Horses thrive in the mountain valleys of eastern Oregon. Originally the Indians of this region were renowned for the quality of their horsemanship and their herds. Later some of the early ranchers owned herds so large they could only guess at their numbers. Even today the Federal Government has to take extraordinary measures to keep the numbers of wild horses in this region within manageable limits.
It is also a great country for riders. This year in Bear Valley near the little town of Seneca where the Ochocos and the Blue mountains overlap, the very first Seneca Stampede
The Seneca Stampede is an endurance riding event held in association with the American Endurance Ride Conference
and Pacific Northwest Endurance Rides
They picked a perfect site, where the grasslands merge into the forest and the scent of pine and sagebrush mingle.
The Seneca Stampede offered twenty-five and fifty mile rides as well as well as a ride and tie competition. Endurance riding is a peculiar kind of competion. Covering ground quickly is important but the condition of the horse at the finish is as important. The standard is 'Fit to continue', that is the horse is not exhausted and could go further. A ride-and-tie event has two riders and one horse where the first rider rides to a certain point then ties the horse and starts running while the second rider, when they reach where the horse is tied, starts riding until the next station where they tie the horse and start running and so on.
Riders are timed as they set out on the course.
They will follow a trail marked by ribbons through the forests and meadows until they finally come back to the main camp.
As they come in, they are given their official time.
And a vet has to certify that the horse's heartbeat returns to normal within a specified time or they are disqualified.
There are places in the United States with even lower population densities but they tend to have harsh climates. And there are green and inviting spots in this country but they usually don't have many stretches where you can go fifty or a hundred miles without encountering a paved road. Eastern Oregon has the perfect combination of open space, gorgeous scenery and invigorating climate to make a day (or two) on horse back throughly enjoyable for both horse and rider.
caption = "Why do people go endurance riding? For that matter, why ride horses at all? I would like to offer an excerpt from an unpublished memoir written by a man named Arno Dosch Fleurot. Arno was a Portland native who spent most of his life as a foreign correspondent where he saw the trenches in WWI, the Irish Rebellion, the Russian Revolution and the spread of Fascism in Europe in the twenties and thirties. If you go on to the next page, you can read a something he wrote late in his life about a ride he took as a young man in Oregon around 1902.
Endurance riding circa 1902:
On Monday I told Mr. -- I wanted to buy a horse and he called up a racing-stable:
'Have you sold that little bay? Sound, is she? Yes, the price will be all right.' Then he hung up and said to me, 'A little mare anybody would steal. She's half standard half thoroughbred. She's got style. She's got everything except speed. Oh, speed enough for the road but not for the track. $75 is the price. Take it.'
It was well that the price was fixed. As soon as I saw Dora B I fell in love with her and I could hardly wait until I owned her. Her canter was a dream and she could also lay out and run like a barb. But she was at her best in harness, tail up, neck arched, legs slender as an Arab, nervous and impatient. Her eye was gentle and she caressed me with her lips. ...
The horse-blanket I bought her was soft and warm. ... After rubbing down Dora, cleaning her fetlocks, strapping the warm blanket around her slender body and kissing her good-night on the white star on her forehead, I usually found my mother alone, reading by an oil-lamp, supper for me laid out on a table on the other side of the fire-place...
I went home, threw a saddle on Dora and turned her head west. The mild Oregon spring lay over the wide valley before us. The scene was soft and homely. It was not dramatic enough to suit my mood. Beyond the Coast Range lay the Pacific throwing its combers against the cliffs. I turned Dora's head towards the foot-hills and took the Three Rivers' road through the dense forests of fir and spruce over the mountains to the sea. The road was bad. I dismounted and made my way among ruts and mud-holes, Dora slipping and scrambling along behind me. In the deep forest night overtook us and we slept supperless in the deserted cabin of some timber-cruiser. At dawn we splashed on and several hours later came out of the forest and out on a great grassy headland..
I sat down in the grass along the cliff and listened to the roar. Dora grazed.
I do not know how many hours I lay there, but when I sat up I found Dora lying down, her belly comfortably full of sweet grass.
Down behind the cliff I found a farm-house and a whole family who took us in, fed us and put us up for the night. They presumed that I had come to troll salmon in Nestucca Bay a mile or so away but when I told them I had come just to take a look at the ocean, they studied their plates. Harmlessly insane was probably their judgment. But I offered to row for one of the boys who was trolling in the morning, and that must have tranquilized them.
At the midday dinner I surprised those sane people by telling them that I was riding back right after dinner. An hour later Dora was again trailing me through the deep forest along the ruts and skirting the mud-holes which did not fill the whole road. As it was mid-April nightfall did not overtake us until we were over the divide. We could both see well enough to keep going. Sometimes I waded into the mud-holes above my knees and Dora, slipping off the roots of giant spruce, fell in so deep that I had to pull her out a leg at a time. On the mountain sides the cougars screamed like frightened women as they made their way up to the summits, and once they reached the top broke into diabolic laughter. Dora and I were much too busy pulling ourselves out of mud-holes to pay much attention to them. Down in the valley at last, I turned off the road towards the first farm-house, but the farmer loosed his dogs. I realized that this was newly-settled country and gave it up. Dora was shaken so I kept on afoot and at midnight we reached the pretty town of McMinnville. It was sound asleep but I found a livery-stable with the door wide open, so Dora and I lay down in a stall and fell asleep. About four I awoke cold and stiff. Dora scrambled to her feet as soon as I did and we both trotted down the road a mile or two to warm up before I mounted her. Dora knew she was on her way home, arched her neck, lifted her tail and trotted off briskly. Somewhere on the way I had a cup of coffee and at eleven in the morning I reached home. Why had I made that sixty miles of bad road, half of it on foot, in less than twenty-four hours, I would have been at a loss to explain. I was not trying to. I discovered when I unsaddled Dora that I had raised a saddle-blister on her silky hide and that took all my thoughts and emotions. I sponged off the quivering legs of the delicate creature, anointed the saddle-blister, calling myself all sorts of brutes, wrapped her up and swore that I would never take her out again except between the shafts. I did not know that it would be a long time before I even put a bridle on her again.
When she died at twenty-nine, my father wrote me about it. The letter was handed me as I sat before my unnecessarily solid desk in the Herkules Haus in Berlin and when I had read as far as how she wandered about and finally turned in the long grass until she made herself a bed, I glanced out on the formal lines of Lutzow Platz to steady myself, and felt a terrible long way from home. I have the letter yet. I have never been able to read it to the end.
Excerpt from a memoir written by Arno Dosch Fleurot for his daughters