Hunting with Horses II
I wrote an earlier post about horses, and aside from my love of horses and riding them, they are a crucial part of back country hunts for me and many others. I prefer to hunt in designated wilderness areas, which are large tracts of land that are federally protected so that they remain completely in their natural state, as if the United States were never settled.
In wilderness areas, you cannot use mechanized vehicles of any kind, or even ride bicycles. The best way to get really deep into these wilderness areas is on horseback. Sure, you can back pack too, but you are much more limited in the gear you can bring when you are carrying everything you need for a week on your back, and packing an elk out on your back is quite a lot of work. Trust me, that’s how I used to hunt in my younger days. With that in mind, I want to share some information with my readers about horses so that if you have the opportunity for a horseback trip, you will have some basic knowledge that will make your trip more enjoyable.
If you haven’t read my earlier post, be sure to read that too, it has some great information about some basic horse behavior.
It is very easy to be intimidated by a horse if you are unfamiliar with them. They are very large, powerful animals that can definitely cause you significant injuries. But with some basic knowledge you will learn to love these beautiful creatures, and once you’ve had a horse pack your elk six miles out of the mountains, you won’t ever want to do that yourself again.
Horses are remarkably intelligent, but their natural instincts as a prey animal still make them a little nervous at times. Abrupt motions and loud noises can alarm them, so definitely avoid either of those. If you are taking pictures of the scenery while you are riding, keep in mind that the sound of your camera turning on can momentarily spook a horse, especially if your camera makes all kinds of weird sounds as it starts up.
If you are riding a horse with an outfitter, it is very likely that the horse has been ridden many times by someone like you, and on the trail you will be riding. The horse already knows what he is doing, where he is going, and he probably knows that he has an inexperienced rider on his back.
While working as an outfitter I have seen so many riders aggravate a horse by trying to do too much, like thinking they have to steer the horse constantly, or restricting the horses head movements. As I said, the horse knows where it is going, especially if it is part of a pack train, so you don’t have to steer the horse. And because of a horse’s vision, it needs to move its head in order to see what it wants to see. It may hear a noise far away that you won’t hear, and he may want to turn his head and look in that direction, so let him. The reins you are holding in your hands are connected to a metal bit that rests on the horses gums, which are quite sensitive. So just because you’ve watched a few westerns, don’t think that you are suddenly an experienced cowboy.
At the same time, it is good to learn some basics about how to control your horse. The main thing you need to be able to do is stop your horse. Gently pull back on the reins and say “Whoa Tornado,” or whatever the horse’s name is. The other thing is getting your horse to not eat along the trail. Horses know when they have an amateur on their back, and they will stop to eat grass and vegetation every chance they get. It is best to let the horse know early on that you won’t tolerate that. All you have to do is give a quick upward pull of the reins and say “Come on Tornado,” and give a slight kick with your heels. If you keep your reins high above the saddle horn, but not taught against the bit, your horse will get the message. If you do let the horse feed, he will feed for a few minutes, and then run to catch up with the pack train. Doing that repeatedly on a long ride is no fun at all for you.
I won’t pretend to be a horse trainer, because I certainly am not. My best advice to you is that when you meet your outfitter at the trail head; ask him or her what horse you will be riding, what is its name, and is there anything in particular you should know about the horse. Don’t be too proud to ask the simple questions. Outfitters are around their horses all day and into the night, so they know each and every horse and their characteristics. Every horse has its own personality, its likes and dislikes, so the more you know about your horse, the better off you’ll be.