This past June I had the opportunity to accompany my friend Jane and crew for her at the Fort Howes Endurance Ride near Ashland, Montana. I did not have to think long about that, a fun girls trip to Montana, bring your horse, camping and a chance to finally see a part of Montana—I quickly said yes.
We headed out of Boulder the Wednesday before the ride the following weekend. Jane was riding the 100 and RoseBud was ready, Nico (my horse) was along for the fun. Neither of us knew what our final destination looked like, we were very excited about another adventure and the surprises ahead.
We cruised up I-25 into Wyoming and had intended on spending the night in Casper. That fell through, so I mentioned to Jane that Nico’s breeder has always extended a visit to the ranch should I be in the area. I had Nico’s binder and all the papers so I gave them a ring! Mike and Lillian, though busy with family birthdays, were happy to have us. As we approached Buffalo, Wyoming we called Mike and found out that a weather front had been dumping rain for hours causing a lot of mud at the ranch. Mike suggested we overnight at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Buffalo just off I-25. Well that turned out to be a great idea. It couldn’t have been easier, though I sadly missed seeing Mike and Lillian, it had been nine years since I bought Nico from them. Jane and I cruised around the Fairgrounds checking out our choices of camping spots, pens, stalls and the new bathroom (the cleanest I have ever seen)! We finally chose a spot near the brand spanking new restroom (no shower). The rain had stopped, the skies cleared and Rosie and Nico couldn’t have been more comfortable in there open air stalls. We let the horses loose in the enormous outdoor arena and they trotted around checking things out. There were a couple of horses around, a longhorn steer, and a few swine. As twilight fell two big horned owls sat overhead on the light posts hooting into the night.
Off To Montana We Go
After a good nights sleep, and a leisurely start to the morning we loaded up the ponies and headed up to Montana. I tried to contact Mike again in the morning but the cell service was out and it remained out until we got almost to the Wyoming/Montana border. Apparently a cable had been cut. I was sad to have missed them.
The Big Horns are incredibly beautiful, and the scenery as we cruised up to Montana just kept getting greener and greener. We arrived at Exit 212, and turned east passing the Little Bighorn Battlefield. There is a lot of history in the Big Horns and this area of Montana, settlers, Indian wars and the like. We did not stop at the Battlefield, but it was recommended and we will have to visit it next trip. Passing through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation we arrived at Busby then turned south traveling down a beautiful valley with hoodoos, rolling hills, and ranches. About another 25 miles later we arrived at Fort Howes, a private ranch bordering the Custer National Forest.
The camp lay in the greenest alfalfa fields (Nico thought he had died and gone to heaven), wildflowers, red-winged blackbirds and bluebirds flitting and singing along the meandering river with the historic Fort sitting up high on a butte above us. Water troughs were placed throughout the camp valley and sitting right in the center was the biggest red and white circus carney tent. What a hoot!
There was already big, and I mean BIG, FEI rigs at camp. This ride was FEI sanctioned and teams had arrived a few days prior to the ride in order to begin training. Jane had arranged to have two pens for RoseBud and Nico, instead of using the Spring Ties on the trailer, others had put up portable electric pens.
We were just a short distance to the tent, I said to Jane, “Jane, there are people dressed up like settlers at the tent”, we came to find out that they were Amish men, women and children who help with all the food at the ride. Who new there was a large Amish community in Ashland, a short distance away. While the Amish were busily preparing the evenings steak dinner with all the fixins—we set up camp as a light wind came down from the north valley. After dinner a storm brought light rain and a light show in the distance, the ponies were cozy in their raincoats and we tucked into our beds.
Our First Morning At Fort Howes
Morning was cool and overcast, riders were already out for the day exploring trails. The first riders start tomorrow. Jane and I tacked up after breakfast and rode out along freshly mowed trails in the alfalfa fields. It was like a grass racetrack, Nico was happy to travel the trail of food along the meandering river. We took a game trail and climbed up through the terrain covered with Paleoindian flakes and tools. Afterwards we came back down to the mowed track and traveled through lush green meadows, past hoodoos, and burned forests. FEI riders breezed past us, on incredible steeds, wild as a mustang.
Visiting With the Amish
Jane and I walked over to see what the Amish women were offering under the white tent, just off to the side of the carney tent. Me oh my…they had blueberry, raspberry, coconut macaroon, and Rhubard pies, brownies and fresh made doughnuts of course. All the sales were going towards their school. Who could resist a $6 rhubarb pie and some $25 cent doughnuts! They also had beautiful handmade rope halters made by one of the ladies nephew.
I later sat for quite some time talking with two Amish men. I so wanted to pull his beard to see if it was real. I asked him what he thought about all these crazy Arabs. “Well, he said, for this sport they are well suited, but for farm/ranch work I don’t quite see their purpose”. I also wondered to myself what they thought about all those gals in their skimpy riding tights, after all the you can only see the face and hands of the Amish women.
Back to work they went, this ride is a town event, and people come from the surrounding areas to help. Horse panels, food, grass mowing, water in camp and out on the trail, trail marking, veterinarians, scribes, book keeping, awards, port-o-potties, I am exhausted just writing this.
The Parade of Trucks
Since our arrival on Thursday it’s been a parade of rigs and trucks. Diesels and semis pulling incredible trailers. There were Canadians from Alberta, couples from South Dakota and so many others. They scurry about busier then beavers trying to level these behemoths simply to get that refrigerator to work, setting up panels and electric fences. Poodles, Corgies, German Shepards back and forth, round and round, Jane and I watch as we sat under the awning enjoying a cocktail, wrapped in out blankets while RoseBud and Nico rested in their pens.
Saturday morning Jane checked in and went through the initial ride vet check. RoseBud was all cleaned up, brushed and pretty as ever. She trotted out perfectly and was ready to go bright and early, 5:30 AM on Sunday morning.
The Morning of the 100 Miles
Riders could register for a 25, 50 75 or 100 at Fort Howes. Jane was doing the 100 miles. This was a loop ride, not a point to point like the Tevis. Loop rides can be a bit more challenging because once that horse figures out that they are heading back to camp that second or third tine around all hell can break loose, and that is what RoseBud figured out. As Jane returned back to camp on her several loops throughout the 100 miles Rosebud got wilder and wilder. Murray, Jane’s husband and I would strip her down put buckets of water on her, and get her cooler on. Jane would then go on the Vet check and the return back to camp where we would put ice boots on, electrolyte Rosie, offer her feed, and get her settled for about 30 to 40 minutes. Then off they went again until the 100 miles was completed.
Riders wear headlamps and some have light sticks on their tack. Flumes light the trail at night, it was a fuller moon and the trees created odd striping on the trail. Jane said that Rosie thought they were holes or ditches, though it was level ground. There were times that Rosie was so wild that Jane got off and ran, about 6 or so miles, when she decided to mount back up she stepped on bushes thinking they were rocks, she also believes she heard wolves in the distance.
Jane completed in a little over 17 hours, and arrived at about 2:30 AM. To my surprise she was lucid, happy and laughing as usual. Kudos to those volunteers and Vet’s who sit this out. A campfire was burning and car engines running keeping people warm as the last few riders came into camp. It was simply amazing to crew this ride and meet all the wonderful riders, volunteers, and crews.
If you think that this sport is right for you, crew a few rides for someone or volunteer at a ride in your area. Training both your horse and yourself for one of these is quite a commitment. Maybe consider training for a 25 miler and working up to the 50, 75 then 100.
After a good night sleep we headed back to Colorado and stopped off in Buffalo one last time to visit with Mike and Lillian, Nico’s breeders. We welcomed Lillian’s fresh made rolls and conversation on the porch with the beautiful green hills and Big Horn Mountains in the distance. Jane and I could have stayed there for weeks, watching the last two Andalusian geldings, Mike still had on the ranch playing in the pasture across from Nico and Rosie.
I hope you enjoyed our adventure, take one of your own and send me your story and pictures to share with our followers!
One thought on “Fort Howes”
Nice trip report, Linda! It makes me want to go!!!