Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Mattes Saddle Pads

You may remember that in the autumn I was concerned about the fit of Lady's saddle at one point, as there is a dip behind her shoulder.  This caused the long panels of the saddle to bridge and led to discomfort, though I must add that she is the first horse I have had this issue with.  Happily the numnah of my Free and Easy saddle has the facility to add extra padding at relevant points, and I was easily able to remedy the situation once I had realised the problem. 
However as I am planning to use or alternate her as a pack horse for the next stage I have been worrying about the fit of the pack saddle, which does not offer this facility though an excellent piece of equipment which is adjustable widthways. I had been racking my brains for a solution when fortuitously at the last moment I came across the German company Mattes Equestrian, which manufacture high quality Correction system saddle pads. The correction system comprises two to eight pockets in the saddle pads  into which special polyflex shims can be inserted to level up the horse's back for the saddle. Shown below is the western version.
I am absolutely delighted that courtesy of managing director Peter Mattes the company have agreed to provide sponsorship in kind including two western saddle pads, which will be delivered to Missouri from the USA agent World Equestrian Brands. As it can be advisable to alternate horses for riding and packing duties, if both horses have their own saddle pad it will make it easier to swop riding and pack saddles should this be required.
For a short video showing how the correction system works click on the link ..
..and then 'Western Pad'.  The video will appear top left, but can be expanded by clicking bottom right on the video screen.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Keeping Safe

Renewing my travel insurance last week, I was reminded of the nasty fall I had in China at the beginning of the ride in 2009 when I broke my collarbone, six ribs and punctured a lung, which delayed me for three months
 My travel insurance company Sportscover Direct are one of the few companies to provide cover for more adventurous pursuits, and they have just asked if they could use my claim as a case study on their blog.  So here is the link with description of the commendable service they provided after my accident.
Here is the last photo of me on the culprit Zorbee in Chicheng about two days earlier, muffled up against a cold dusty wind from the north... 
 While on the subject of health and safety I must draw attention once again to my amazing riding hat.  The brim is an indispensable addition courtesy of Cutana hat brims, but the golden helmet is a Pro II made by Welsh-based firm Charles Owen, who are the absolute leaders in the field of riding helmets.
I have stated many times that my accident would have been far more serious if not fatal had I not been wearing my Charles Owen helmet.  Considering the damage my upper body received it is a miracle I did not receive any trauma to my head .
Charles Owen helmets may be on the more pricey side, but they are the best in the world, and the choice of top riders world-wide. The moral is that where one's life is concerned, it is a false economy to go for cheap and cheerful, and idiotic not to wear a helmet at all!
STOP PRESS -  the result of not wearing a Charles Owen helmet  
I must also recommend the company Kanteq. I wore one of their state of the art body protectors in the days when I was first back in the saddle and feeling fragile, and although body protectors are not always convenient for continuous long days of trekking, I still use it in potentially risky situations such as trying out a new horse.  They are brilliant for use in equine sports or training young horses. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Belated Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

A belated Blwyddyn Newydd Dda, or Happy New Year for those unfamiliar with Welsh. My short term New Year's resolution is to get this year's Christmas decorations down before next Christmas, but perhaps I shouldn't bother as some of them are hanging around from 2013 in any case.  However, since arriving back in Wales in October 2015, I have managed to almost catch up with bills, paperwork and blog (here is the evidence!), sell a house, keep the ponies from succumbing to the horrendous wet weather, plan out a tentative route for this year and survive the inordinate amount of celebrating my offspring seem obliged to do over Christmas and New Year.  New Year's Eve party theme was 'Out of this World' - I went as a Black Hole and came downstairs to find the sitting and dining rooms completely wrapped up in tin foil..
As we move into the new year 2016 I would also like to thank all the many people who helped and hosted me in both Canada and the USA during 2015.   I left Canada thinking that it would be difficult to equal the hospitality I received there, but was proved wrong.  It is a testament to the generosity of people from both countries that over the whole year I only spent two nights 'sleeping rough', though perfectly cosy in my sleeping bag.   I was taken into people's homes without question, on many occasions after I had just turned up on the doorstep with Lady in tow!

I am now in full swing preparing for this year's ride, and as you must have gathered by now, I intend to follow the Pony Express Trail. I have already been contacted by Petra Keller of the National Pony Express Association who sent me a digital file of most of the 2015 re-ride, and this has been invaluable in planning a more detailed route. To jog your memories, the NPEA run an annual re-ride following the original route between St Joseph and Sacramento as closely as possible.  An army of riders relay the mochila across country in around ten days, and it is now so well supported and organised that each rider only needs to cover a few miles.

Cousin Rowena will join the ride in the autumn when I plan to be riding from Salt Lake City to Sacramento.  This section includes extensive stretches of waterless desert in Utah and Nevada which will necessitate vehicle support to carry water and fodder. So I have been delighted that Californian rider Lucy Badenhoop (who has participated several times in the Pony Express re-ride) has kindly offered to provide this.  She will ride with us when possible.

Petra put me in touch with Samantha Szesciorska, who rode round Nevada on her mustang Sage in 2013 is planning another ride for 2016. Samantha was a fund of useful information including the novel idea of using a plastic bag to scare away wild stallions!  Pity I hadn't thought of that in Kazakhstan, though in fact the steppe stallions were not all that troublesome.   I have also had a couple of productive chats with Simon Casson who conceived and carried out a ride along the Outlaw Trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border via Utah and Wyoming in 1999, and wrote a fascinating book about it with one of his co- riders Richard Adamson.  see 'Riding The Outlaw Trail' which is available on Amazon.

I feel it is now imperative to have a GPS to tackle some of the more remote sections of the trail further west, and last weekend went on a GPS training course (yet again!) courtesy of GPS Training who have long experience in introducing the uninitiated to the mysteries of mapping and navigating GPS routes. Trainer Andy Ayre has subsequently been very helpful in sorting out a unit with relevant USA maps for me, so hopefully it will help to prevent me going astray in the Utah/Nevada desert. I have no desire to emulate mountain man Jedediah Smith who narrowly escaped dying of thirst there during his 1826 crossing.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Filling You In

...but in the informational not physical sense as there has been quite a gap in my blog posts since I arrived in St Joseph in October.
On Thursday October 15th Patti and Kenny from Greenacres Riding Centre came to fetch Lady and take her back to Jamesport where she is spending the winter in a large sheltered field with equine buddies.  Then it was a round trip to Chicago by hire car to move all my excess baggage to store in Patti's garage at Jamesport, passing through Hannibal, Mark Twain's boyhood home town en route.
Thus an obligatory selfie with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn..
On Sunday I met up in St Joe (as we locals call St Joseph) with Lyle Ladner, the current President of the National Pony Express Association, though I was rather bleary-eyed after a night sleeping in the car.  He not only treated me to a slap up breakfast, but promised to help as much as he can. It is helping hands such as this that makes me feel following the Pony Express Trail is now feasible in spite of the private land and desert areas that I will need to negotiate.

Fortified by breakfast and encouragement, I spent the rest of the day looking round the Pony Express museum in the former Pony Express stable block, and the huge Pattee House museum just up the road, a former luxury hotel which housed the Pony Express office.
The Pony Express was founded by William Russell, Alexander Majors and William Waddell in 1860. Surprisingly in view of its iconic place in the history of the Opening up of the West, it only lasted for eighteen months, overtaken by the construction of a telegraph line to California by autumn  1861.
St Joseph was chosen as the eastern end of the trail since at the time it was also the westernmost terminal of the railway. Mail bound for San Francisco arrived by train, was delivered to the Pony Express office in Pattee House and was then carried by Pony Express for 2000 miles across prairies, mountain ranges and deserts to Sacramento, passing through Salt Lake City en route.   Each rider covered about hundred miles between 'home stations', changing horses at smaller 'swing' stations positioned every 12-15 miles or so. The whole ride took about ten days, amazing when you consider it will conservatively take me around four or five months!  Apart from riding all day and night through baking summer heat and biting winter cold, not to mention tackling rivers in flood,  and deep snow in the mountains, the riders occasionally had to escape attacks by Paiute Indians.
A life size tableau of a pony express rider about to leave the stables....
..a bit too spookily realistic for me - don't think I will be emulating Ben Stiller's  'Night at the Museum'. 
 From here the rider would pick up the mail from the Pony Express office in Patee House and gallop down to board the ferry across the Missouri river.
An exact replica of the mochila which was used to carry the mail....
...this is a removable leather cover which in Pony Express days fitted over a specially designed lightweight saddle - if you look closely you can see the cantle and horn of the saddle poking through slits in the mochila.  Four lockable pockets or cantinas contained the mail. Three pockets carried mail for the whole distance, and only the station keepers at either end of the trail held a key. The fourth pocket which was at the front left hand side (thus not visible in the photo) was called a 'way pocket'  and was used for mail being picked up from or delivered to home stations - only the home station masters held keys.
At each station the mochila was rapidly removed from the exhausted horse and flung over the saddle of the fresh horse before the rider jumped on and galloped on his way.

Leaving Lady in Patti and Kenny's capable hands, I drove back to Chicago to spend my last evening in the USA having a Mexican meal out with the Crown Point 'girls' ...
L to R, Debbie who hosted me before I started out from Crown Point, me, Pat who looked after Lady over the summer, and last but not least Carol, who is behind the camera.
Many thanks to the public spirited Debbie for putting me up or rather putting up with me overnight, particularly as she was in right in the middle of moving house. What teenage fun to have a sleepover with Debbie, me and the dogs all piled on a mattress on the floor in the empty living room!
And all the best in your lovely new home!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Last Leg

Tuesday October 13th and a beautiful dawn start on the penultimate day of riding this year....
 Notice all the little birds on the wires ready to fly away for winter as I will shortly be doing!.....
I had not ridden far when a man in a pick-up stopped and introduced himself as Sam Perkins. It transpired that his great uncle was Tom Stevens who wrote 'Through Russia on a Mustang' which coincidentally I had started reading at home.  This was an account of a horseback ride from St Petersburg to the Crimea, although he is better known for cycling round the world on a penny farthing in 1884-6.
A curious longhorn with short horns?....
 A pair of turkey buzzards....
 I have crossed many rivers since China, but this one takes the prize for the most unusual name...
 Nearly there......
 Reaching the residential outskirts of St Joseph, the increase in traffic on the gravel roads has resulted in pleading signs.....
...not that they seem to have much effect...
I had arranged ahead to stay at the Sunset Hill Stables in Country Club, a northern extension of St Joseph urban sprawl.  This impressive facility is owned and run by Olivia Weidmaier, shown here with the elegant paint horse which is her pride and joy...
It was satisfying to relax with a cold beer on arrival (thanks Chad and Victor!)while Lady grazed peacefully by the stables before being turned out in an enormous field. I was delighted to be given use of a comfortable goose neck trailer with bed and electricity. In the evening Olivia and fiancĂ© Chad very kindly treated me to a Mexican meal, with a Sunset Margherita on the side!
Wednesday October 14th.  A beautiful morning for the last leg to the former Pony Express Stables in St Joseph, and it was a enjoyable relaxed ride with time to stop for an ice cream when I hit town.  Lady is tethered to the sign!... 
I had planned out a route through back roads and along the banks of the Missouri River or 'Big Muddy' as it was known for its muddy waters.  The mud banks caused problems for the paddle steamers that used to ply this important waterway, and it is estimated that about 193 sank between Kansas City and St Louis.  
Successful arrival at my destination for 2015, the Pony Express Stables at the centre of St Joseph.
 St Joseph was the western terminal for the Pony Express when it started in 1860, and the old stables have now been turned into a museum celebrating this great experiment.  Although the Pony Express only lasted for eighteen months, it has lived much longer in people's imaginations, and has fired the enthusiasm of many. The Pony Express Office was situated a couple of hundred yards up the road in Patee House, which is also now a museum, and it is from there that I intend to start riding next April.

But for the moment Lady deserves a winter break after over 1800 miles of travel this year.  You must admit that she is looking well after all the mileage.
A big thank you to Olivia's brother Victor, who thoughtfully volunteered to pick us up with the trailer, saving us the long trudge back to the stables. 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Jamesport to Amity

On Sunday October 11th Lady and I set off from Greenacres Stables on the last leg to St Joseph, which I planned to cover in three or four days. Lady seemed comfortable with the saddle so I hoped to be able to push on.
The Jamesport version of a vehicle repair garage.... 
Autumn is arriving in Jamesport....
 A scarecrow outside his house.....
The long road ahead - Lilac road from Jamesport towards Gallatin..


 Crossing Brushy Creek - just as well Lady is used to dodgy bridges....

We were travelling through the area of North west Missouri where the Mormons tried to settle in the 1800s.  Gallatin is significant as the location of the first skirmish in the 1838 conflict sometimes known as the Missouri Mormon War. Non Mormon settlers, worried about the increasing numbers and influence of Mormons, tried to prevent them from voting in state elections at Gallatin, causing a serious brawl. The conflict that followed resulted in the ejection of the Mormons from Missouri.

Now life is more peaceful and we stopped for a midday rest on the edge of town. The proprietors of the Mexican restaurant kindly refused payment for my drink and threw in some salsa and chips.  And gave Lady a bucket of water...

Nearing Altamont I started to look for somewhere to stay, and was given directions to the Lazy A ranch of John and Sharon Anthuis. The mini ponies were turfed out of their grassy paddock for Lady, I was given use of a large garage (with an enormous bar they had just bought at a sale!}, Sharon made me supper and I had a very pleasant stay chatting with the family including librarian daughter Michelle.  A firepit made by the talented Sharon.....
 Michell, John and Sharon are up and around for my early start on Monday October 12th .....
 Riding along a track on the other side of Altamont, I saw a figure riding over the brow of the hill towards me.  It was John and Sharon's daughter-in-law, prison officer Stacey Anthuis. who had come to meet me on 'her horse with no name' that she had bought out of the kill pen at a sale only three weeks previously.  It was great to have a bit of company on the road for a while.   Stacey feeds Lady and the horse with no name with hedge apples...
....which as well as being snacks for horses, are apparently great for keeping spiders at bay in your home.  
 No sign of Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday.....
Keeping my horses tanked up with water is an constant concern. Missouri is well supplied with water, but it is not always  easy to access.  The rolling countryside in this part of the country enables water to be dammed back in little valleys, and small lakes or ponds such as this were a common sight.
 ...but always sited on private land.  I often crossed creeks, but the sides tended to be too steep and overgrown to negotiate, and bottoms often too muddy or sandy to trust.  Rice Creek near Weatherby was a welcome exception...
 I managed to scramble down to the creek on the right, but you can see that the bank to the left would be more difficult.
 Lady still seemed happy with the saddle and the weather was not too hot, so I pushed on past Maysville to  Amity.  Here I found grazing and a cow stall for Lady with farmer Dennis Mix, shown here in the plush games room in his workshop, where I had the choice of two leather sofas to sleep on....
The room used to be a demonstration shop for the stoves Dennis sold. The one in the photo truly is amaizing as it runs on corn.  Dennis brought out a series of drinks, nibbles and food while I relaxed.
Some young visitors - Ryan, Hannah and Cole
Photo by their mother Christina Riner.  The workshop and barn where Lady and I stayed are in the background.

Monday, 23 November 2015


After a dawn start on Thursday October 8th, the first job was to find water for both Lady and myself.  Neither of us had drunk since the evening before and we were both thirsty, so after an hour and a half of walking I brightened up when I came across a few men outside a large shed.  They showed me a trough of clean water for Lady, and another kind gentleman up the road fetched a couple of bottles of drinking water for me.  Not before time, as the temperatures were climbing up into the 80s again.  I was glad to stop for a quick slushie at Macdonalds in Trenton, while Lady waited patiently at a brand new hitching rail they have erected outside at the request of the local Amish community. The manager came to take a photo as apparently we were the first to christen it!

Outside Trenton I encountered what must be the hairiest section of highway I have yet tackled, crossing the Thompson river at what I thought was the only bridge for miles.  The bridge was very long, the verge very narrow, the road very straight and the traffic very fast -  the semis (juggernauts or tractor-trailers depending on which part of the world you inhabit) hurtled past a whisker away having gathered momentum down a hill.

Of course, I could have kicked myself back home when I looked on Google Earth and realised there was a small secluded bridge about a third of a mile to the north, stressing the importance of careful research!
Thankfully we were soon back to less dangerous traffic of the reptilian variety on gravel backroads once more..
Although Lady had seemed much more comfortable with the new saddle padding, to be on the safe side I had led her quite a way in the heat.  So I chirped up when a cheerful woman in a car pulled up and introduced herself as the owner of Greenacres Riding Stables near Jamesport where I was headed.  Patti Gilham had kindly agreed to host me some time previously, and it was a real moral booster to hear that there would be supper and a glass of wine waiting - as she is half French I knew I could expect something decent!
Patti and Kenny run a therapeutic riding programme at the centre, and are busy through the summer with clients who have various disabilities.  As they do not have an indoor riding school they have to shut for the winter. They are both endlessly patient, and it is heart-warming to see the positive response from the pupils. 

It was a particularly hectic time as everyone was preparing for a show the following weekend.  In spite of all this they were very welcoming, and I decided to take the opportunity to have a couple of days off, rest Lady's back and do a little sightseeing.

 Jamesport is the centre of a thriving Amish community.   As former mayor of Jamesport, Patti had been asked to help judge at a local quilt-making competition, quilt making being a traditional activity among Amish women.  On Friday October 9th we drove into town to have a shifty at the results.
 Patti studying the display of fabulous prize winning quilts......
.....which you can see are remarkable for their vibrant colours and intricate detail - these are all hand stitched, and based round traditional patterns.      The quilts were due to be auctioned off the following day, and I was very tempted to go along and bid, but soon realised that they were likely to be well beyond my budget!

 Patti found time in her busy schedule to drive me out to an important Mormon site I was keen to visit, where Joseph Smith tried to found a Mormon settlement before they were thrown out of Missouri.  It was news to me, but apparently Adam and Eve came to live near Jamesport after they were ejected from the Garden of Eden, which as we already know was in Jackson County, Missouri. This site was named Adam-ondi-Ahman by Joseph, though no-one seems quite certain of its exact translation.  Something to do with Adam. In fact everything seems a bit vague when it comes to Adam-ondi-Ahman, including its exact location...

But where was the crest of the hill?  Perhaps it was this odd mound behind a nearby fence?...
...though it looked more like an underground nuclear bunker than a holy site.
Sometimes there is reference to the 'Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, which is in the background behind me, and admittedly very tranquil and scenic....
This was at Tower Hill, the site proposed for a Mormon temple in 1838.  I think. Or perhaps it was where the Nephites (the descendants of the Israelis who came over in steel boats) made sacrifices? Or both.   At any rate the Mormons now own around 3000 acres here which is maintained by them as a historic site, though there is nothing much more to see than farmland.   
It is also believed to be the location for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, when the worthy will be admitted to heaven. Which is why real estate in the area is being snapped up by Mormons frightened of being left behind.  

. Pumpkins ready for Halloween and Thanksgiving
Kenny and Patti relax with a beer  after a busy Saturday of rehearsals for the show the following weekend...
Little rescue dog Lola performs an American football trick Kenny has taught her, though she is a touch rusty to begin with!...
For the uninitiated, Kenny is using American football calls. 'Team down' is the call to set ready for a move, and 'Hut hut' is the signal to start play.
A fantastic Missouri sunset brings to a close a relaxing time out ...