Clinton, Nebraska to Valentine, Nebraska
100-Mile Horseback Ride in One Day
By Steve Moreland, written October 10, 1998
The year is 1998, modern times, almost the Millennium, and smack in the middle of the Space Age. There is absolutely no reason to ride horseback for 100 miles in one day, except possibly in the name of “recreation.” I am a life-long cattle rancher, proud to be a cowboy, and try to uphold as much old-time cowboy tradition as possible. Having read a lot of cattle country history, one thing that has always intrigued me was long-distance horse rides. The purpose of these rides usually had to do with an emergency of some kind, travelers just wanting to go from one place to another, or occasionally a promoted race with a big paycheck to the winner. The Pony Express was designed to deliver mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California by galloping riders changing horses every ten or fifteen miles, and going for seventy five to a hundred miles before relaying the mail to another pony express rider. There are modern-day competitive endurance rides of twenty-five, fifty, and one hundred miles in duration, with one rider on one horse.
As cattle ranchers, my wife and I and our kids and crew use horses extensively in the line of duty, and we cover quite a few miles in such fashion. Recently I acquired four young full-brother geldings from Montana. They are out of a Quarter Horse mare, and are sired by a Tennessee Walking Horse stallion that three years in a row won a 100 mile in one day endurance ride near Mount Rainier, in the state of Washington. This once again sparked my interest, and an idea began to take shape. Why not someday try to ride a hundred miles, but just trade horses every twenty miles so no one horse would get terribly tired. I voiced my plan to my wife, Carol, and she not only thought it worthy of doing, but declared that if I was going, she was coming along, too. This sounded good to me, as the old saying “misery loves company” does seem to apply. With my 47th birthday looming on the horizon, I figured the sooner the better. September this year was terribly hot, and we were still trying to finish putting up hay. We figured a full moon would be nice to light our ride if the day got late. Checking the calendar, October 5th, 1998 would be a full moon. Old West Days in Valentine, Nebraska (an event of cowboy poetry and music) was scheduled for the week-end before. We would just try for Friday, October 2nd, and plan to take in those festivities when we arrived.
Carol’s mother, Jean McGaughey, who lived in Gordon, volunteered to drive our pickup and horse trailer to keep us supplied with fresh horses. My dad, Bob Moreland, said he would help, and he also loaned us two horses, his full-brother 13 and 14-year-old registered Arabian riding and driving team. We gladly accepted both offers, and couldn’t have made everything work without their assistance.
Carol and I spent Thursday night in Gordon at the home of her folks, Royal and Jean McGaughey. Four of our horses spent the night in a corral at their farm just east of town. Our alarm was set for 4:00 a.m., and we were soon thereafter eating a good breakfast of oatmeal in Jean’s kitchen. Poking my head outside, the day didn’t look extremely delightful, as the temperature was hovering around 35 degrees and drizzling rain was coming down. Our wearing apparel of the day needed to be topped off with shotgun chaps, lace-up rubber overshoes, and ¾ length yellow slickers. We drove to the farm, caught up four shivering and not necessarily cooperative horses, loaded all four of them on a 16’ bumper hitch stock trailer, and headed out.
Clinton is a little wide spot in the road eight miles west of Gordon. The morning was dark as the ace of spades when we arrived, so we unloaded two horses under the town’s only street light. My first mount of the day was Red Fred, a stocking-legged sorrel with a blaze face and a spot on his belly. He is ten years old and half Paint, ¼ Morgan, 1/8th Arabian, and 1/8th Heinz 57. That should be a good combination for endurance, but his reputation is to be a little goofy with maybe some buck early, but he fades pretty fast when it comes to a long ride. I led him around in a couple circles, and eased on, trying not to rustle the slicker any more than necessary. He behaved, which made me thankful. Carol’s first horse of the day was the older of the two grey Arabians, and he also acted like a gentleman. We waved to Jean, and took off into the darkness at 6:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time, riding in the rain and headed east. Our route was to ride in the road ditch alongside Highway 20 for the next hundred miles—Valentine or Bust! . At least there wouldn’t be any gates to open. There is a sign on the south side of the highway that declares “Valentine 100 miles.” I now regret that we didn’t stop there long enough to take a photograph with a flashbulb.
We groped our way along in the darkness, trying to avoid steel posts and other obstacles. After a mile or two, a faint glimmer of daylight was starting to appear. The cloud cover, intermittent rain and drizzle, east wind, and temperatures in the lower 40 degree range remained the weather pattern throughout the day. Our chaps, overshoes, and slickers were necessary all the way to Valentine. It did have a cooling effect on the horses, and tended to keep Carol and me from getting sleepy. We traveled at either a fast trot or lope all the way, only walking our horses about the last quarter of a mile before switching to the next one.
We went through Gordon at 7:00 a.m. and jogged on east. Our horses were kind of losing steam. These were the two we worried the most about for distance, so only planned on going eighteen miles with them. Jean was driving our 1997 turquoise F350 Ford crew-cab pickup and pulled a 16’ white-colored Titan bumper hitch trailer, and was parked waiting for us at the Antelope Pride 4-H Club picnic table ten miles east of Gordon. We arrived at 8:30, and it was nearly 9:00 before we left, after unloading our fresh horses, switching saddles, putting the tired horses on the trailer, and drinking a little hot chocolate.
For the second stage of the trip, Carol was riding Dad’s other grey Arabian, and I was using Zippy, a big four-year-old bay gelding of Quarter Horse-Tennessee Walking Horse lineage. It was fun being on fresh horses again. We moved right out, and went into a pasture on the south side of the highway where traveling was pretty good for the next three miles. We loped right along. Coming back onto the roadway, the going was difficult. New pavement last summer and soft shoulders made the footing poor for our horses. Also, we tried to avoid riding on newly planted grass. A long-time friend, John Burton, knew what our plans were. He came along, and seemed to be in a friendly visiting mood. We finally had to casually mention that Valentine was still many miles ahead, so we needed to keep our horses on the move. We didn’t make very good time for a few miles, but eventually got back to solider wider ditches and could hustle again. A few miles west of Merriman, a pickup stopped out in front of us and waited until we arrived. Dale Lewis, from the Bennett County Booster newspaper in Martin, South Dakota was there with camera in hand. Also with him were Jack Audiss and my dad, Bob Moreland. They said their “howdies,” and we kept on chuggin’. By this time, our used-to-be fresh horses had lost some of their luster. I mentioned to Dale that I felt like I was driving with the emergency brake engaged.
We trotted on into Merriman at 11:10 a.m., having made the last twenty miles in two hours and ten minutes. Dad had six fresh horses on a 24’ gooseneck trailer waiting for us, so we unloaded them, unsaddled our tired horses, and saddled two fresh horses. Then we loaded the four “tired” horses on Dad’s outfit for him to take back home, and put the other four “new” horses on Jean’s trailer for her to take along. Rich Cobb, Mike Witt, and Tubb Fish were there to assist us and wish us well, which made the switching easier. Carol and I each took a few swigs of water and about a third of a roast beef sandwich each, climbed aboard our new steeds and kept on riding east, leaving at 11:30. This time Carol was riding her roan nine-year-old “favorite” cow-horse, Nipper. I chose Rock, a palomino five-year-old full brother to the last horse I rode. This was to be our longest stretch, as we planned to ride twenty-four miles on to Cody.
As we rode by the cedar trees on the south side of the highway near the Eli turn-off, I mentioned to my bride that I might slip into those trees to go to the bathroom. We had a lot of miles to cover, and she gruffly reminded me, “Well, you just went out west of Merriman.” I had to smilingly admit that was only about eighteen miles ago, so surely I could make it another fourteen horseback miles until we got to Cody. I did, too. As we rode up the hill east of the Eli turn-off, ol’ Nipper shied going around a culvert. My bride seemed disgusted at her horse, so I casually mentioned that it might be a long trip if she was going to be grouchy. I gave her a salted nut roll candy bar out of my slicker pocket, and she was sweet and cheerful the rest of the trip. We rode into Cody at 2:30, having made the last 24 miles in exactly three hours.
With 62 miles now behind us, some of our get-up had got up and gone. Jean parked at the Cody Oil-Double D Café, so we went in for a few minutes. I headed for the door with the dog that said “Pointers,” while Carol sought out the doggie door that proclaimed “Setters.” A big bottle of Mountain Dew with lots of caffeine seemed to be in order for me, and Carol indulged in something similar. A lot of people were in town, as there was a football game on with Cody playing the visiting team of Hyannis. (They pretty badly stomped the Cody boys. Our son Will plays on the Cody team, and he did make about three noteworthy tackles.) We visited with some folks as we swapped horses once again, and we resumed our journey at 3:00 p.m., taking a minute to poke our heads in at Lancaster Livestock to report that we had made it this far.
Carol rode Brownie, a 14-year-old grade Quarter Horse gelding, and I was riding my son’s favorite, a six-year-old registered Quarter Horse he calls Spud. The going was smooth, and these horses moved right out. Spud has a real long ground-covering trot, and Brownie had to lope quite a bit to keep up, but we made the sixteen miles to Kilgore in an hour and twenty minutes. Jean was parked there, and my mom and dad drove up on their way to Valentine for the cowboy poetry doings, so we visited and stretched for almost twenty minutes. Mom had along her famous chocolate chip cookies, which tasted mighty good then, too. We rode these horses another four miles to the German Settlement road and changed horses for the last time. This time Carol saddled a black three-year-old named Tucker, and I put my gear on a tall Paint seven-year-old that I call Tomahawk. We left this stop at 5:30.
Darkness was fast approaching, and Tomahawk was wanting to cover miles fast, so we did. Tucker and Carol kept right up. We went through Crookston at 6:10 p.m. Our three kids, Will, Tiffany, and Brock came along about then, driven by my sister Sybil in her Ford Explorer. They stopped near where Jean was parked with the pickup and trailer. It was all but dark by this time, with eleven miles yet to go. I had an idea—let’s go another mile and say we’d ridden 90 miles in one day, load the horses, and still get to Valentine in time for that evening’s poetry and music performance. Carol vetoed the suggestion, so on we rode. Jean, Sybil, and the kids drove on to Valentine, and they and my folks took in the Friday evening program.
It was kind of hazardous riding down in the road ditch in the pitch dark, because every time a car came along, the headlights would blind us and the horses. The moon would have been pretty illuminating except the cloud cover was too thick. We didn’t have a flashlight. The old railroad bed, abandoned by trains and now devoid of tracks, looked inviting at this point. A lady was walking her dog near her ranch, so we asked if she thought we could travel there alright. She thought we could and said there was only one fence across it that she knew about. There were others also, and we found the first one as our horses were trotting along in the dark side by side at a pretty good clip. Fortunately neither horse got hurt. I dismounted and got the wires away from the horses’ feet, and we proceeded with considerably more caution. The “candlestick weeds” tended to look a lot like fence posts in the dark. Other obstacles were the wooden bridges. Our horses didn’t like the first one at all, but became fairly proficient before the last of the five or six were negotiated. I was riding my tallest horse of the day, and my poor old joints were getting kind of stiff. Each time I got off to negotiate another fence wire, climbing back on became more of a problem. I could generally hit the stirrup with my foot on the first try, but it was definitely mind over matter to get the rest of the way on. The thought of just camping right there even entered our minds. We kept riding along, and it seemed like the lights of Valentine kept getting farther away! Finally we arrived in town at 8:15 Mountain Daylight Time, but by then we had crossed into another time zone. It was 9:15 Central Daylight Time, which Valentine is on. Soon the lights of the Raine Motel were looking mighty inviting. For the past fourteen hours and fifteen minutes we had ridden in the rain, and it was going to feel pretty darn good to sleep in the Raine all night.
The pickup, horse trailer, and four horses were sitting in the motel parking lot. We unsaddled the two we were riding, and tried to load all six on the 6’ x 16’ trailer. Five fit well, so I hauled them down to the Valentine Livestock Auction, where we had made arrangements to leave them. Carol waited with the remaining horse, and I came back for it after I had gotten the others settled. She paid for the motel room, and hit the bath tub while I took care of the final horse. I really can’t remember when I’ve ever felt quite as tired and stiff as I did that night. Neither of us were at all saddle sore, but just kind of “rode hard, hung up wet,” and tired to the bone.
We are glad we did the ride and can say we’ve “been there and done that,” when it comes to having ridden horseback one hundred miles in one day. Maybe just not again anytime real soon.
We appreciate all the work that the Old West Days committee does each year to make this event truly great, and we dedicate our ride efforts to the pioneer spirit of keeping the Old West alive and well.
Steve and Carol Moreland