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Copyright 2012 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; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Dog Hair & Mule Sweat

with Natalie Riehl

editor@rockymountainrider.com

 

April 2012 Issue  

 

A Vintage Re-run

 

 

       Isn’t life grand when you get your cinch tightened and your slicker strapped on, and you finally settle into your saddle and head up the trail? If you’re in the lead, you are strengthened by the beauty of the new day.

      There’s that marvelous feeling of covering “uncharted territory” even if you’re on a well-worn Forest Service trail. You’re out in front where the dust won’t filter up and slowly choke you. You’ve got a great view, and every bend in the trail brings a new vista.

      Heck, if you’re out in front, you’ll miss those backward-swinging, overgrown branches blocking the trail. Instead, you’ll only have to toss a careless, “Watch out for the branch!” over your shoulder to the person riding behind you.

      Your Main Job riding in the lead is to clear spider webs out of the way. If the sunlight is in your favor, you’ll see the web stretched between the tall firs, the spider in the center awaiting his next meal. You are not what he’s expecting and, with luck, you’ll brush him and his bug-catcher aside. Of course, if the light’s poor, you’ll get a faceful of Mr. Spider.

      The burden’s on you to stay on the right trail. If you reach a fork, first you have to see it and then you have to ascertain that it is not just another game trail. You’ll be the first one to get to the bog hole, and you and your trusty equine companion will have to judge whether or not it will suck you under.

      In the lead, your horse has the responsibility of looking out for the herd behind him. Where he might normally walk calmly, now his ears will be rigidly forward and he may be snorting at rocks and burnt stumps that he would totally ignore if he were back in the string.

      In the lead, you’re more likely to meet the moose coming in the opposite direction. You’ll all stop and wait for the moose to make the decisive move. Just hope you’re not on a narrow trail cut into a steep, brushy hill.

      You’ll be the first to the fallen tree blocking the trail. You’ll have to cast your eye over the sea of deadfall around you and, remaining in the “scout position,” not only find a route through the timber, but remember it in reverse when you come back down the trail.

      When you’re in the lead, you have to turn in your saddle and practically shout to have a conversation with the person behind you who’s constantly repeating, “What did you say? I can’t hear you!”

      And you know that person only has to speak in a normal tone, or perhaps slightly project their voice if there are pack horses between you.

 

      There are pros and cons to being in the lead, but there are benefits to being last. Thirty-five years ago near Jackson Hole , our camp cook, BJ Reed, would show up just after we’d gotten the horses packed and her mount saddled. She’d get on old Whiskey — a short-legged, large pony — and ride at the end of the entire string. Why? Because she’d tie Whiskey to the last pack horse, and sack out for most of the fifteen miles to hunting camp!

      She knew, brilliant girl, at that tender age, the trials of being the lead rider and… apparently … also knew how to sleep in the saddle!

          ------------------------

 

Copyright 2012 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; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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