I am excited to announce that I have accepted an invitation to be an official advisor for the Love Road Wild Horse Sanctuary and Adoption Center. This project is just getting off the ground, but is poised to do a lot of good. I signed on because their mission is as simple as mine - to decrease the number of horses in holding facilities by increasing adoption rates. I believe they have a feasible and well thought out plan. I look forward to working with this group of knowledgeable and passionate advocates to make a difference for wild horses.
You can learn more about this project by visiting http://www.loveroadsanctuary.org/.
Stay tuned for updates!
Toward the end of September, our journey around Nevada took us through the Owyhee Desert in Elko County, just south of the Idaho and Oregon borders. While most of our route went through remote areas, this felt the most remote. The Owyhee is the type of desert environment where an ocean of sagebrush extends out to the distant horizon, broken up by rolling hills, buttes, and mesas. The vegetation here is mostly sagebrush and bunchgrasses. This arid country is largely uninhabited by humans, with no towns in or around it. A few scattered ranches operate around the edges, but access into the interior of the Owyhee is difficult. The old roads are not well maintained, but they are good enough for horse travel!
After the rigours of the mountainous Jarbidge area, I was excited to drop down in elevation and do some desert riding. They Owyhee did not disappoint. It appears at first to be flat and desolate, but when you ride through you notice the little nuances of the land. There are lots of interesting rock formations, dramatic canyons, and old ruins scattered throughout. Not surprisingly, we didn't see any people out here. If you are looking for solitude, the Owyhee would be a good place to go!
The Owyhee is home to several Herd Management Areas for wild horses, and we saw plenty as we traveled through. One evening from our campsite we watched nearly a hundred horses come over a hill and head down their well-worn horse trails to a water source. They were a very colorful herd; we saw everything from roans and greys to buckskins and paints. They all looked healthy. We enjoyed watching them make their evening commute to the water hole.
Sage watched the horses coming over the hill too. All was peaceful, until Sage had the audacity to whinny at them. Almost immediately, a magnificent red roan stallion responded to Sage with a terrifying roar. Not a whinny, not a nicker, not a squeal - a roar. Suddenly, the whole herd came charging toward us, closing in on us from several sides. The red roan stallion led the charge, aiming straight for Sage. I ran to defend Sage, who was inside his electric corral. The red roan stallion stopped a few hundred feet away, and began to snort and stomp his hooves. Sage became enraged! He roared back at the stallion, and began tearing around his electric corral, rearing, bucking, and striking out. His whole demeanor changed; Sage seemed to be twice his normal size. I could do nothing to calm him down. The red roan galloped back and forth, screaming and snorting. The rest of his herd anxiously ran along the fringe, but they hung back. Clearly this fight was between the red roan stallion and Sage.
I can honestly say this was one of the scariest moments during our entire ride. We have been charged by stallions and small bands countless times, but nothing matched the ferocity of this particular stallion. I absolutely believe that if Sage had been able to get out of his corral, this would have been a fight to the death. I could only hope that he didn't run through the electric fence. Scared, but with no other option, I stood my ground between Sage and the red roan, armed only with a plastic bag. I made a flew bluff charges toward the red roan stallion, and to my relief he begrudgingly began to retreat. The rest of his herd withdrew over the hill. The red roan was the last to disappear, but he stopped periodically to face Sage and roar.
The whole confrontation probably only lasted a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. In the chaos, Ryan snapped these incredible photos. Bella, unfazed, took advantage of the distraction and ate our dinner. It took Sage some time to calm down, but he remained on high alert for the rest of the evening. This was not the last encounter we had with wild horses in the Owyhee, but it was certainly the most intense. It was a stark reminder of how territorial and aggressive wild horses can be, especially wild horses who live in such remote areas.
The Bureau of Land Management is currently in the midst of a wild horse gather in the Owhyee Desert. (You can read their reports HERE.) The horses they have permanently removed are now at the National Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center where they are available for adoption. So far they haven't captured the red roan stallion.
I'm doing a twofer in this installment, because I think it's difficult to talk about the saddle without the pad and vice-versa. Obviously both are crucial on a long ride because of the sheer amount of time spent in the saddle. An ill-fitting saddle or a poor quality pad will end a long ride quicker than anything else, and long riders should ensure their horse(s) comfort comes first from the moment they hit the trail until the moment they reach the end of the trail. It's important to know though -- there is no such thing as the perfect saddle or the perfect pad, especially on a long ride. They will all have their shortcomings eventually. Your goal is to find the right product for you and your horse that minimizes the problems of long distance riding.
Our saddle is a Cheyenne Frontier Trail Saddle from Tucker Saddlery. I chose this saddle, in part, because it is the same saddle used by Bernice Ende, the famous Lady Long Rider who has racked up more than 20,000 miles in her saddle. I cannot think of better proof of a saddle's quality than that! And indeed, on our journey of more than 1,100 miles, this saddle proved to be worth every penny.
My first consideration was weight. Some traditional western saddles can weigh 40 pounds or more! But, when you are light-packing and riding on one horse, every pound counts. My preference for maximum weight limit on a long ride is 200 pounds -- that includes the rider, saddle, and gear. This saddle weighs about 29 pounds, which is more than the saddle I used on my first ride, but still within the acceptable range to keep everything under 200 pounds.
The saddle fit Sage well, at least initially. About 500 miles into the ride, Sage's body shape began to change and the saddle began to fit differently. This isn't the fault of the saddle, but merely the inevitable result of such a dramatic increase in physical activity. As Sage became more toned, his topline narrowed and saddle became too wide. I inspected Sage twice daily for any signs of saddle sores, but we never had any problems, even with the changes in body shape. Long riders need to pay attention for changes in saddle fit and make adjustments as necessary. What I particularly liked about this saddle, was the freedom of movement it allowed Sage's shoulders. Too many people use saddles that restrict the movement of their horse's shoulder blades. (That can also just be a result of putting the saddle on too far forward.) I also like the deep gullet of this saddle, which meant there was never any direct pressure on Sage's withers or spine - even when he changed shape.
This saddle was also extremely comfortable for me to ride in. A lot of people we met on the trail jokingly asked if my butt hurt after riding for so many miles, but honestly, it never did! Tucker's patented Gel-Cush seat is shock-absorbing and kept my butt comfy for 6-10 hours of riding a day. I also never once had knee pain. I have degenerative joint disease in both knees, which in the past with other saddles, has caused pain after only a few hours of riding. I was very glad that I opted for the Ergo-Balance Trail Glide stirrups when I ordered this saddle. This saddle also has plenty of saddle strings and rings for attaching saddle bags, bed rolls, or other gear.
Tucker Saddles are fairly customizable; you choose the color, tooling, rigging, skirt, hardware, fenders, and stirrups. Before I purchased the saddle, I sent tracings and measurements of Sage's back to the company and they suggested the proper tree width. One more note -- I have been very happy with Tucker's customer service. When I initially received my saddle the horn leather was slightly damaged. Tucker immediately offered to take the saddle back after our ride and make repairs at no cost to me.
What goes under your saddle is also very important. We used a pad from 5 Star Equine Products, specifically the All Around 30" x 30" in a 1 inch thickness. These pads are 100% virgin wool, which is excellent for absorption of moisture. The tensile strength of wool also prevents compression.
Overall I was very happy with this pad during the ride. It fit the saddle well, has a nice contoured shape, and held up to rigorous daily use. Even in the most strenuous trail conditions it was breathable. However, when Sage's body shape began to change we did experience some slippage with the pad. Eventually I had to rig a strap through the wither hole and tighten it to the saddle horn to keep the pad with the saddle. Again, this wasn't necessarily the fault of the pad, but the changing fit of the saddle over time. The saddle pad was easy to clean each week in camp. It comes with a little sponge-like cleaning thing, but a curry comb worked too.
Toward the end of the ride, I did notice something strange. The pad itself began to develop creases or kinks in the wool - which caused creasing in Sage's hair, almost like a finger wave hairstyle. The creasing has not come out, despite regular brushing. I do not know what caused the creasing in the pad -- perhaps it was too much use, too much movement when the saddle starting fitting differently, or perhaps I did not clean it well enough. I reached out to 5 Star for their opinion and they recommended a new pad. My concern would be that over time the friction from the creases would cause rub marks. I was happy that our ride ended before I could find out.
Long riding is unlike any other kind of riding. It takes a toll on everything, including tack, so you have to be willing to accept some imperfections and adapt as needed. The most important thing, however, is that you aren't developing saddle sores, rub marks, galling, or any unseen damage to your horse's spine.
Last week I had our equine chiropractor come do a post-ride assessment and adjustment on Sage. After 1,100+ consecutive miles I was sure he probably needed it. But other than a few tweaks for flexibility, Sage didn't need much. In particular, the chiropractor said his back was showing no signs of ill-effects from such a long ride. I absolutely credit that to our choice in saddle and pad.
The White Pine Range is one of my favorite ranges in Nevada. It's located in southern White Pine County, in eastern Nevada. It runs about 50 miles in length, north-south between Highway 50 and Highway 6. I purposely added time to our most recent ride, just so I could ride the entire length of this spectacular range.
There's a lot of history in this range. It's home to several ghost towns, the most famous of which is Hamilton, which at one time boasted a population of 10,000 people! Not much remains today except the remnants of scattered outbuildings, cabins, and mines throughout the range. The Hamilton-Pioche Stage Road runs through the area too, which was teeming with stage coaches when Hamilton was booming. There's even a legend of buried treasure somewhere in the White Pine Range!
This is a really diverse range so it's a lot of fun to ride. It features rocky ridges, rolling hills, and epic views of the valley floor. The high point is Currant Mountain, a dramatic limestone peak rising to 11,513 feet. Vegetation includes limber pine, juniper, and even Great Basin Bristlecone Pine! There's a lot of water in this area too, with year-round springs and creeks. When I rode through here on my 2013 ride in the spring, the wildflowers were out of control! On my recent ride, we saw elk, deer, and wild horses. (This is where we had our heartbreaking encounter with the young wild horse we named Oscar.) I've read the range is also home to Bighorn Sheep, but alas, I never saw any.
Some of the trails are tough, but they're worth it. Like most of the ranges we explored during the ride, we didn't see a lot of people in here, only a few hunters out scouting. One of the things I love about public land is that you can just pick a spot and camp. There are some great places in this range to set up camp and then head out and hike or ride. Watch out for the cows though - we had a big bull wander into our camp one evening! If you do need something a little less primitive, there is an actual campground on the southern end of the range. As always, I recommend the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas from Benchmark Maps to get a feel for the area before you go.
Hoof protection might be one of the most important things to consider for a long ride. Riding in Nevada is especially tough on the hoof, as the terrain can be incredible challenging. It's amazing how much the footing can change mile to mile -- from decomposed granite to boulders to gravel to dirt to pavement. We saw it all on our recent ride, and that's why I was very careful to make sure Sage's hooves were protected.
I have nothing against traditional metal horse shoes, but Sage has been barefoot his whole life. Instead of shoes, we use boots on tough trails. There are many companies that make hoof boots. I've tried several of them, but ultimately used Easyboots from EasyCare Inc. for my 2013 and 2016 rides.
There are a lot advantages to hoof boots. They're removable. You just put them and take them off each day. They're relatively custom fit, as they come in different sizes. If you send your horse's hoof measurements and photos of each hoof to EasyCare they will recommend which style of boot is best for your horse. Sage wears the Easyboot Epics, which have a semi-aggressive tread - perfect for extreme trail conditions. For our recent ride, I recycled some of my old boots from our 2013 ride and purchased several sets of new boots. Nevada's terrain did not disappoint and the boots were certainly put to the test. Sage wore the boots every single day of our 1,100+ mile ride, in sand, dirt, rocks, mud, snow, water, and more.
Overall I love Easyboots. There is no question that they have protected Sage's hooves on both of our rides. With so many other things to worry about on the trail, it's nice to not have to worry about chipping of the hoof wall, stone bruises, punctures, or any other hoof ailment. People we met on the trail were often shocked we weren't using traditional horse shoes! But they were very intrigued when I showed them the Easyboots.
Despite the name, these boots are not easy to put on - but I suppose that's a good thing since you want them to stay on once you do get them on. They're especially hard to put on when it's below freezing. We lost a few boots early on in the ride, which was a result of me not putting them on properly. We also broke some boots during the ride: snapped cables in extremely rocky terrain, broken buckles, and torn gaiters. We actually wore through the toes of some of the boots! But they're meant to take a beating. Better the boot than your horse's hoof! Easyboots come with repair kits. Snapped cables, broken buckles, even torn gaiters can be repaired, which is great.
Easyboots aren't cheap, especially if you need as many I did for our long ride. Because of the investment, I went to great lengths to not lose them! I had to turn around a few times to retrieve boots that had fallen off. Several times Sage stepped into boggy areas and the suction would pull off a boot -- I went elbow deep in the muck to pull them out! Mud was always a problem to ride in. Even with the good traction on the Easyboots, Sage was slipping and sliding.
But I really credit the Easyboots for getting us through tough country with no problems. If you're interested in trying them out, you can use EasyCare's dealer search online (http://www.easycareinc.com/Search/Dealer.aspx) to find a rep near you. But I also recommend trying other boots from other companies to find the right product for your horse.
One of the places I was most excited to ride through on our recent journey is truly one of the most remote places in the continental U.S. Located in Elko County, in the northeast corner of Nevada, just south of the Idaho border, you'll find spectacular views, rugged terrain, and complete solitude.
This out-of-the-way area is home to the Jarbidge Wilderness - 113,00+ acres of pristine public land. (Areas that are designated as "wilderness" by Congress are protected from development. They are closed to mechanized recreation, which means you can't use a car, atv, or bicycle in wilderness areas. They are, however, open to hikers and horses!) The Jarbidge Wilderness features dozens of mountain peaks, eight of which are over 10,000 ft. It's also an unusually wet area for Nevada, with two lakes, many rivers, creeks, and streams. Lush meadows and trees abound, including Subalpine Fir, Whitebark Pine, and Quaking Aspens. I'm told the wildflowers in Jarbidge are amazing in the spring. We rode through in September, which was still beautiful with all the fall colors starting to emerge.
For my ride, I chose a nearly 20-mile pack trail that runs north-south through the wilderness area. I can honestly say it was some of the most thrilling riding I have ever done in my life! The pack trail is extremely technical, with non-stop obstacles and lots of elevation change. In many places the narrow trail wound high up along the sides of the mountains. I kept telling myself not to look down and I hoped Sage wouldn't either! The pack trail was fairly easy to follow. There are very few signs, but in some confusing spots people have erected rock cairns to help guide travelers. I only lost the trail once, but luckily was able to get back on track with my GPS.
It seemed as though every turn of the trail revealed a new, stunning landscape. I couldn't stop taking pictures! This is certainly not the terrain most people think of when they think of Nevada. One of the most wonderful experiences I had riding through this area was seeing all the elk. We encountered several bull elk and more than a dozen cow elk throughout the day. They are magnificent animals to see up close. And hearing them bugle? It gives you goose bumps! Incredibly, we spent a whole day riding through the wilderness area, but we didn't see a single other person. I felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
After a very tough day of riding in the Jarbidge Wilderness, we rode through the town of Jarbidge itself. This quaint community is home to approx. 180 people. It has one hotel, one bar, one diner, one gas station, a community center/museum, and... that's about it! We had a blast riding through town. Several residents came to talk to us and one lady told me it had been a long time since someone rode a horse through town!
Go check out Jarbidge! It's well worth the drive. You'll want good tires; the roads are not paved. Also bring cash; there's no ATM, though the hotel and diner accept cards. The wilderness area has 150+ miles of pack trails to explore and quite a few trail heads. Trail maps are extremely hard to find online, but the Nevada Road & Recreation Atlas from Benchmark Maps is a good start. This is one place I definitely want to go back to explore more. In fact, if you're planning to go let me know and I'll go with you!
I have always been enamored by riding skirts of the past, so when I saw that someone was bringing them back for modern women riders, I just knew I had to have one!
Arctic Horse is a small, women-owned business based in Alaska. They make a variety of skirts for a variety of trail conditions. Prior to my 2016 ride, I ordered a Backcountry Trail Skirt so I could put it to the ultimate test in some of Nevada's harshest terrain. I absolutely fell in love with it on the trail. This is no cheap quality product thrown together. It is made from high quality and durable materials and incredibly well-made. It features snaps that keep the skirt up and open for mounting. The waxed canvas outer layer protected my legs from tall sagebrush and other brush. The lined inner layer kept my legs warm when the temperature dropped. When the rain came, it kept me dry. When I fell on barbed wire the skirt saved my butt - literally. But most of all, you just feel cool wearing it! This skirt is a must-have for the serious trail rider. Forget chaps - bring back skirts!
The Backcountry Trail Skirt retails for $299. Arctic Horse donates a portion of each sale to a non-profit of the buyer's choice. Keep your eye on their Facebook page for occasional sales. It's worth adding that these skirts are not adjustable and cannot be taken in, so be very sure about your sizing.
Something nagged me throughout our recent ride around northern Nevada. In 74 days, through eight counties, over 1,100 miles, the only people we met on the trail were hunters. Don't get me wrong -they were always incredibly friendly and extremely interested in my ride. Time and time again we bonded over a shared love of Nevada, its beauty and wildness, and yes, even the animals. I can't count how many times I heard hunters say, "We're so lucky to have this," as they gestured to the land around us. But it really began to bother me that I never encountered a hiker, a cyclist, a camper, or even another equestrian. This became a regular topic of conversation between Ryan and I. Why aren't people out here using this incredible resource? we'd ask each other.
It takes a long time to plan a long ride. There are so many logistics to work out -- feed, water, gear, etc. But, even when I was planning my first ride, the one thing that didn't take long for me to decide was where to ride. I could have gone to any state, to any number of designated trails. But, it was obvious to me from the very beginning that I should take advantage of what was right outside my door.
This is one of my favorite maps. The areas in red are public lands. Ponder it for a second if you will...
Every state has some public land, though the vast majority of it is in the West. Nevada has more than any other in the contiguous 48 states (>80%). By comparison, look at Texas, which has <5% federal land. Essentially what that means is that if you were trying to do a long ride in Texas, you would be restricted to public roads because most of the state is private property.
But all those areas in red -- with a few exceptions -- are free and open for use by anyone. For me, this means I can create my own long ride routes, choose my own trails and roads from millions of acres of land, and never have to worry about getting permission from a landowner for access. I couldn't do what I do without public lands. Likewise, that opportunity is available for every other American who is interested in hiking, biking, hunting, camping, or any other recreational activity.
Unfortunately, that freedom is under threat from people who think they have more of a right to the land than others. There is a movement underway to transfer federally-managed public lands to state ownership. Proponents readily admit that under their plan, millions of acres of public land would then be sold off to help states pay for the management of their remaining lands. Make no mistake, the privatization of public lands would be the end of open access for the rest of us. I saw very real evidence of this on my recent ride.
Incidents such as these will only increase with the transfer of public lands. You may not like the federal agencies managing public lands, but do not be fooled into thinking the land would be better off under state control or on the auction block. It most certainly would not be better off for wild horses and other wildlife. This issue is only going to grow more contentious over time, especially following the recent court ruling regarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Public lands belong to all of us, not just those who make the most noise. I encourage you to get to know the public land in your state (every state has some!) and discover why it is worth preserving if not for you, then for others. And please make your voice heard. There are a number of organizations who are working hard to keep public lands in public hands.
If you are an equestrian, please check out Backcountry Horsemen of America here: https://www.bcha.org/
If you are a hiker, skiier, cyclist, etc., please check out Outdoor Alliance here: http://www.outdooralliance.org/.
If you are a hunter or angler, please check out Backcountry Hunters & Anglers here: http://www.backcountryhunters.org/
Also check out:
The Wilderness Society
The Public Lands Foundation
High Country News
My experiences with The Nevada Discovery Ride have very much reinforced the value of public lands for me. That's why I love long riding in Nevada so much and will do all my future long rides on public lands. I wish I had seen more people out enjoying public lands during my previous rides, particularly equestrians who have a stake in keeping trails open. But no matter your interest: If you don't use it, you could lose it.
Well, after 74 days on the trail and 1,100+ miles we made it safely back home to Reno! We arrived to an amazing homecoming. Dozens of people (some on horseback!) greeted us with cheers as we rode into town. It was a wonderful way to end the ride. The Bureau of Land Management folks presented us with an absolutely beautiful belt buckle and Sage received lots of congratulatory carrots. It's honestly a little overwhelming to be back. So many mixed emotions. It feels strange not to sleep just feet away from Sage and hit the trail with him every day. Our whole routine has instantly changed! I was so mentally exhausted that first day back, but we are slowly adjusting the new reality.
I don't want to lose the wonderful momentum that we have so I've already begun to dive into post-ride stuff. I have several public presentations already booked and have posted them on the homepage. More will be added soon. I have thousands of photographs to sort through and organize and will begin to share them once that's complete. I also plan to start writing some gear reviews to share what worked and did not work for us on the trail for anyone interested in that. So many amazing things happened during our travels; I can't wait to share the stories with everyone!
But rest assured, our adventures aren't over. In fact, while we were still on the trail Ryan and I talked a lot about future rides! We have some great ideas for other places to explore and look forward to beginning to plan those adventures. We also want to do more to get other people out into our incredible public lands and have some plans for that as well. Stay tuned!
There are so many wonderful people and organizations who helped make this ride happen. Thank you to Carol Schley and Paul Boone for keeping our house and other animal companions well cared for in our absence. Thanks to the strangers who agreed to cache hay for us during the ride. Thank you as well to all our sponsors for their support and enthusiasm. Thank you to the Long Riders' Guild for their invaluable guidance.
Sorry it's been so long without an update! We haven't had cell service in FOREVER!!! That's part of the fun of riding in the backcountry though :)
Suffice it to say it would take a long time to tell you about all our adventures since the last update so here are some of the highlights:
- In the Owyhee Range we saw a stunning diversity of wild horses! Every coat color and pattern you can think of! One night during dinner we watched 50+ make their way down a hill to a water source. Sage made the mistake of whinnying at them and a magnificent red roan stallion took umbrage. Suddenly all 50+ came charging toward us! We threw down our food and took positions to protect Sage. My handy plastic bag came to the rescue as always and we managed to scare them all off. During the chaos Bella ate my dinner :(
- The weather really turned wild on us. We got snowed on in the Pine Forest Range and have endured freezing nighttime temperatures. But the hardest by far has been the rain. We have gotten poured on, which is not fun to ride in. I tried the other day, but after riding for 5 hours in constant rain I was soaked completely through and had to stop. Also gale force winds are not fun to ride into.
- We climbed our last great peaks awhile ago. Very tough acesents and descents, but stunning views. From high atop the Pine Forest Range I could even see the Sierra Nevada, which was very exciting for morale!
- Sage continues to see lots of "firsts", including wild burros! In the area around the Smoke Creek Desert we were delighted to see hundreds of burros. Sage was a little nervous about them and confused by their constant braying! They are just too cute and Ryan and I agreed we'll definitely be adopting a burro into our herd.
We're now just days away from home. It's hard to believe we're almost done. In some ways it feels as though the ride has flown by. We're excited for showers and decadent food (I'm skin and bones!!), but there's also a feeling of sadness to leave the trail. Part of us just wants to keep going! Bit sadly the end of the trail must come. So, everyone who can is invited to come see us make or official ride-in to Reno. We plan to arrive on Sunday, October 23 at 1pm at the Lemmon Valley Horse Arena (Deodar Way, Reno). Hope to see you there!
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.