Horseback riding quartet blazes Olympic Discovery Trail

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 7/10/18

A quartet of equestriennes got together to blaze a trail, so to speak, by riding from Port Townsend to Lake Crescent on the existing Olympic Discovery Trail.

“To my knowledge, we were the first …

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Horseback riding quartet blazes Olympic Discovery Trail

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A quartet of equestriennes got together to blaze a trail, so to speak, by riding from Port Townsend to Lake Crescent on the existing Olympic Discovery Trail.

“To my knowledge, we were the first horseback riders to do so,” Port Townsend resident Summer Martell said, after she and three of her girlfriends completed the ride from June 23 to June 27, beating her expected travel time of a week for the ride.

Martell explained she and her fellow local riders wanted to have “a fun adventure, while bringing goodwill” from one end of the Olympic Discovery Trail to the other.

“We wanted to promote and support not only the Olympic Discovery Trail, but all multi-use trails that include equestrians,” Martell said.

The Leader caught up with the Olympic Discovery Trail riders, after a journey taking them to a horse bed-and-breakfast in Gardiner, the Layton Hill Horse Camp off Highway 101 on the Miller Peninsula, and a friend’s ranch on the Elwha River in Port Angele.

Sally McGovern is originally from Scotland, but has lived in Poulsbo for several years, and has been riding horses for 15 years.

McGovern’s favorite part of the ride was being able to see so much countryside and new trails from the saddle, as well as spend time with her friends.

She was surprised by how the trail went through wooded forests and neighborhoods, as well as along highways, and by how many bridges there were along the way.

“I would definitely do something like this again,” McGovern said.

Emily Bishop is a 2002 graduate of Chimacum High School who has lived on Chimacum and Marrowstone Island “my whole life,” and has been riding for 23 years.

Bishop prepared for the trip by helping Martell find a suitable route from Four Corners to Discovery Bay, mapping out their daily mileage and overnight stops, and conditioning her own horse.

“My overall impression of the trip was how well the multi-use trail system works, with equestrians included, and how kind everyone we met on the trail was,” Bishop said. “One man even came out of his house in Port Angeles, to offer our horses water and ask if we needed anything.”

While those who met the riders seemed excited to see the horses, Bishop was grateful to be included in “such a once-in-a-lifetime adventure,” as she rated riding over the Elwha river, and along the river bottom, as among her favorite parts of the trip.

“I was real pleased with how well the horses did,” Bishop said.

Port Hadlock’s Sara Campbell, who graduated from Port Townsend High School in 1989, recalled her mom putting her on her first horse at the age of 2.

“If she and my dad had known how much that decision would ultimately cost them in money and time, she might have given me a baby chick instead,” Campbell said, noting riding lessons followed at 6, along with her first horse at 12.

At the age of 46, Campbell now has 34 years of horse ownership under her belt, but she remembered Martell contacting her last fall, about riding the Olympic Discovery Trail from Port Townsend to Port Angeles, before the idea was revised to be a bit more realistic.

According to Campbell, Bishop was recruited because of her shared hiking and camping experiences with Martell, while McGovern could provide photographic coverage to document their passage.

“Summer felt four was plenty, and more manageable,” Campbell said. “Summer and Emily planned it, and I just showed up. I’ve known Summer since high school.”

Campbell explained they began preparing their horses in March, because “you don’t just go out and ride 10-20 miles a day, for several days in a row. Even though most of the ride was flat, it was still asking a lot of the horses’ effort and fitness for them to carry us riders and all our baggage.”

Campbell had ridden three or four days at a stretch before, but never with an end goal in mind.

In addition, her horse was only 5, so relatively inexperienced, and Campbell herself has enough of a fear of heights that crossing certain bridges proved challenging for her.

Campbell consciously fought back against her “crabby hermit” nature to remain sociable around her fellow riders, and acknowledged distance riding can get “kind of boring” without bringing along a few books.

Still, the fact her job required her to return home a day earlier than the rest of the riders has her thinking, “when the trail is more complete on the west end, if it ever reaches the ocean, I would love to do that part.”

As it stood, Campbell and her fellow riders took time not only to allow people to pet and take photos of their horses, but the equestriennes also made sure to leave no trace of their presence on the trail, including any messes their horses might otherwise leave behind.

“We can all use these trails together,” Campbell said. “We just need to be aware that some folks are afraid of dogs or horses, and some horses and dogs are afraid of strollers or bicycles. I really feel everyone can enjoy all areas of this trail, so long as we remember we’re borrowing it from each other, and no one owns it. We’re all responsible for its maintenance.”

Martell graduated from PTHS in 1987 and started riding at 4, working her way up the foothills with her mother and her mother’s friends, “a group of hard-riding ladies” who nonetheless encouraged her.

“As an adult, I still love riding in the mountains,” Martell said. “Some of my most memorable rides have been up the Elwha river drainage in the Olympics, with my saddle horse and pack horse, falling asleep under stars, hearing nothing but the river and my horses grazing.”

Martell has ridden her horses on the eastern end of the Larry Scott Trail for more than 13 years, during all seasons and times of day, and has witnessed firsthand how much more popular the trail has become, among walkers, joggers, bicyclists and equestrians alike.

“I’ve come to view the trail as a community builder, giving people a way to get outside, get some fresh air and feel good,” Martell said, as she looked forward to seeing the linked Larry Scott and Olympic Discovery trails eventually head to the Pacific Ocean.

Because of the relative rarity of multi-use trails that also include equestrians, Martell has encouraged her fellow horseback riders to remove their manure from the trail.

“I vowed, when the Olympic Discovery Trail went from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean, I would ride my horse 200 miles to the ocean,” Martell said, noting last year’s expansion of the trail allowed people to walk, jog, bicycle or horseback ride from the head of Discovery Bay to west of Lake Crescent.”

As a pilot, Martell took to the air to scout out possible routes from the eastern end of the completed Larry Scott and Olympic Discovery trails, near Four Corners and state Route 20, to the head of Discovery Bay.

From there, she pieced together a route using back roads, and getting permission from property owners, while getting her horse in condition by riding him a least three days a week.

Martell credited Bishop with devising a riding plan that would see the equestriennes averaging 15 miles on horseback a day.

“My mother, Alison Sneed, was our primary horse trailer driver and support person,” Martell said. “During the ride, it was a brand new experience to wake up somewhere other than home, saddle my horse, and continue to ride in the same direction as the day before.  I really loved seeing new country and trails for the first time.”   

Martell was proud to see only two piles of manure on the trail during their ride, and was gratified she and Campbell were able to rescue an injured duck along the trail, west of the Sequim Bay Park.

“We considered the possibility of making a nest in one of our saddle bags, and riding ahead to the raptor center in Sequim, but Cynthia Daily of the Discovery Bay Wild Bird Rescue answered our phone call, and her husband, Connor, got into his car and met us on the trail, taking the duck back for care.”

As of press time, the duck, a bufflehead, is reported to be doing well.

The riders also discovered and reported an injured dog, about a mile and a half from the Elwha bridge, and even encountered their first covered bridge, which they were not expecting, just before the rest stop on Highway 101 near Morse Creek.

“The dog had a gash on its hip, but no paralysis,” Martell said. “And even after riding several miles a day, for hours at a stretch, our horses were still strong enough to want to trot fast, without our asking for speed. It was a wonderful indication that all the animals had been very well conditioned for the ride.”

By the time their ride ended, the equestriennes had logged approximately 80 miles.

“We didn’t make it around Lake Crescent, due to construction on the trail, but we intend to return and ride the trail to west of Lake Crescent, where it currently terminates.”

For more information on the trail, visit olympicdiscoverytrail.org.

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