Hoof Beats: Full moon ride

(Editor’s note: This is Casey’s second segment in the “Hoof Beats” blog series, which describes her travels in Indian Country on horseback. Read her first blog here.)

For my next equine adventure, I took to the mountainous terrain of central New Mexico. At night. With the only light coming from the full moon. Equal parts thrilling and terrifying, this ride was certainly one to remember.

Trent joined me this time, and we set off at dusk with our guide, a saddlebag of horse treats, and the promise of 90 minutes of pure exhilaration. We were not disappointed.

Having lived in Kansas all my life, navigating the rugged and sloping terrain in the approaching nightfall itself was hair-raising, not to mention that our horses took some rises and ridges at a run!

Our moon shadows followed us as we went up and down the undulating landscape and wove around canyon walls. We also had two canine companions loyally travel the trail with us — a shepherd mix and a Chihuahua. Rumor and Captain, the Tennessee Walking Horses Trent and I rode, happily munched on their well-deserved treats at the end of the ride.


After talking with our guide, I was very intrigued to find out that her horse, Arum (pictured below), was a registered Nez Perce horse. Arum’s name is derived from his golden coat and the Latin word for gold — Aurum.


Arum’s previous owner purchased him with the intent of riding him in the Chief Joseph Ride.

After researching the Chief Joseph Ride, I learned the history of this annual commemoration of the flight that 750 Nez Perce and 2,000 of their prized horses took in the late 1870s to escape the U.S. Calvary and the confines of a reservation once gold was discovered in their ancestral lands.

The chiefs of several independent Nez Perce bands, including Chief Joseph, led the group along the 1,300-mile journey. Having traveled for months through both the scorching summer and freezing winter temperatures, the people were frozen, starving and outnumbered by the cavalry 6 to 1.

On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph gave up the fight and ended his speech with a now-famous declaration: “I will fight no more forever” at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana, a mere 40 miles from the freedom of the Canadian border.


More than 50 years ago, the Idaho-based Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC) created The Chief Joseph Ride. Each year, the club helps riders on registered Appaloosas tackle a 100-mile portion of the trail on a five-day trek.

If you’re quick at math, you’ve already figured out that it takes 13 years to cover the entire 1,300-mile trail from start to finish. 2017 marks the fifth time the ride will start from the trail’s beginning in Wallowa, OR, since the ride began in 1964.

The ride attracts around 100 riders and their Appaloosas each year who aren’t deterred by the well-orchestrated, but admittedly primitive, camping conditions (i.e. no electricity and no running water). (Read more about the ride here.)

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Arum and his owner weren’t able to participate in the Chief Joseph ride, but as a Nez Perce horse alone, Arum leaves quite a legacy.

After the surrender at Bear Paw Battlefield, the U.S. Calvary seized the Nez Perce’s cherished horses; most were scattered and sold off, but a large number were also mercilessly killed.

The prized horse stock the Nez Perce had worked for years to breed — the “Ma’amin”was essentially eliminated.

To hearken back to this traditional lineage, the Nez Perce started a horse registry program in 1994 for its own breed, the Nez Perce horse, or “Nimipu Sik’em.”

To get as close to the build, temperament and endurance of the “Ma’amin” stock that originated from Russian fur traders, the tribe’s registry program cross breeds an Appaloosa with an ancient Asian breed, the Akhal-Teke of Turkmenistan.

As depicted in Janet Kern’s 2014 documentary, “Horse Tribe,” the registry has had more than its fair share of obstacles. But as they’ve done before, the Nez Perce have overcome these setbacks triumphant and are still operating the registry today with a herd of about 60 horses as reported by Kim Cannon, director of the tribe’s Land Services Division.

Remembering my full-moon ride atop Capitan, I was immensely grateful for the moon’s glow; how dark and terrifying it would have been otherwise.

I think this Buganda Proverb captures perfectly the positive outlook needed (and possessed by the Nez Perce) to conquer life’s dark and terrifying moments: “When the moon is not full, the stars shine more brightly.”




“Out of the Saddle: A Young Riders Edition of Horse, Follow Closely” by Gawani Pony Boy

“Chief Joseph: The Voice for Peace” by Lorraine Jean Hopping


Cannon, K. (2016, Dec. 20). Phone interview.













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3 thoughts on “Hoof Beats: Full moon ride

  1. Thanks, Fred! If you have any suggestions for trail rides I should check out in the future, I’d love to hear about them!

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