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HORSE PACKING ON DANGEROUS TRAILS
Being Under Your Horse on a Steep Trail Sometimes you have to dismount to correct a pack when it’s so steep you can touch the mountain with your hand while riding. At times you can’t be on the downhill side of the trail because it’s so narrow you would roll down the mountainside. When working on the high side, you will invariably slide under your pack horse. A suddenly spooked pack horse on a steep trail stomping you while you are under him would be disastrous for you and the pack string.
Extreme Dangers Areas on Trails There are some parts of trails that are so narrow and dangerous that it is impossible to pass another pack string or even turn a pack string around. Especially, on rock faces the trail can be barely wide enough for a pack horse. It is best to send a person forward on foot to insure you don’t encounter other riders or pack strings. The person going forward on foot can signal you or contact you by walkie-talkie. On rock face trails there is no way a horse can back up the mountainside and turn around. Backing up a horse on a narrow trail is not something you want to do.
Narrow trails on rock faces is possibly the most dangerous situation you and your pack horses can encounter. I try to avoid these type of trails when I am by myself. These trails are incredibly dangerous.
If you are new to a mountainous area it is recommended you talk to the Forest Service person in charge of that area to determine trail quality and safety before you try the new area. A word of warning, ask very specific questions to truly understand the trail conditions. The Forest Service person's idea of a safe trail might be totally different from years. Especially if you are just beginning packing or riding in rough terrain.
Training horses to walk on the inside of the trail is a must. There are narrow trails that will possibly give way if the horse steps on the edge of the trail especially dirt based trailed Some of my trail pictures show this.
Narrow trails in steep terrain The narrower a dirt trail in steep terrain, the more likely the trail will give way possibly causing a tremendous wreck. If there is any question on trail safety, get off and walk. Some people say they would never get off a horse regardless the situation. To me, that reckless approach does not pass the common sense test.
If the trail gives way, a riding horse has a much better chance of getting back on the trail if you are not riding him. If you jump off to the uphill side when the horse is struggling to get back on the trail - your weight pushing him downhill could make the difference of him going over or his survival.
I had a dirt trail give way in 2003 while riding my horse Soldier (the big appaloosa with large white blanket in my pictures). I immediately had both knees in the saddle seat ready to jump off uphill. Fortunately, Soldier was strong enough to power his way back onto the trail. If I had pushed off to jump off uphill, the force would have probably sent soldier over the side while he was struggling to get back on the trail. Soldier would have died. Both Soldier and I could have been seriously injured or killed when the trail gave way.
My wife was behind me on Buddy watching this near tragedy unfold. If Soldier and I had gone over the side, we would have both probably been bear bait. My wife was 20 miles from the trail head and she had no idea how to get there as were in a new area returning to the trail head on a different trail. Not a good situation to put my wife in.
From my pictures on the website you can see my horses are big and strong with well defined muscles. It is easier to mount or pack on small horses. I like bigger and stronger horses so in the event an incident occurs I and the horse have a better chance of survival. Another reason I like big horses is that they have longer legs and can step over downed logs easier. Where I hunt there is a lot of downfall. I prefer a pack horse step over a downed tree instead of jumping the log and possibly having the load shift.
Steep Narrow and Very Dangerous Trails As I stated earlier I dismount and walk. However, on some parts of the trail where it is questionable, I take my feet out of the stirrups so I can dismount/jump very quickly if necessary.
Horses Stepping Off Trails In 1997 I was riding Rocky, a big, athletic 1300 leopard appaloosa in the Frank Church Wilderness. On a steep and narrow part of the trail Rocky stepped off the trail when not paying attention. I'm still amazed that Rocky got us back on the trail. He was an extremely strong horse. If the incident would have occurred another 100 yards farther up the trail where it was very, very steep we would have been over the side and rolled at least 500 feet, died and been bear bait.
The rest of the day Rocky kept his nose about one foot from the trail. I sold Rocky the next summer because he would occasionally spook. I don't keep dangerous horses no matter how much I like them. Rocky was a trained jumper up to 4' fences, was built like a tank, extremely athletic and was very gentle. His only problem was that he had a tendency to spook.
When you are in steep country you need to make sure your horse is looking straight ahead. If one my horses is not paying attention I slap his neck in the direction he is looking. Not hard but just enough to get his attention. After awhile the horse will understand he is supposed to look forward - not to the side.
It is always best to go hunting or riding in steep country with a partner in case there is a problem. Many years ago a hunter in Idaho wilderness where I hunt went over the side with his horse. Both died but it was awhile before anyone found them. He was an inexperienced horseman riding and packing in the wilderness for the first time.
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3071 West Twin Road, Moscow Idaho 83843, 208-882-1791, ©2002
208-882-1791, 1-800-234-1150, FAX: 208-882-4297