BRITT- The 21 miles of cross-country ski trails at the Big Aspen Ski Area were the perfect place for a trail ride, but this horseback ride was something special. Combine trail riding with a scavenger …
BRITT- The 21 miles of cross-country ski trails at the Big Aspen Ski Area were the perfect place for a trail ride, but this horseback ride was something special. Combine trail riding with a scavenger hunt and then add in orienteering and you get a hobo ride.
“It’s a big challenge,” said ten-year-old Alex Woitala, of Embarrass, who has been hobo riding since he was four.
While Alex was one of the youngest rider this day, the event appeals to all ages including seniors, and also attracts more men than traditional horse shows or play days.
“This is riding with a purpose,” said Pam Peterson, of Tower, who was taking her mother, Karen Frazee, out on her first hobo foray.
Deb Nelson, of Embarrass, had daughters Shelby and Jenni in tow.
“I’ve been doing this longer than I can remember,” she said. “I had no sense of direction when I started, but now I’ve learned how to use a map and compass.” Her daughters were mostly along for the ride, relishing the opportunity to spend several hours riding their horses through trails in the woods.
Imagine setting off with a map and compass, on horseback, with a team of three or four riders. You get a map of the interlocking loop of wooded trails, which has five spots marked. Each team will decide which marker to try to find first. Once you reach a numbered spot, which has a highly-visible prop, you then follow orienteering directions, such as 165 degrees to the station from the pink fishing pole on the birch tree, and 15 degrees from the station to the brown fishing rod on the balsam. If you follow the directions correctly, where the two lines intersect you will spot a white paper plate, with a code that you write down; then you quickly trot off to find the next clue. The plate may be high or low, easy to spot, or well camouflaged.
Horseback Orienteering, or Hobo Riding, is a more family-friendly version of Competitive Mounted Orienteering, which is a nationwide sport.
A dedicated group of trail riding enthusiasts has been keeping this tradition alive in the north woods for over 25 years. The rides can last as long as four hours, and require a day-long commitment from the changing cast of volunteer organizers, who spend about half a day setting up the course, and then once the hunt is over, need to clear the course of markers and props.
The first ride of the 2016 season was organized by Beth Rolfson and Pam Myre.
“The group puts on around 10 rides each year,” they said.
The rides are timed, and the top six teams win cash prizes, which vary depending on the number of riders participating that day. The cost for the event is quite reasonable, usually $8 for adults and half that for children. Newcomers are encouraged, and a quick lesson on map and compass reading is conducted prior to the start of each event. And the race directors, if this week’s ride was any example, were sure to give new riders plenty of tips and encouragement before they set out.
“You do have to have a thick skin to put on a ride,” said Rolfson. After the ride, participants gather for a trailside lunch and will recount their adventures on the trail that morning, along with complaints about any clues that were too hard to find.
Riders came from all across northeastern Minnesota, and from as far away as Brainerd. Anita Doty drove up from Duluth to ride with friend Terry Radtke, from Embarrass.
“We live for these rides,” said Radtke, who has been doing hobos for 25 years.
Jackie Swartz, from Lakeland, said that her horse loves the competitive nature of the ride. Rolfson said Swartz’s team is often the fastest out on the trail, but Swartz said she has just as much fun if she comes in first, or last.
Bonnie McDermott drove up from Brainerd with her son Gabe, who said he hadn’t done a hobo ride since he was a kid. Gabe said this was the perfect way to spend a Mother’s Day weekend.
Sandra Tuominen, from Wuori, was taking part in her first-ever hobo, along with kids Angelia and Arthur.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” she said. “We are all excited.”
Each ride is held at a different location; some of the more popular locations are Stony Brook Horse Camp near Side Lake, the Tower Cross-Country Ski Trails, and the trails by Giants Ridge.
Rolfson said as far as they know, this is the only organized hobo group in the state. The group has its own facebook page (www.facebook.com/groups/775207802587379/) and also sends out a newsletter to interested riders.
The group’s next ride is scheduled for May 21 at Stony Brook Horse Camp.
“It’s a really nice place to ride,” said Rolfson.