Rocky Mountain Region
Though we rode approximately 15 miles of trails over two days, our imaginations traveled much further. The trail, gently watered by a rain shower two days prior, meandered through terrain that could have been taken from the set of Hollywood's biggest fantasy blockbusters. Yet, I just know those Hollywood folks didn't earn the indulgent luxury of George Hatley's famous Dutch-oven biscuits and the company of Appaloosa enthusiasts after a good day of trail riding.
The 2006 Apalousey All-Breed Trail Ride and Dutch Oven Dinner attracted close to 40 horseback riders, as well as 29 delectable cast-iron recipes to savor and share. The two-day August ride, hosted by the Appaloosa Horse Museum board of directors, serves as one of the museum's most treasured fundraising activities. Quarter Horses, Arabians, Paint Horses, Peruvian Horses, and a mule joined Appaloosas on the trail. A volunteer support staff helped museum directors provide a memorable ride, dinner, silent auction, wagon ride, and an opportunity to meet new friends.
This was my third year of participating in the event, and second year as a ride volunteer. Living only 25 miles from the host site - the picturesque Pony Club Grounds in Deary, Idaho - makes my annual attendance a no-brainer. Owners George and Iola Hatley (see Trailblazers on page 52) reserved this section of the sprawling Hatley Ranch for United States Pony Club use in 1967, when their son, Craig, was himself a Palouse Hills Pony Club member. Riders find gently rolling hills that characterize the Palouse region of northern Idaho and eastern Washington.
At more than 100 acres, the grounds feature 80 pipe corrals, a full commercial kitchen, and an outdoor covered dining area. A three-room guest suite was recently added over the kitchen for event officials. A short ride from the main camp leads to a myriad of crisscrossing trails lined with massive pine, tamarack, and cedar trees.
The idea of hosting a trail ride as a museum benefit came from longtime Appaloosa enthusiast RuthAnn Keith. After hearing the museum needed money, Keith threw the idea on the table, and found it met with Hatley's offer to use the Pony Club Grounds. The first ride was a successful fundraiser, and everyone left for home happy. A repeat performance was suggested, leading to a second annual ride. Then a third ride was scheduled. Next year will represent the ride's 10th anniversary. The museum board of directors plans to make it better than ever.
It was hard for me to concentrate on work that Friday, knowing the weekend would be full of adventure and well-earned relaxation. I arrived at the grounds as early as I could. There to meet me, and every other vehicle that rolled past the cook shack, was this year's ride coordinator, Juli S. Thorson. This well-known equine journalist, Appaloosa enthusiast, and avid trail rider visited the grounds almost daily for two weeks prior to the event, watering, weeding, and tidying up. Her warm smile and quick orientation to the facility welcomed riders.
I chose a pen for my show-gelding-turned-trail-horse-for-the-weekend near the entrance to the grounds, and joined the host crew in settling new arrivals. Once the horses were cozy in their pens, RVs were secured, and tents were pitched, riders gathered in the dining area to enjoy an eclectic mix of fresh native floral arrangements, antique tack, and Western-oriented coffee-table books.
Crowning the tables were well-thumbed copies of Hatley's newest book, Riding the Nez Percé War Trail Twice. Horse-related board and card games were provided to entertain the children, but with such expansive grounds to explore, children were rarely in the dining area. Expectant riders and friends relaxed, letting their toes tap to the entertaining beat of The Idaho Old Time Fiddlers, performing popular old cowboy tunes.
At dusk, we enjoyed a slideshow featuring the unique photography of Appaloosa-mounted photographer Jim Mischel from Oregon. Mischel, who's served as the official photographer of the Chief Joseph Trail Ride for years, showed us unique views of natural and artisan scenes from a four-day trail ride in Utah.
Early morning found riders gathering on a grassy slope, prepared to receive instructions from George Hatley himself. Ride crew members were introduced and identified. After tail ribbons identifying potential kickers were affixed, the riders followed trail boss Orrin Riebold down the start of the trail. I put my gelding in position to follow the second third of the total group of riders.
We started out along trails that are adorned with permanent cross-country jumps made mostly of felled trailside timbers. The facility also features a hilltop dressage arena and a grassy field for stadium jumping. Below the dressage arena is a longeing area with superbly manicured footing. Open, rolling pastures provide areas to gather and park trailers.
As riders enjoyed a stroll through the jumps, it was easy to picture competitors galloping up and over the huge logs. It was much harder to picture our sedate, Western-attired, saddlebag-laden trail horses doing the same thing, but I was among the many pointing our horses at low obstacles well within our ability levels.
One hundred acres is too small for an all-day ride, so we ventured through a series of gates and onto a larger portion of the Hatley Ranch. Grassy fields, timbered lanes, access roads, and stream banks formed our trail.
Free-ranging cattle outnumbered wildlife, but one group did report seeing a few deer just after lunch. Ground critters scurried from tree stumps and rocks to the safety of their holes as we passed. Along the trail, riders paired off, performing the ongoing series of introductions and engaging in relaxing conversation. Old friends from previous rides reunited, filling each other in on a year's worth of equine experiences.
After six hours of saddle time, we returned to camp. It didn't take long for riders to follow exquisite scents of rich Dutch-oven kettles to the dining area. The day's tales were shared from each rider's perspective, providing images and excitement to those who held back to tend camp.
Tables and sun shades were set up and loaded with donated silent-auction goodies. Attracting the most attention was a hollowed, dried gourd, adorned with a hand-painted image of a Nez Percé warrior astride his charging Appaloosa, created by Shirley Steffen. Nearby, a similar set of tables hosted museum gift-shop merchandise.
During the auction, a matched team of powerful Belgians drawing an antique wagon pulled up, offering a relaxing tour of the grounds. The wagon's driver, Janice Organ, completed several loops.
I was bestowed a great honor at mealtime, being asked to clang the large metal triangle, calling riders to dinner. Despite a full house and a long line, the Dutch-oven chefs made enough not only for seconds, but breakfast-time leftovers. Appaloosa Horse Club Chief Executive Officer Steve Taylor mingled with participants, sharing his enthusiasm for his new position promoting the Appaloosa horse.
By the time bellies were full and auction prizes were paid for, we moved to the campfire for songs led by guitar-playing singing cowboy Eric Larson. Afterward, we were treated to another Mischel slideshow; this one of past Chief Joseph Trail Rides.
While shorter in length, the second day's ride offered dramatic changes in terrain. Sunny, flower-filled meadows gave way to a trail under a canopy so thick, the trees seemed to be stalagmites in a tall, dark tunnel. Sunlight pierced the forest floor in narrow beams, resembling a spelunker's flashlight.
The trail brightened into a forested hillside, leading to a large pond. Horses stepped eagerly into the cool water, drinking deeply and enjoying the break. This particular pond is one of my favorite Palouse trail ride destinations, providing a cooling break and a chance for my water-loving gelding to splash among an assortment of turtles, frogs, and other aquatic wildlife.
The return to camp followed dry, seasonal streambeds and motorized access trails. Laughter and lighthearted suggestions to make the next year's ride extra special dominated the conversation. Most ideas were shared with museum board of directors over lunch, but all riders would agree - this year's ride was special in its own unique way.
There was one last surprise awaiting ride participants, particularly Museum Director Sherry Caisley. She and her three sons remained at camp while riders departed, assisting in the plethora of needed chores. As riders returned, they learned the stray black cat they'd "adopted" queened three precious kittens on one of the boy's sleeping bags, with two more soon to be delivered. The Caisley family was delighted, and the kittens have settled into their new home as a most unusual and well-loved souvenir.
The 2007 Apalousey All-Breed Trail Ride and Dutch Oven Dinner ride is scheduled for August 17-19; for information, visit www.appaloosamuseum.org