Hardest riding day of my life…so far
The day started with LP getting a shoe put on. Then breakfast. All week it has been a race to see who gets up earliest and feed the horses. That is something that Doug usually does, however Darleen actually beats him to it, she gets up earlier, today Darlene slept in until 530, so Doug got to do chores
Today is Doug and Lori’s 16th wedding anniversary. I thought, what a great way to spend your anniversary!
The area that we are in is actually trail, not suggested trail, not nearby trail. Historians know that we are following actually NP trail until the end of the ride. The Nez Perce were in the mountains coming out of Yellowstone, they were following the Clark fork of the Yellowstone river. The army was convinced that the Nez Perce would never go down this valley following the Clark River, as they could not get out of it. Little did the Army know they were wrong. Todays ride is starting from our campsite and riding to the river bottom of the canyon. The decent is 1500 feet from where the Nez Perce started to the riverbed at the bottom. This area is known as The Slide among horse people. We were warned that this was difficult riding at the beginning of the week.
The plan was to get together in groups of 4 – 8 horses and make your way down this mountain. Each group was sent out at 3 minute intervals. The way our horses work LP would be first, and Doug would be last on the 4 year old mare. We rode out of camp and I ended up behind a man who had a really nice horse that seemed like someone that would push LP on a bit. Going down hills he can be a real “picker” of his way and take time to get down the hill. I asked him if he was with anyone and if he would lead our group. He agreed and so the 6 of us were set to ride.
Once we were sent off by the ride scout at the top of the ridge there was no turning back. Unlike yesterdays ride, there was plenty of trees and rocks so I did not feel so exposed like I did the day before. We walked on rock ledges, and worked our way around the side of a mountain. If I cared to look, in spots I could see the river at the bottom. Even from as high up as we were, I could see it was a huge river.
The trail…if you can call it that… became one switchback after another with rocks in various places that LP had to work around. In horse language it was one turn on the haunches after another. If I had wanted to I could have reached up and touched the horse on the switchback above me.
At one point Doug asked Darlene if she still had those wipes with her, as he was going to need them to clean his underwear. We all got a laugh out of it, but knew how he felt. Once we got ¾ of the way down the trail eases up and I began to see the end. Our group was really going to make it down The Slide. It took us 35 minutes to get to the bottom.
Once we hit the green open area of the river bottom we all cheered, got off our horses and then watched the rest of the horses come down the hill. It was so amazing to watch it all. It was an adrenaline rush to say the least.
I asked Doug and Lori what they were going to do for next year’s anniversary! They both agreed that this was one they were not going to forget.
I must admit that I have a newfound appreciation for the Appaloosa horse. The horses that we have today have some of the blood in them from these horses that scaled down the side of this mountain. When our group was on the top of the hill waiting to start, I asked Kat if her ancestors had been with Chief Joseph. She said they had, so right there were 2 young women (Kat and her Sister Lucy) that were following the trail of their ancestors.
The story goes that as soon as the 700 people and 2000 horses got down the mountain that they rested and camped in the river bottom overnight. Sturgis and his men were miles away and not going to right direction at this time. This gave Chief Joseph a long lead at heading north to Canada.
We had lunch in the river bottom and then started to cross the river. It was deep, wide and swift moving. I managed to not look down at the river bottom as it makes a rider somewhat disoriented and you start drifting with the direction on the current. Lori does not swim, so her directions were to keep her feet in the stirrups and hold on to the pommel of her saddle. Hopper did just fine, but she looked down and drifted about 30 feet downstream by the time she got across.
When LP got out to the bank on the other side of the river he was 3 legged lame. I walked him in the soft dirt for a bit, checked his hooves for rocks, nothing helped. I don’t know what he did in the river to hurt himself, possible twist a joint on the rounded rocks, or land hard and give himself a stone bruise. Our group pulled off, and Sandy and I traded horses. She is one of those people that there is nothing to her, so the intent was to get some weight off of LP.
Now the terrain was very rocky as we were following the river canyon. Soon the drag caught up with us with the vet. He gave him a shot of painkiller and it was decided that one of the scouts would lead him out to the road, which was 4 miles away. Sandy got back on her horse and I got in this all terrain vehicle that had a photographer and a reporter in it.
I had a great time with these people, I got an interview with the reporter, so have to find the card he gave me and look up the article. Two hours later we reached the road and a horse trailer was waiting for LP and I. My big horse got a well needed ride back to camp.