My Virtual Trail Ride

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Every year, even with my show schedule, I plan at least one trail ride. I've done that for so many years that, when August comes around, I crave it. This year was no different . . . and I knew where I was going to go. Last year, I could only get away to the Potato Range for one day with a night each end of it at Tatlayoko Lake, the starting point of the ride. Much too short and I couldn't see as much as I wanted to. "This year," I said to myself, " I'll go for three days!

Tatlayoko Lake
But since my two "trail horses" (trained reining horses) were both in foal, I had a problem - what horse to ride . . . or pack. Undaunted, I decided Whisper could make the ride if I conditioned her, which took care of the first problem but not the second. (I didn't want to risk Legacy's foal.) Finally, I asked another woman if she would like to go with me (and supply a pack horse!). She did and we started planning.

First I needed to hone my packing skills, so I dragged out all the tack, caught Wolf, who had never been packed, and went through the process. it seems I didn't forget how and Wolf was a good sport - too bad I can't use him but taking a stallion as a packhorse is out!

On with the plan. I set dates, made lists, dug out maps, and collected items for the pack boxes. Then life got in the way. My hay supplier phoned with a number for another fellow who was going to bale small square bales. I needed those bales and haying weather is not something you take a chance on. I cancelled the ride in favour of picking up bales.

Mischa and I on top of the load.
But now I was ticked. My head was on the Potato Trail, especially since I had been going over maps, photos and Google Earth. As I do when I am disapointed or stressed, I started playing with the capabilities of the internet and my computer. What I came up with was a few "virtual" tours of the area - with the aid of Google Earth and my GPS readings. Check these out:

This tour starts after I reached the top, a three hour ride with an elevation gain of 3500 feet. Ride along with me on the Potato Trail to Echo Lakes. I have ridden here three times - a long day ride with Crystal to find the trails (isn't that half the fun?), then with Alberta friends for 3 1/2 days in 2009, then my one-day ride last year. (Click 'play' to get started)

Another option, more of a route than a trail, is to ride the crest overlooking Tatlayoko Lake. I have been to three points on this route but have not yet ridden it in its entirety. It may be more of a hiking trail than a riding trail. I have seen enough to know it is rough, rocky, windy and there could be patches of snow. Elevation is 6500-7000 feet! Here is a tour of the crest.

From Echo Lakes, (where we camped overnight in 2009), my friends and I found a wonderful trail leading through semi-open terrrain (some without marked trails!) to the southern end of the crest route.

From there, we wandered down a little to Dunlap and Gillian Lakes, two quiet alpine lakes with a view of the mountains behind Chilko Lake to the southeast. We ate our lunch between these lakes in 2009 (This year, I was going to camp between the lakes.), made our way back to the northern most Echo Lake (after trying to take a shortcut through a bog), camped there overnight and continued back to the old corrals at the top and down to Tatlayoko Lake the next day. Here is a tour from Gillian and Dunlap Lakes to the old corrals at the top (before the long descent to the lake).

Well, that was fun . . . and I almost did go along for the ride. I could easily put myself on the Potato Trail as I played these tours. However, they are no substitute for the real thing. Next year nothing is going to get in my way!

Note: If you would like to see these "tours" on a bigger screen, you can view on my website under "Google Earth Tours" I hope to add some more tours of other trails in the future.

Berry, Berry Good

Posted by Sharon Labels: ,

Two women, black dog scampering at their side and berry pails in hand, walk toward the setting sun along an old trail flanked by brush and trees. Mosquitoes and black flies buzzing around their heads, feet occasionally tangling in the tall grass bent over the seldom-used path, they trudge on with one purpose – to harvest the wild berries growing on both sides of the trail before the bears do. A whimsical glimpse into the past? A scene out of a pioneer movie? Nope - not another century or a movie. Just Crystal and I in search of saskatoon berries.

But that old fashioned scene is what came to mind as we made our way through tall grass, rose bushes and weeds. I chuckled. “A vision just popped into my head,” I said to Crystal, “Of women in long dresses and bonnets with lard pails in their hands walking down this trail a hundred years ago!”

I’m sure we were, literally, following in the footsteps of pioneer women picking saskatoon berries along this same trail. But instead of long calico dresses, we wore blue jeans; instead of bonnets we wore ball caps; instead of lard pails, we carried plastic ice cream buckets. Behind us, though, Chilco Ranch stood as it had for almost a century. Below us the Chilcotin River ran just as swift and just as beautiful. And on either side of this old trail saskatoon bushes still offered fruit to those who came for it.

I have a long-standing love for saskatoons. Since I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, I was introduced to the delicious berry at a young age. Saskatoons were readily available – and free for the taking – so all the women picked and canned as many quarts as they could for winter fruit. How I loved canned saskatoons. One of my most poignant memories (and I don’t know why this is so real to me today) is of my grandmother setting dishes of saskatoons with a dab of fresh cream floating in the middle in front of my brother and I at her table in her kitchen at Elbow! (It's odd how random memories stay with us... I remember almost nothing of grandma and grandpa at their Elbow home.) Of course in those years there were no freezers so my grandmother and my mother canned as many quarts as they could, only using fresh berries for a few pies or dished up with sugar and cream.

At the Diamond Dot Ranch, where I was raised, most of the sasktoons grew in the coulees. One coulee, in particular, was the first place we headed to pick. Grandma’s Coulee (named not for my grandmother but for my mother’s grandmother) had the best and most berries.

My husband, too, had many stories of saskatoons. What he remembers is picking gallons of them and selling them for 25 cents/quart to buy shoes for school. Since he had ten siblings, that was a lot of saskatoons!

I picked saskatoons (and other wild berries as well!) and canned or froze them every year when I lived in Saskatchewan but when I moved to BC, I could not find any in the Okanagan. Here, in the Chilcotin, I am back in saskatoon land – if the year is good for them (which often it is not) and if I can beat the bears to them. This year, with all the rain, they are plentiful and I have picked three times. The last two times I rode Whisper to the bottom land by the river, ice cream pail in hand, picked it full with the reins looped over my arm, and carried the pail home on horseback. I can imagine children doing much the same a century ago – only they probably rode bareback. Maybe things haven'e changed as much as I thought...

Saskatoons that I picked yesterday by the Chilcotin River
I’m pretty sure, though, in this day and age, that only a few pick wild berries anymore, and they are missing something - the peace of the wilderness, the feeling of getting back to nature and the satisfaction of adding to the larder with no cost! Most of all, those berries still taste just as good as they did when I was a child. Berry, berry good…

Saskatoon pie - the biggest reason I pick!


Posted by Sharon Labels: , ,

“Nothing in the world is permanent and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Nope. Nothing is the world is permanent . . . and I am changing one element of my life that had become almost permanent. As of August 1, 2011, I am no longer showing reining horses.

For most of my life, I have competed in the horse world, first barrel racing, then, for the last 31 years, reining.Now it's time – time to slow down, time to do other things with my horses, time to see more of my family, time to quit hauling to reining shows. Not a decision to be made lightly but a decision that had to be made just the same. This is how it all went down…

For the last three years, I have considered stepping down but, with two stallions to promote and (I must admit) a love of the sport, I continued to haul to three or four shows a year. Living alone as I do, with full responsibility of the entire operation – breeding, training, caring for and managing the horses – the actual execution of packing up for a show had become a little overwhelming. Still, because it is what I do, I planned for two reining shows in 2011 and told my friends I did not know if I would compete at any others. I hauled both stallions to Prince George the end of June for the show there. A month later, I loaded the boys again for Armstrong, arriving safely but tired.

Watching the show with Mischa.
On the second day of the show, I knew that show would be my last. I still was one of the last to leave the arena at night and one of the first in the morning, but reduced sleep and unforgiving heat was taking its toll. I was not in my best “show mode”. I lost my appetite and leg cramps hampered me in the first run on Walking With Wolves in the Derby.

Walking With Wolves and I in Armstrong

Working out the cramp, I mounted Running With Wolves for his Derby run and ran reining pattern #9 with all the determination and drive I could muster. After the final stop, I leaned down and stroked Wolf"s neck and whispered "thank you" even though he had incurred a major penalty. Wolf, as he always does, strode to the judges, ears up and eager. As I dismounted for the bit check, I looked at them and said, “I have something to tell you.” They looked a little confused.

“That was my last competitive run,” I explained, “ and you, Morgan (Morgan Lybbert was one of the judges) competed in the same class as I did in my first reining show at Saskatchewan Stakes and Futurities in 1980! This is somehow fitting…”

Running With Wolves and I in the Derby at Armstrong.

Competing has always been a struggle for me, but somehow I kept doing it. Most of this time, I trained and travelled by myself; most of those years, I didn't have an indoor arena so I rode in the wind, rain and snow; I trained reining horses without benefit of sliding ground a large percentage of time! But I brought many three-year-olds to their first futurity and, although I seldom won, they didn't disappoint me either . . . and they were around for many years, sound of mind and body, to pack others around the pen. One rather interesting fact only just occurred to me: In 31 years of reining, I never showed a horse trained by someone else! I think I am rather proud of that!

I know one thing for sure - I must find something to fill the void. I need excitement in my life and I need to do something exciting with my horses! I'm thinking more trail riding (Ididn't have enough time to trail ride when I showed!) but I have a few other ideas too. I'll still be riding, breeding quality reining horses (4 coming next spring) and still training. I've just taken competing out of my schedule.

Saying it makes it real. Yes, I love to rein and I love to show my reining horses (See Somerset Maughn's quote re: "...foolish not to take delight..."). Will I miss the reining pen? Of course. Was it hard to quit? Unbelievably difficult. And scary… But, in the words of Erica Jong,

I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change... I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back...”

It's not written in stone...

Photo credit for all photos: John Woods