The success of our pony packing job this summer took on greater meaning after hearing a story from an outfitter friend. We had taken two ponies into a roadless area more than an hour from home and asked them to make multiple trips up and down a steep rocky trail with gravel in their panniers. I had gradually prepared the ponies both from a fitness and new-experience standpoint, and they performed impeccably. One of them even let me know that they needed their tack adjusted without getting extreme in their communication.
Our outfitter friend told us about a group of out-of-state hunters who had brought horses into our county for archery season. Their first night here they had stayed at the outfitter’s headquarters, but they had declined the offer to put their horses in a small paddock because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to catch them. The next day the outfitter had taken a pack train into a back country location to set up camp for a client, and the out-of-state hunters ended up at the same trail head. They were still getting their horses ready after the outfitter had taken his train in and out again. After the outfitter returned to the trailhead they watched the hunters finish preparations and head out. The packs on the hunters’ horses were well over the horses’ heads, much higher than the outfitter deemed appropriate. Not one hundred yards from the trailhead the packs on two of the horses had slipped off and under them, and the horses were very agitated. Our outfitter friend chose to leave at that point, ‘before anybody gets hurt, meaning us,’ they said, fearing that the hunters’ upset horses might spook into the outfitters’ pack train.
The outfitter told us this story after I had asked why they thought there had been two equine-related search-and-rescue calls at either end of Labor Day weekend. My husband had been on both of them, and one of them involved the hunting party that the outfitter had told us about. On his way out under the full moon, my husband found two straps that had apparently come off the packs of the hunters’ horses. The hunter who had been the subject of the search-and-rescue call fortunately wasn’t too badly injured after his horse threw him. The accident victim on the other call unfortunately was severely injured and had to be flown out by helicopter.
The outfitter’s answer to my question about the frequency of equine-related emergency calls was partly answered by his story about the hunters. People with little or no ‘horse sense’ – as distinguished from experience with horses – were taking their equines into situations that they shouldn’t have. In some cases people with no horse experience may have been going out with leased horses. Our outfitter friend said they’d been asked if they would lease horses to hunters who didn’t want to walk anymore, and when the hunters were asked if they’d ever been around horses, replied no. And the outfitter’s reply in return was also no. Not all lessors of horses answer the same question that way.
After hearing these stories from our outfitter friend, I understood better my husband’s gratitude for how I’d prepared the ponies for our gravel-packing outing. I feel sorry for the equines if they were blamed for the mishaps of the long weekend, for it was likely more the fault of their human partners that things didn’t go well. The four weeks that I dedicated to preparing my ponies may have felt burdensome at the time, but now it seems like a good investment indeed.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017
Stories like this one are contained in the book The Partnered Pony: What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.