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Horse sense 1

A camping trip in the high country is always a stirring experience, and even more so when you’re on horseback.

Maybe it’s the extremes that provide the allure of the high country. At 10,000 feet the midday sun can quickly burn the skin, yet nights demand a down-filled sleeping bag; winds violently shake the aspens, only to suddenly stop and allow sound to carry for hundreds of yards; fog-mantled peaks blunted in the opaque gray of early morning pierce an untouched sky of infinite blue by afternoon.

A camping trip amid such magnificent landscape is indeed a stirring experience, even more so when you camp by horseback. Granted, horse-pack camping may not be for everyone, but don’t mark yourself a nonparticipant simply because you’re uncomfortable around the animals.

Horse riding

Take me, for instance. I don’t like horses and am respectfully fearful of them. Naturally, they are not afraid of me. I suppose this is intuition. After all, how can an 1,800-pound animal with a brain the size of your fist reason? Common sense tells me to listen carefully to the advice of wranglers, swallow the lump in my throat – and some pride – and ask for the gentlest nag available.

The tactic works. So far on half a dozen camping trips to Montana, Nevada, and Colorado, I have yet to be thrown, bitten, kicked, or stepped on by a horse. On my most recent trip, a mule deer and elk pack-in to the Little Belt Mountains in Montana, four uneventful hours riding to the pleasant accompaniment of creaking leather lowered my guard. I grew a tad slack in the stirrups. That’s when Blue, the Appaloosa mare I was riding, bolted when a rabbit crossed the forested trail. I managed to stay upright as Blue thundered down the path, leaping a small creek and charging up the opposite bank. Then, crisis past, Blue settled down just as quickly and fell back into line as though nothing had happened. Horses are indeed strange creatures. Wrangler Roy Olsen, who owns Yellow Water Outfitters out of Grass Range, Mont., just shook his head and laughed as he said, “We’ll make a cowboy out of you yet, Huggler.”

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