Cross summer camp with a family reunion and you might come close to describing the Illinois State Stock Horse Association's annual 100-Mile Trail Ride held every Labor Day week. This was my second year.
It was a 200-mile drive to the ride's overnight-camping area on the New Freedom Ranch in Mt. Carroll. (The ride is in a cloverleaf pattern, so every evening, you return to the same campsite.) I was unable to find anyone in my area who wanted to go, so I was accompanied by Wiston WML, my 6-year-old Haflinger gelding.
My trusty little Ford Ranger did an outstanding job pulling my Brenderup Horseliner up and down the hills of northwestern Illinois. Winnie trailered like a pro, loading with no problem. He seemed more concerned about what he had available to eat than the hot weather and bugs.
A Ranch Welcome
We arrived in Mt. Carroll about 2 p.m. on the Saturday before Labor Day. (Although the ride didn't officially start until Monday, camping was allowed starting the previous Wednesday.) When I pulled in, there wasn't a site to be found that had trees nearby for shade and picketing. However, club president John Sudduth pointed out a hideaway nestled in a little valley. He was sure my little truck could navigate the steep incline. The valley had quite a few campers already, who were more than happy to help Winnie and me get settled.
After I set up camp, I saddled up and rode down the hill to investigate the ranch. Win, although slow, and I (a very timid rider) rode past ranch vehicles, generators, round pens, blowing tarps, motorcycles, and trailers. This is an excellent ride for green horses to get them used to all kinds of "horse-eating monsters."
In the Saddle
After a relaxing weekend, we joined a big crowd Monday morning for a "short day" of about five hours. There were close to 200 riders and horses. We rode through lovely pastures (complete with horse-eating cows), and up and down steep ravines. Mostly, I just gave Win his head and held onto his mane.
By the end of the first ride, my saddle had slipped back about three inches. We were all back safe and sound at our campsites around 12:30 p.m., in time for a catered lunch. Monday afternoon, I went on a short ride with a fellow camper. That night, there was live country music and dancing.
Tuesday and Thursday were the all-day rides of about 20 to 25 miles. As I hadn't ridden too much in the previous few months, Win and I opted out of the big group rides. Instead, we rode shorter distances with friends.
My barefoot "pony" (Haflingers stand between 13.2 and 14.3 hands high) kept up with the big guys, but we did lose sight of the group once when Win wanted to jump a fallen log, and I wanted him to walk over it. We had to do lots of fast trotting on a very twisty trail to catch up, and Win ended up with a branch bigger than he was caught in his tail.
The ISSHA's 100-Mile is a traveling ride. This year, it'll be held in the Shawnee National Forest, (www.haflingerhorse.com) near Herod. Meals are catered from Monday breakfast through Friday dinner. Tehre's usually live music every night. On Friday evening, an awards banquet completes the ride.