic for him and did lead me to wonder about his teeth. To be sure he was more UP than usual, and hasn’t been to a ride since Gold Country last year, but I thought the nose in the sky was a bit severe even for those circumstances, and N agreed. I didn’t feel anything sharp in his mouth but I’m no dental expert and may just see if he needs one as it’s been a while.
We came into the lunch vet check in good form and timing, where Blaze took a few minutes to pulse down as usual, we had a clear A’s and no worries vet check, and then headed back to the trailers to take care of whatever quick things we could in a 1/2 hr hold. J’s niece was super helpful and had a turkey/veggie wrap all made up for me to eat when I got there–score!
Soon enough it was time to go again!
I didn’t really get a good photo to capture some of the nastier rockier bits as I was too busy trying to steer my giraffe safely through, but here’s a rocky patch in the afternoon of Day 1:
N and I are generally conscientious of giving space at troughs but Blaze and Willow quickly became best drinking buddies and shared troughs for the rest of the weekend.
Love those arrows marking the trail!
Most of the trail was shady and we only got a little warm in the afternoon, but nothing uncomfortable. I continued to take my Redmond capsules and N was kind enough to give me a spare bottle of water when I had drunk all of mine.
This was as cool narrow bit of trail between the trees! N and Willow enjoying the afternoon on Day 1’s LD
After riding along the top, we dropped down into the trench briefly, very cool trail!
After being pretty confident on our trail routes for most of the ride we got concerned in the last few miles. We knew where we were but weren’t sure by the signs if we were on the right track or had missed a turn for a few more miles before the Finish. We were close to the Finish and had about an hour and by my GPS should have had a few more miles to do, so we decided to ride into the Finish and see if we were in the right or needed to head back out and find what we missed. N and I were both kind of ready to be done after being mentally done and then suddenly questioning if we needed to go back out, but luckily the volunteers at the Finish line assured us we had followed the trail correctly and were in fact done! Both horses pulsed in, drank well, and it was off to untack and get our final Vet check.
drinking at the Finish, Day 1
Blaze did great, got A’s, and was ready for a nap. This was my first AERC ride since becoming my horses’ full time hoof care person and it was really nice to get that first completion with Blaze sound as a dollar!
Blaze’s gf Willow
N and I were already planning to sit out Saturday and after a Top 10 Finish Friday, J decided to join us chilling out on Saturday. We were already twiddling our thumbs by mid morning when a volunteer rushed up and said someone needed to drive one of the ride vets to the hospital and someone needed to trailer a horse in trouble to the out vet check since the sick ride vet was unable to check the horse here at camp. N was kind enough to bail her bed and camping gear out of her trailer and take the tied up horse out to the vet check while we offered to drive Dr. Lydon to the hospital but he said he didn’t want to go.
N gone to help
Fortunately the horse was fine and Dr. Lydon was fine as well, in fact rode with us some on the LD on Sunday! N came back and got resettled in and Blaze helped out by grocery shopping in her truck some more:
The vetting area in camp was super dusty and powdery and Blaze rolled there every day. He loves to roll and was very fond of the vetting area!
Friday and Saturday night’s Blaze was anything but quiet. Rigs were arriving and departing until the wee hours and Blaze was pacing around at the trailer, yelling, for most of it. Saturday night I even went out and stood there talking to him and trying to chill him out. The downside of my cozy nest in the tent next to the trailer was that I could feel his stompy steps in my very bones as I tried to sleep! Fortunately my camping buddies said he didn’t bother them and I chalked it up to just more standard crappy sleep at ride camp.
Sunday’s LD didn’t start until 9:30 and the morning dawned grey with a promise of rain to come. I was awake early as usual and after another night of crappy sleep I decided to get everything packed before the ride started so I could head home after the ride. By the time I needed to tack up my tent was down and the only thing left to pack was Blaze’s buckets.
Tacked up and ready
What, you didn’t know Blaze was part mule? Ready to go, Day 3 LD
J headed out with the front runners on the LD and N and I followed, farther back in the pack.
The trails on Sunday were just gorgeous. A few miles of absolutely terrible rocky footing before the lunch vet hold, which I mostly walk/jogged down, but otherwise lovely forested trails and great footing.
We caught up to the much recovered Doc Lydon on his 21 year old stud and he cruised along behind us for a while until his pace jogging on foot down the rocky hill took him on past us. It’s always fun to chat with him and we were so glad he had recovered enough to be out riding!
the lovebirds drink
Blaze in the lead with N and Dr. Lydon behind, enjoying the gorgeous forest and cool grey day
hey there they are! Over the shoulder shots are almost always blurry but I had to put this one in. Love to see N’s smiling face and Lydon’s awesomely dapper duds
I could tell by his sloppy feet that Blaze was a little tired as we headed down to the 1/2 hr vet check. He had never done more than one day before and was clearly questioning my sanity on the whole thing. Still Willow was trucking along in front of us and kept us going.
Walking down to the vet check
hearing riders coming in both directions
The vet check was in a huge meadow in beautiful Bear Valley. I didn’t get a great shot of it because it was raining lightly by then and N and I were both concerned with our horse’s getting cold and shivery. Fortunately both Willow and Blaze ate from the second we got in the hold until the minute we left, and neither shivered. They had hay and carrots and people water and snacks at the hold which was great.
Heading back out from the vet check Blaze was really not amused. I noticed one of N’s hind boots had broken a cable as we left the vet check, so she ended up finishing the ride barefoot in the hind like us. Fortunately we were almost done with the nastiest footing by then and all was well.
Climbing a neat single track switchback trail
Looking back at Bear Valley
The trails that afternoon were beautiful and as the rain let up some sunshine even peeked through here and there. Blaze perked up after another rider passed us and was really jamming through the good footing.
Just. So. Pretty.
Drinking at a creek, yay Blaze and Willow!
Unsettled skies but the weather was pretty kind to us
We reached common trail I recognized before long and were almost done. Blaze was still moving out nicely, even breaking to a nice canter in our last nice flat footing before the short climb down to the road in to the Finish. We pulled bits and loosened girths as soon as we got to the road and Blaze gobbled the entire Ziploc of carrots I had. It thrills my heart when he gobbles like Desire does as it’s so rare! Both horses pulsed right through at the Finish line and that was that!
being ADD at the Finish line with his ADD buddy Willow
who? where? horses? camp? Are we done?
We vetted through with a B on guts and all A’s otherwise, and his CRI was 40/44! I was really really happy with that. He was absolutely tired, and by the time I was done fussing with him he was pretty cranky and telling me to back off so he could eat in peace. Fortunately his version of cranky is a light Elvis lip curl and moving away from me, pretty mild.
Leave me alone Human. seriously.
Okay, I left him alone eventually, but I had to take one last picture with Blaze before leaving him in peace to eat. Those that have met him know how cool he is, and words can’t totally express it to those who haven’t, but here are some words just the same.
Blaze is barely 14 hands tall and now 17 years old +/-, with no papers, and almost zero info on his history before I bought him for a few hundred dollars 4 years ago. He doesn’t eat or drink well without serious intervention and is a very tiring ride with his lofty trot and clumsy feet. But more than that he is lovable, incredibly zen, and just Good. He was the first horse I ever transitioned from steel shod to barefoot, so it’s exciting to see him completing challenging rides with bare hind feet and booted fronts! Blaze and I have gotten ribbons at gymkhanas, team sorted cows under the 3 minute time limit, given many kids and a few adults their first ever horseback rides,and spent many many hours and miles on the trail together. We now have 190 AERC LD miles and while that may not be grand or impressive to many, it means the world to me. We’ll never win or dazzle, but we’ll always have fun and have each other’s backs. I just love the silly, picky, dusty little bugger.
Ride dinner, farewells, and the sunset on the drive home…