Horses are a lot of work … but sometimes they’re worth it

I just got a load of hay in upper-90s temperatures, and I’m seriously contemplating getting rid of our horses. But when hunting season rolls around, I’ll be glad I didn’t sell them all off.

In my days in the mountains, I’ve seen some horse wrecks that probably should have turned my hair gray prematurely. I’ve had horses go lame on me deep in the backcountry. I’ve been awakened in the night to the sound of thundering hooves receding down the trail toward the trailer. None of those situations do much to give you a lot of confidence in horses as a means of mountain travel.

But for every tight spot my horses have put me in over the years, there are fifty good things horses have done for me. First of all, they can carry a lot more weight than I can. Camp is a much more homey place when the horses bring it in on their backs. Our wall tent would fill an entire backpack. And the stove we put up inside it to keep us warm on cold October nights would be too heavy to carry more than a few miles. Even if it was all you were packing. But a tent stove is just a heater if you don’t have any food to cook on it.

The horses have also allowed me to go farther into the woods than I could travel in a day on my own two feet. They walk faster than I do, even when they’re loaded down. And they don’t need to stop and rest nearly as often.

For the most part, the horses I’ve taken into the mountains have been pretty well behaved. It’s actually rare to have one of our mounts blow up on us. The examples of bad behavior on the horses’ part are just more memorable than the good things the animals have done for me. It’s easier to forget how well a horse navigated a stand of dog-hair timber // than it is to forget an uncomfortably close brush with death.

Some of my friends are trading in their horses for ATVs. I just can’t bring myself to do that. For one thing, the places I go camping and hunting are off-limits to motorized vehicles. They’re also too noisy for my liking. I’ve heard it argued that my horses will spook game as much as an ATV, but I just don’t buy it. I’ve seen a heck of a lot more critters from horseback than I’ve seen while sitting on a four-wheeled motorcycle.

I don’t know, though. I still might change my mind. If I have to go get many more loads of hay this year, I might have some horses for sale. Cheap.

Well, I suppose my nags aren’t for sale yet.