Horses

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chris3755
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Joined: 06/03/2010

Horses
         I’ve been around horses for most of my life. I started riding at age ten when my older brother bought a Welsh pony named Chocolate. We couldn’t afford a saddle so we rode bareback which wasn’t too bad for my brother because his legs were long enough to clamp around Chocolates ribs, but I was blessed with a shorter pair so I had to squeeze tight and hope I could stay on.
         Getting the bit in Chocolates mouth was a battle of wills because he wouldn’t open his mouth easily. Once the bit was in he would try to spit it back out until the bridal was cinched up tight. The next hurdle was jumping on his back while he danced around like water hitting a hot frying pan. When I finally got on board he would take off like a streak even if I wasn’t ready to go and he would head for the barn if I didn’t get him turned to head out for a ride which required a lot of prodding and urging but heading home was a mad dash all the way to the barn where I usually had to bail off before he hit the barn doorway!
         Rebel was a big roan that my brother bought a few years after Chocolate and he came with a saddle. I had to learn how to saddle him before I was allowed to ride and I didn’t really fit the saddle. I had to stand on a bale of hay to get my foot high enough to get it in the stirrup to mount and my feet hung loose out of the stirrups but Rebel was a dream to ride compared to the little pony so it wasn’t a problem. I could finally ride a horse that obeyed and rode where I wanted to go and I didn’t have to jump off at the barn door! I had the use of Rebel for several years before my brother got out of high school and sold him.
         My next horse came along after I got out of the service and lived on a small acreage outside of town. I bought a riding horse for my family to ride with other friends who had horses and rode a lot on weekends. I not only rode but I also began trimming hooves and doing minor foot care for my horse and some of the friends’ horses as well. We had this horse for five years or so and he later moved away with my daughter and eventually passed away.
         All of the preceding is background for my real tale about mountain hunting with horses. Horseback hunting trips and experiences with mountain broke horses and the associated perils are a “whole other ballgame”. I was living in Simi Valley, CA at the time and had done some deer and small game hunting with my neighbor. We decided an elk-deer hunt was in order so we booked a hunt in the Bitterroot-Selway region of Idaho (Keith country) with a guide who used horses to ferry hunters around and pack mules for hauling out animals. I had read Elmer Keith’s stories and with my horse experience I thought I knew about horseback riding in the mountains but that trip changed my mind. The guide we had was young trainee and he saddled our mounts and strapped on our gear. I figured that maybe the rifle scabbard should be under the left stirrup skirt with the butt facing to the rear in case my horse bolted and ran through some trees causing the stock to get damaged plus it should be easier to grab if I bailed off. Not so! When I went to mount the horse my rifle scabbard was under my right leg side but with the butt forward. I thought only cowboys on TV mostly carried their trusty Winchesters with the butt to the front. My rifle scabbard actually got slightly wet when we forded a small stream that was deeper than we thought.
         The fun (?) part was how “spooky” those mountain ponies were! The one I rode up the mountain every morning would flinch every time one of the horses ahead would kick out a stone on the trail or whenever a jaybird flew over squawking insults at us. The guide told us to keep our down slope foot out of the stirrup in case the horse spooked itself off the steep trail edge (which finally answered my question as to scabbard placement)! That was real comforting when the trail is carved out along a very steep mountain ridge full of shale slides and such with drop offs as much as 1000 feet. My rifle took a beating too, even though I had a pretty substantial scabbard made out of heavy leather just bouncing around trees and banging into things that left dents in the stock wood. My leg got sore from fending off branches and trying to stay put in the saddle using only one stirrup because of the slip/fall warning.
         They told us not to try shooting from horseback and after riding those wild horses I would have been hard put to even get a gun out over my horse, especially since my rifle was in the wrong place anyway. The heartbreaker was the beautiful 10 point (5X5) buck we ran across one morning that just stood patiently while we rode past. That actually was the only deer I saw the rest of the hunt. Elk were scarce and I suspect it was the weather which was in the 80’s the whole ten days. My neighbor actually lucked into an elk on the last day when one bugled across a canyon where I was on one side and he was on the other with the guide. They were able to walk right up to it and fired several shots to drop it.
         That was my one and only horseback guided hunt and although it was exciting and a great experience I don’t think I need to ride a horse in the mountains anymore!
Chris