Some people question why I ride for the money, why I rope for short pay. They say I ain’t getting nowhere and I am losing my share, and I must have gone crazy out there. But they ain’t never seen the great divide, they ain’t never seen a hawk on the wing. They ain’t never seen the spring hit the Great Divide, and they ain’t never heard ol’ Camp Cookie sing!
That is a paraphrase of the song entitled “The Night Rider’s Lament” and it rings true for anyone who has ever lived out in the woods for any length of time. The very idea of being trapped in the city is more than just frightening or perturbing, it is downright disdainful. Still, like the cities, the wilderness can be a dangerous place, thus the need to always have a good partner. While the Hollywood (or Hollyweird) version of the great outdoors shows the Cowboy always relying on his trusty horse, their vision and story is incomplete. As a wise man used to say; here now, is the rest of the story.
A great many cowboys ride geldings. A gelding is a male horse that has been gelded or … emasculated as the case may be … for lack of a better or more painful term1. The very idea of doing this to my horse pained me to say the least, and in truth, I much preferred the spirited nature of my horse, even if he was prone to being distracted from time to time. I finally ended up getting rid of my horse to appease my first wife … though looking back, I suppose I should have stuck by my partner as well as he always stuck by me!
Very few people could ride Storm successfully. If you let him have his head, he would panic. If you tried to reign him too tightly he would fight you … and big and magnificent as he was, that was a fight he was going to win each and every time … and he did. A good horse is a funny thing though, very particular … some would even say fickle in nature. Each horse is indeed unique and will have its own personality and traits. Storm and I had come to an understanding from our very first ride and we reached an enviable compromise that formed the basis of a lasting friendship … substantially more than I can say for my first wife and I … but let’s not go there.
When you are in the woods, there is absolutely nothing that is more important than your horse. This is especially true if there are predatory critters running about those same woods. About the only thing that I have ever seen to make a good, well-trained horse panic, is a snake that happened to be a little bit too close before the horse noticed it … but there in lies the caveat. The horse has an amazingly keen set of senses. If there is anything out of place, anything not quite right or any threat, the horse will warn you long before it becomes an imminent danger … at least if you are paying attention and know what to look for.
Especially keen are the horse senses of smell and hearing. This is part of why it is so important to develop a bond with your horse, as you should be able to notice right away when your horse becomes unsettled in any way. When the horse smells something it does not like … a wildcat maybe … or even a wolf depending on where you live, the horse will become unsettled. This should be your first clue that something is wrong. Pay particular attention to the ears of the horse now. The horse has what is known as directional hearing. It will “point” its ears towards any and all sounds, seeking to locate and even to identify the unwanted presence. Pay close attention to those areas, as that is where the danger will come from. This particular piece of information has quite literally saved my life on a few occasions.
If there is ever a time when people are particularly vulnerable out in the woods though, it would be while they are sleeping. Once again the venerable steed serves its partner well. Even when I was hunting and had the relative “luxury” of a line shack or a hunting shack to stay in, I would sleep out with my horse(s). This was less of a desire to bond with the horse than it was a personal survival mechanism. Many predators only come out at night, and once again, even while sleeping, the horse will be keenly aware of everything that is going on around it. If there are any unexpected visitors that come calling during the night, two-legged or four, the horse(s) will warn you if you are paying attention.
Sleeping under the horse directly is never a good idea, and you should stay more than a good horse-kick away from its reach if you want to be safe. It may also be necessary to train your ears and your mind to warn and wake you when the horse begins snorting and pawing at the ground. Many a person has been ill-prepared for what they discovered … or discovered missing when they woke up, only then to realize that their dogs had been barking or their horse had been unsettled for a reason.
If you are out far enough away in the wilderness to merit the attention of wild critters … two-legged or four-legged, such a lackadaisical approach could indeed prove to be the last … and most fatal mistake you will ever make. However, the next time someone says that they take care of their horse and their horse takes care of them, you may realize just how honest they are being with you … and just why you should never venture out into the wilderness without your trusted steed beneath you or rest anywhere without them just beside you!
1Watching my wife castrate young pigs and other livestock without the benefit of anesthetic or otherwise doing anything to relieve their pain, has left me with a very uncomfortable feeling every time I even hear the word. It is not particularly the fact that she is so good at it, as the fact that in some weird sort of distant way … that she seems to almost enjoy it … so you may be able to imagine my discomfort and my personal aversion of the use of the word in my writing.