As a trail rider you are a high performance rider and your horse or mule, is your high performance partner. By high performance I’m not only referring to the various “extreme trail riding” events we often see. Even away from judges, spectators, crowds, and trophies as active trail riders we are doing high performance riding and asking a lot from our horses and ourselves.
So what does “high performance” mean if not competing for time in a manmade course filled with obstacles that bear little resemblance to the world outside of a manicured event field? This great adjective and noun combination perfectly describes a trail ride in our very own Cascade Range. Let’s examine some of the obstacles you may encounter. No pool noodles and no timer to race against.
Bridges – Living in the Pacific Northwest equals lots of moving water and if we want to go any distance we’re either riding on bridges or fording streams. I ride a short horse and dislike getting wet so having my mount comfortable with bridges is a must. One of my favorite bridges isn’t overly long or terribly high. What is does have is rushing water crashing loudly on the rocks beneath it. This particular bridge is in the Norse Peak Wilderness and to get to it you’ll also be traversing a boardwalk complete with slick and bouncy boards. The only entry fee required is a Northwest Forest Pass.
Water Crossings – Of course bridges aren’t always an option and we may have to take a wetter route to get to the next trail challenge, or your campsite for the night. Water crossings can often be a source of contention between riders and their animals; which is why they are so often seen in trail competitions. In the real world that blue line on the map has the potential to be the biggest challenge and potential danger of the trip. The trophy for crossing the Waptus River in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was one of the best camping dinners ever; Backcountry Thanksgiving complete with turkey, cranberry stuffing, and mashed potatoes.
Logs – All the water that we’ve previously had to negotiate helps to grow trees, lots of trees, with branches that fall onto the trail. Some of these branches are natural cavaletti that nature provides us to remind our mounts to watch their feet. Others have more in common with the jumps found on an eventing course. Get off your horse and remove them. This is an excellent reason to carry a pack saw; it’s called trail maintenance. As equestrians we share the trails with a variety of other users and one of the best ways to help keep this access is to help maintain the trails that we use. Your local Backcountry Horsemen group can help. These excellent log obstacles were removed from the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The prize for completing this obstacle was a wonderful cardio workout!
Rocks – The water that grows such large trees also washes off a lot of the dirt that once covered the rocky bones of the mountains. This artificial course standby is also found in the real world with stones big and small frequently found on trails. The reward for competing this rocky challenge on the trail out of the DeRoux Trailhead was incredible views of the even larger rocks in the background.
Manmade Obstacles – Any obstacle course worth its salt will also feature a manmade challenge or two and the trail into the wilderness is no exception. Many of the trails we use are shared with hikers and bicyclists and acclimatizing ourselves, and our mounts, to handle and accept these challenges is sometimes the hardest thing about trail riding. From a biker swiftly and silently approaching, to the hiker with a horse eating fishing pole waving about, these real world obstacles are common and should be addressed before we venture forth on the trails. In fact the hosts of competitive events would do their clients a service by incorporating some of these real world challenges into more of their obstacle course.
As always for more information on the areas described here and much more please visit www.TrailMeister.com the largest horse trail and campaign directory in North America.