PEDEE — A cold, rainy summer Saturday meant the trail was a little slick, but not what horse people refer to as “snowy river” slick. Photo by Emily Mentzer Robbin Barringer of Dallas adjusts the halter on her Arabian Ali before heading out to hit the trail. Mules and horses alike left skid marks on some of the slopes, but when it’s “snowy river” bad, that’s when a horse and rider are heading down a steep slope at such a rate that the horse’s rear is nearly on the ground, like in the movie “The Man from Snowy River.” Most of the trail was on old timber roads, but the bits that weren’t got more and more mucky. Only one part at the end made horses lift their feet extra high and pick up speed to avoid getting stuck. In the end, the sun decided to shine for the Polk County Saddle-ites Saddle Club’s third annual poker ride in Pedee — of course after all the riders had returned from the trail. The club puts on the poker ride annually. Club president Karen Porter said poker rides are a fun way for riders to gather to try out trails normally closed to the public. It was Trina Brotherton’s first time out to the ride. She brought Winston, a mustang trained through the Teens & Oregon Mustangs program. The program takes 20 teenage trainers and pairs them with 20 wild mustangs. The teens have 98 days to gentle the horses and prepare them for adoption at an event in August. She said she went to see the Mustangs, but left her wallet at home. The last thing she needed was another horse, she thought. But when Winston came back — that is, someone bought him and returned him — she couldn’t help but take him into her herd. At the time, Winston made five horses. Now she’s down to three — four if you count the donkey — having had to put down one of her old animals. Another horse is living with a relative. Photo by Emily Mentzer Rebecca Gillins of Rickreall leads the way with her 1-year-old son Colt, sporting his own chaps. “He’s been a good boy so far,” Brotherton of Pedee said of Winston, adding that she was hoping for a mild trail ride Saturday, and she got it. The trail, in spite of the few slippery spots, was well-mapped and maintained. Members of the saddle club spend weeks preparing the trail for guests, including mapping out a challenging — but not too challenging — route, mowing, cutting down blackberries and Scotch broom, and removing wasps nests. Trail riding is good for the soul, Brotherton said. “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man — or woman,” Brotherton said, unable to remember where she heard the phrase. Indeed, the scenery along the trail was idyllic, with wildflowers in full bloom. Foxgloves graced nearly every vantage point. Lee VanLaningham, a roper, said he enjoys coming out to the saddle club’s trail rides for the variety. “I’m used to arena riding,” he said, comparing it to NASCAR — turn left, then turn left again — riding circles in an arena. Photo by Emily Mentzer Colt Gillins, 1, of Rickreall says hello to one of the horses cooling off and fueling up after the two-hour ride. Trail rides provide both the rider and the horse more of a mental challenge — small logs to either step or jump over, tree branches to duck, slopes up and down. A rider must be paying attention on the trail to avoid getting a banged-up knee while traversing trees and corners. Robin Vandervelde and her grandson Gage Ferrando, 9, saddled up Gage’s horse, Pete. “He’s been riding for three years,” Vandervelde said of Gage. “He’ll be leading me out. This is only my horse’s third time out.” Gage was the youngest solo rider, but not the youngest. Colt Gillins, 1, of Rickreall took that title riding shotgun with his mother, Rebecca. It was Colt’s second ride in his young life. The oldest rider was 84-year-old Francis Baker of Dallas. Baker is known throughout the valley as the “Old Mule Man.” He and his family are the leaders of the pack. This year, it fell to his grandson Zane Baker to blaze the trail — and loop back a second time making sure no rider got lost. Photo by Emily Mentzer Carol Hemphill of Wren takes her horse into the creek to cool off and get a good drink. This was her first time riding the Saddle-ite’s poker ride. “Those mules know the trail,” Francis Baker said. “They know, boy.” Indeed, mules are known to be more steady-footed than horses because they can see where all their feet are at once. Mules, a cross between horses and donkeys, are recognizable because they have much longer ears than horses. Because of the fewer number of riders this year, the saddle club was able to send nearly everyone away from the poker ride with a prize, provided by local businesses and by club members. “We always enjoy this annual opportunity to share our trails with other riders who appreciate them, and we are grateful for all the riders who braved the soggy weather on Saturday,” Porter said. What is a poker ride? A poker ride is an event put on by a club — motorcycle, boat or in this case, horse — to raise money for the club and its causes. Riders pay for poker hands. Those with the highest hands get first pick of the prizes, donations made by businesses and club members. The Saddle-ites sponsor a scholarship for Polk County high school seniors interested in pursuing an education in an equine-related field. The club also completes projects for the Polk County Fairgrounds and Events Center, and sponsors 4-H and FFA equine activities. The club has been established for more than 50 years, and welcomes new members. It meets the second Thursday of the month. Meeting locations vary from members’ houses to local restaurants. See the Polk County Saddle-ites on Facebook for where the next meeting is. For more information about the club or the scholarship: Karen Porter, firstname.lastname@example.org.