Don't Ever Trust a Horse


Yesterday I attended a funeral for a friend who was killed by a horse. She was acknowledged to be one of the best horsewomen, not only locally, but throughout the nation. She is the second woman to be killed by a horse around here—the first was less than a mile from my place—within a year. Such events prompt some introspection, and I began to recall some of my less-than-stellar moments aboard a horse.

For about a year and a half some three decades ago I virtually lived on the back of a horse. Such familiarity strengthens the bond between horse and rider, but as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. I think more properly it breeds a lack of awareness. False confidence—manifested by a lack of awareness or too much trust—can get you killed.

I was more than just lucky. The luck bestowed upon me when I “introduced” my horse to gunfire during that otherwise innocent period years ago was more like the kind of luck it takes to win the lottery. My bliss never allowed me to consider that shooting a gun around—or on the back of—a 1,200-pound animal with the IQ of a clay target required some thought and some break-in conditioning. When opportunity presented itself during an afternoon ride to pester the whistle pigs, a.k.a. rockchucks, along a thin, rocky trail halfway up a steep mountain face, I casually drew a .45-caliber revolver and started banging away. By the grace of God, my horse, Buckshot, never flinched. “You might want to be careful shooting on or around a horse,” offered my pal, Brandt, who had been raised around horses and was somewhat focused on calming the gelding he was on from my rather rude—in terms of horsemanship—behavior.

Another casual acquaintance of that time had his leg broke and a foot crushed by his horse when he tried to shoot an elk and used his saddle—still tied on his horse—as a rest. Each year many a new hunter comes out this way to experience the Wild West and all that it offers. Most outfitters have a regular safety speech to their dudes, but some redundancy is certainly within order.

Do not, under any circumstances, ever trust a horse. A lot of outfitters lease a portion of their string, and as such, their training is likely rather basic. Some put their hunters atop a plug—a supposedly bomb-proof creature—that plods up and down the mountain at the pace of a glacier. Many a hunter has endured a forced march back to camp because he didn’t take a moment and tie his horse to a tree prior to laying low upon a deer or elk.

If your plans for the near future include that dream pack trip out west, now might be a good time to consider preparing to ride a horse. A few Saturdays spent aboard even a rental horse on trail rides with an experienced horseman will most certainly make your trip more enjoyable, and it may save your life.

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