This summer I have been robbing trains on horseback with the Gold Rush Bandits in Sumpter Oregon. It’s SO MUCH fun it’s ridiculous. So far Raven (my black horse), Elska (my fjord mare) and Gus (my donkey) have all been a part of the action. We get to chase down a train while shooting real black powder pistols (with blanks, no real bullets). The bang is just as loud, and the smoke is just as real as if we were firing bullets. The trains are real 1800’s steam engines with all the noise and steam. It’s a massive sensory load for anyone, but it makes the thrill all the better! This whole thing is 100% volunteer run to help preserve a piece of history and hopefully spark a passion for the past in at least a few young minds.
There is a steam engine that runs a 1 hour train ride from McEwen station to Sumpter station and back. People can purchase tickets to enjoy the train ride and the sights all while learning about the trains. Suddenly, the horse mounted bandits (3-6 of us depending on the volunteers available) come hooping and hollering from the trees and chase down the train along a straight stretch in the tracks. Gunfire is exchanged from the horseback bandits and the “law men” on the train. Then all goes quiet for a few minutes. The horse mounted bandits reappear guns on fire from the trees while the train comes to a stop with bandits on foot holding rifles all around and on the train. One of the passengers (also a volunteer) is made to find the gold chest hidden on the train, disembark the train and put the chest out in the open for all to see. There's an argument between the law and the bandits, the chest is shot open and the gold is revealed! A gunfight ensues between the law men and the ground bandits while the horse bandits, guns blazing again ride off with all the loot!
How did the animals take it?
Raven and Elska were a little unsure of the big loud engine on their first runs, (laughing to myself) Elska even bucked the first run. By the second run both horses were THRILLED to be running as fast as they could and seemed to anticipate each sprint. Gus loved the whole thing from the start. Gus is the Best Bandit Burrow ever!
How did I train my horses/donkey to do this?
I started by going to a sporting goods store and getting little toy cap guns. I would walk with the horses and fire the guns haphazardly around until the horses stopped reacting to the fire. Then I would mount them and do the same. Back in early May we had a training day for all the new volunteers (aka me) where we used half loads of powder. Once the horses were use to that we exposed them to full rounds and then the trains. From there the rest is history! Slow and steady build up.
I also purchased some horse ear plugs (yes that’s a thing that exists). To help them with all the overwhelming sounds and to protect their ears from the gunfire. I wear earplugs myself. Interestingly enough it’s not the gun you’re firing that’s loud it’s when others are firing at you.
Why am I doing this?
It’s a crazy amount of fun! I can’t imagine a better training tool for my animals to be better citizens. I love history and finding ways to preserve it and bring it back to life.
How does this apply to my Gaucho Derby Training?
I’m on a horse (or donkey) and running full speed. I’m spending more time with my animals to get them conditioned and ready for the robberies. Any time on an equine is time training.
My summer has been completely crazy and busy. I have recently started working at one of the local veterinary clinics 2 days a week, on top of my farrier work 2-3 days a week and my continuing ranch work. With all the work I’m putting in to help pay for the Gaucho Derby, I’ve had to schedule my fun. So I figure I’d better go big or go home!
Photo Credits to Debbie Hoffman Photography and a train passenger