I’ve spoken before about my husband’s skill with horses, his ease with the animals lends itself well to interacting with them. I think this comes from his laid back nature, even when stressed, he doesn’t get nearly as animated or worked up over things as I do. My husband began his foray into horsemanship when he started working as cabin crew for a guest ranch in Wyoming, a special place we still manage to get back to every few years. Midway through his second year working at the ranch he was promoted to head wrangler. Truthfully, the former head wrangler (and only wrangler) was relieved of his duties due to an inability to dislodge a flask from his hand at any time, even when taking guests out on the trail. Taking inexperienced riders into the wilds of Wyoming has got its own element of surprise, so the fact that the most experienced person on the ride was half in the bag was frowned upon. Well, actually a normal drunk would be considered half in the bag, I think this guy was more like, all in the bag, living out of said bag, but you get the idea.
For Dean’s very first ride as a wrangler, as the only wrangler, he took two repeat guests who he knew, Todd and Tom, up Bacon Ridge for a three and a half hour morning ride. The trip up through stands of aspen trees and to the summit of 9200 feet went on without incident. For the trek back down, the guests asked if they could bushwhack rather than follow the worn, gravel trail they used on the ascent. Feeling there was little possibility of getting lost, as the ranch was down the mountain, and the ease of the trip up giving him false confidence, my sweet husband shrugged and said “Sure.” The three of them cut a path down through the trees and willows, enjoying the challenge of picking their path through the picturesque scenery.
The group came to a narrow stream, a trickle really. With my husband in the lead, he asked his horse Smoky to cross the water. The horse refused. Irritated by the refusal, he asked the gelding again, this time with more leg. After a few assertive heels to the side, the horse bunched up and launched across the rivulet of water. As the horse took off, my husband turned to yell at the guys not to follow him. He was too late. What the horse knew that my husband did not, was that trickle of water was running over a well disguised bog half as tall as my husband. His horse landed in the middle of the sucking mud, the black mire reaching all the way to horse’s shoulders. The other guest, Todd, had been too eager to follow my husband, and landed just behind wrangler Dean, Chaps the horse only ended up in the mess up to his knees. Chaps managed to bail out of the mud almost as quickly as he got into it, and his rider managed to stick the quick change in direction.
Dean slid off his saddle and did his best army crawl across the mud. Though his knees and elbows sank with every movement he made it to the other side of the bog. Smoky looked at him with wide white eyes and my husband knew the gelding was panicking. With Todd and Tom on the other side of the water my husband had them smack the horse’s rump and they all yelled and clapped at the horse to get him moving. Smoky struggled against the mud, his eyes still wide with fear, and then settled back into the slick trap. Their efforts made no difference except to tire the middle aged trail horse. It was about this time my husband’s anxiety started to ratchet up, he knew that if the horse spent too much energy unsuccessfully trying to extricate himself, he’d wear his energy down and never have enough oomph to get himself out.
The little group hovered at the bank of the narrow bog and let the horse rest for a bit. After some time, Smoky found a little patch of grass growing at the edge of the mud but near enough to eat if he stretched his neck a bit. Their anxiety subsided a little, happy the horse had relaxed enough to think about food in such a dire time. The men decided to make another go at getting the horse out of the quagmire.
My husband crawled on his belly again to clip a lead rope to the horse’s halter, which he thankfully had left on under the bridle. Todd tied up his horse and made a wide loop to get to the other side and help Dean pull on the lead rope. The two men stood at the edge of the mud and pulled on the gelding while Tom smacked the horse’s ass and yelled and hollered. The three of them got that poor horse rocking in the mud like a car stuck in snow: forward, backward, forward, backward, PULL. It worked! The horse got enough rocking momentum that he pulled his front legs free and scrambled out the other side of the marsh.
The first-time head wrangler and the horses walked back to the ranch, both with flagging energy. He opted not to ride Smoky back to the ranch as penance for his inexperience and because the horse was clearly taxed. The group skirted the property and entered a gate closer to the corral to avoid being seen, the fact that they were back earlier than expected also helped their mud-caked plodding entrance go unnoticed. My husband untacked all the horses, turned them out to the field and changed his clothes. The ranch owner was non-the-wiser for the near miss my brand new wrangler just lived through. The guests never whispered a word of the drama on the trail either. Some trail lessons can’t be explained, they just have to be experienced.