WHAT DO YOU think of when someone says “watermelon-eating contest?”
I know my mental vision was shaken up when Jaymie Doane described what she and Erin Warren had planned for this year’s Mount Mueller ride.
This annual horseback ride is sponsored by the Mount Olympus chapter of Backcountry Horsemen.
Doane, the chapter’s membership chairman, and Warren, the treasurer, spearheaded organizing the event Sept. 21.
“The horses eat the watermelon,” Doane said.
I had to repeat what I heard.
She explained that people run with horses in hand on lead ropes from a starting line to the watermelon slices. Then the horses and/or people power through, eating the watermelon as fast as humanly or equinely possible, and the pairs run back across the line.
It seems not every horse likes watermelon, but a lot of people sure do.
The parking lot of the Littleton Horse Camp at the bottom west corner of the Mount Mueller trail gradually filled with horse trailers as the morning progressed.
Those campers and trailers that had spent the night were, for the most part, tucked back into the sites carved deep into the fir and hemlock forest.
The thing that struck me the most was how many kids were there.
As this system groans on and kids become more detached from the outdoors, it feels like a rarity to see kids romping wild and free in the woods.
Kids were on bicycles. They were walking dogs and horses.
Several times I saw kids who were climbing, falling down and getting up again just to get knocked down by an enthusiastic dog or two.
Sloan Pare said, “I wish you could ride with us,” and I was instantly transported to my horse-crazy self of 40 years ago.
Yeah, I wished I could ride that day, too.
Sloan and her sister Reegan walked me up the small hill to the paddocks where their family’s horses had spent the night.
Three chestnut horses stood in a row beside the gravel trail. Saddles were propped and waiting for use. Scraps of hay remaining from the horses’ breakfast lay on the damp ground.
We chatted about the temperaments of horses, baby brothers, good dads and fishing.
Joining the ride were members of the Ranahan Pony Club, Silver Spurs 4-H Club and the Peninsula Junior Rodeo Club.
Two Backcountry Horsemen, Jennifer Bond and Sabrina Meyer, were two of the adult riders taking a group of younger horsemen to Fouts’ Rock House, a giant boulder that split about three miles down the trail from the camp. Each kid had his or her own mount.
Sherry Baysinger later told me her grandson, Dax, surprised her by riding almost the whole way to the rock and back. He likes riding, but at his age of 6, spending three hours in the saddle is a challenge.
Perhaps part of his inspiration to stay in the saddle came from her warning when he got off his pony, Bella, to walk for a bit. She warned her little one that if Boone Jones, the packer for the Olympic National Park who works in the saddle five days a week and rides for fun the other two, was at camp when Dax came walking in, Jones would scold him and say, “Why walk like a dog when you can ride like a man?”
In about three minutes, Dax cowboyed up and rode into camp, sitting tall in the saddle like a true horseman.
Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or zorinabarker81 @gmail.com.
West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.