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Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


By Dan Pence, Dillon, MT


August 2008 Issue


     Frosty had been a fantastic horse for our family, but her age was starting to show by the time we moved to Montana from Nevada in 1980. We decided to have her bred one more time, and to have our teenage children train the colt.

     Frosty’s first colt, Mickey, was proving to have great potential. Since his father, Twister, was a quarter horse, we went looking for a quarter horse stud. Charlie Hahnkamp, a rancher friend, said that we were welcome to use a quarter horse stallion he owned that was “running in the willows at Mallons’ up on the Big Hole.”

     I dropped off Frosty at the Mallons’ ranch just above Wise River one June evening in 1981. A big bay stallion came screaming out of the willows which covered a large field along the Big Hole River to greet his new harem member. Frosty took one look at her potential suitor and his several mares, and took off like she fully intended to spend the rest of her life roaming wild and free in that company.

     A month later, I took a big pan of oats back to lure Frosty, with more than a few questions about how I was going to retrieve my horse without getting killed.

     Lowell Mallon met me at the gate carrying a big club and a handful of rocks. Frosty was always a sucker for a bit of oats. I called and she came running up out of the willows like she was tired of her friends and needed those oats.

     The stud had other ideas. He came running at us with his teeth bared like we were about to steal his favorite concubine. He ran around us rearing and kicking while Lowell kept him at bay by swinging the club and throwing rocks.

     Frosty concentrated on the oats long enough for me to get a rope on her and escape through the gate. There is no shortage of round, river rocks along the Big Hole River , or we might not have made it!

     The following June, Frosty gave birth to a beautiful sorrel colt. The kids had all just finished reading “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy where “Strider” is the ultimate hero. The colt became Strider as the children’s hero of the moment.

     Strider cavorted around the pasture like any colt, and those antics called my attention to a problem that I hoped he would outgrow. Strider suffered from a deformity that both my father and father-in-law called “cow” or “coon” footed. He stood too far back on his hind hooves, causing obvious weakness in his hind legs. For reasons known only to him, he enjoyed rearing up on his weak hind legs and falling over backwards.

     The children set out to teach Strider to lead, although they were still having a few problems when school stared in late August. I was off somewhere fighting a forest fire when Lois received a frantic phone call at work: “Mom! Come quick! Strider is under the Scout!” our youngest daughter Teri screamed into the phone.

     “And just how did he get there?” Lois inquired, since young horses normally don’t spend a lot of time inspecting the underside of vehicles.

     “No, no, Mom, we don’t have time to talk! Get here quick and help pull him out!” Teri shouted and hung up.

     Fortunately, Dillon , Montana , is an agricultural community. Lois worked for Dr. English, an optometrist, and was in the middle of collecting pre-exam information from a rancher who found the call hilarious. She abandoned the patient and was home within ten minutes. There she found three excited teenagers trying to calm a colt with a skinned-up head.

     Son Jay had started leading Strider while Teri encouraged them from behind. They were beside the Scout SUV when Strider reared up, fell over backwards, and rolled under the vehicle. Strider kept kicking and throwing his head up against the vehicle undercarriage. The harder they pulled on his lead rope, the further he struggled under the truck. Teri ran to call Mom while Jay ran to get Blaine Martin, a neighbor boy. The colt got tired of banging his head on the truck, and let the three teenagers pull him free before Lois arrived.

     Actually, Strider was a pretty mild-mannered horse and was easy enough to break in spite of his tendency to perform stupid tricks. He liked to go and had a smooth gait that was welcome on the many trips we made into the mountains.

     My staff officer job with the Forest Service did not involve as much riding as my previous assignments had required, but I tried to get out as often as I could. I frequently used Strider, although his older, half-brother Mickey was developing into a much more dependable mount. Yet Strider saw a lot of use, either as a pack animal or mount.

     Each summer, we hosted the Regional Forester, his directors for range and wildlife management, and their immediate staff on a week-long range inspection ride. I am sure they, too, wanted to get out of the office, but for us, it was a political move. We were able to highlight some of our priority resource management problems on these rides, and receive additional funding as a result. (The range and wildlife staff officers on other forests eventually realized what was going on, and the decision was made to ride on different forests each summer.)

     We usually needed to add my personal horses to the available Forest Service animals to be able to furnish everyone with a reliable mount. I needed all four of my horses for a ride in the Gravelly Range in 1986. I didn’t trust young Strider enough to hand him to someone else, so he was my mount for the trip.

     Members of the group brought some personal animals with them. Regional Forester John Mumma brought a young fox trotter mare that freaked out on the trailer ride from Missoula to the Vigilante Guard Station. She fell down in the trailer, pulled two of her shoes off, and sustained some interesting cuts on the journey. John was able to ride her after Tom Griffith, a staff officer on the Gallatin , sewed up some of the worst cuts, and I replaced her shoes (which probably didn’t hurt either of our funding).

     We spent the night at Vigilante and rode through some beautiful country the next day. We pointed out some specific range problems and successes, and saw a lot of wildlife before spending the next night at the West Fork Guard Station.

     Strider could toss his head and be a pain to bridle, so I tied him to a trailer to saddle him the next morning. He reared back and fell down before I could get his bridle on, so I took advantage of the situation and bridled him while he lay on the ground.

     Mumma walked up and said, “I’ve never seen that trick before.” It was no trick and John knew it. It was his opportunity to get even with me for the hard time I had given him the day before when his fox trotter had gotten banged up in the trailer.

     In 1987, I was using him as a pack horse and riding my preferred mount, Mickey, when Mickey got the lead rope under his tail and started to buck . I rode Mickey, but ruptured a disc in my back during the rodeo. I contracted toxic shock following back surgery, and spend 32 days in intensive care the next winter. I wasn’t up to riding for several months.

     The children were growing up. Daughter Jan was working as a range conservationist for the SCS in Havre, and Jay was on a fire crew on the Payette National Forest for the summer. Teri was still home and working at the local A&W. She was available to go riding with her father, although I got the impression she was more interested in boys.

     Lois and Teri questioned my wisdom when, that June, I decided I had to get out of the house, and announced that we were going for a ride up the East Fork of the Blacktail. The road was still muddy, so we pulled the truck and trailer over at the first bridge.

     We saddled our horses, and I swung into the saddle on Strider. He hadn’t been ridden since the previous Thanksgiving and wasn’t sure he liked the idea. He reared up and fell over backwards. I rolled clear before we hit the ground.

     I got back on, in spite of the reservations of my companions, and we had a good ride. My family finally convinced me that I had enough problems without taking more risks. We sold Strider shortly thereafter.


Freelance writer, Dan Pence, grew up in central Idaho and spent 35 years working for the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho , Nevada and Montana .


Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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