Working as a camp cook and horse wrangler for an outfitter east of the northern British Columbia town of Atlin was my dream job in many respects. The outfit had been split in two for a number of years and two different outfitters had run the sections separately, but eventually a buyer came along and bought up both sections and amalgamated them back to the original outfit.
The first summer I signed on, only the northern section was available to us, as the outfitter of the southern half worked one extra year. I started working the first year the new manager/outfitter, Al, took over the running of the outfit, which put me in an enviable position. I was given many tasks and responsibilities that wouldn’t have been handed over if there had been other more experience or “senior” people involved. The only ones that weren’t “new” were a guide/cook husband/wife team, Greg and Lorna, who had worked in the area for over 13 years. They had their two young kids, Kurt and Cheyenne out there with them. We all stayed at Line Lake Camp for most of July and helped with the construction of the new main lodge that summer. Occasionally, Lorna stayed in camp with the kids while Greg guided Al and me around the area before the August hunts started.
Lorna is an amazing woman! Very calm, very proficient. Full of laughs and wisdom. She eagerly shared tips she’d gained over her many years as camp cook with me! She was definitely the heart of the camp and her husband Greg adored her. Though I didn’t see that at first.
Greg is more quiet and gruff (typical of many of the guides I worked with). He was especially gruff with Lorna. One day I got mad at him for how he was talking to her and I told him so. He was shocked and a little flustered, but he treated me with much more respect after that, and he opened up his arsenal of knowledge to me as well. He really did love and respect his wife and Lorna assured me of that after.
The things Greg knew about the area, wilderness survival, horse-shoeing and packing is incredible and he is a man I highly respect. But highly respecting someone and listening to them was something I had to learn that summer. Probably am still learning!
Since Lorna did the bulk of the cooking while we were all in camp together, I was regulated to wrangling duties again. Which I didn’t mind since Greg assured me they always kept a couple jingle horses back when they kicked out the herd to graze. A Jingle horse! The term to describe a horse kept back to ride out on to find the herd. A concept I hadn’t heard in the previous outfits I had wrangled for. No more walking out on foot for miles! No more running my tail off to chase them home. I could ride in style! Besides a horse always finds his mates quicker than I ever could on foot.
Greg had a bell to string on EVERY horse’s neck, as well as the typical chain hobbles. The cacophony of sound when we let the horses loose was LOUD and, to me, very comforting! It would be much easier to hear 20 bells than just 3 or 4. Hence the term JINGLING in the horses.
Greg also told me he liked having me bring the horses in with the hobbles on since it deterred them from going further MOST of the time. No more bitterly swearing at the lead mare as she took off like she was in the DERBY while I desperately trying to un-hobble the others. No more getting kneed in the head or trampled! This WAS my dream job!
It became my habit to get up early—but not terribly so as it wasn’t hunting season yet—and head over to the corrals where my jingle horses were standing tied up. (Sometimes we would tether them out on a long rope for the night to graze—another fantastic trick Greg taught me) I would untie one and hop on him bareback with just the halter and lead rope, and head out into the quiet of the morning, the warmth of the horse seeping up through my rump.
It was beautiful and somewhat relaxing as I trusted my jingle horse to lead me to his mates. I just had to give him his head and off we went. Soon the quiet of the forest would be broken by a cheery jingling sound. Bells! Lots of them.
I love coming up to a grazing herd, watching how relaxed and at peace they are. It always feels intimate. Like they are allowing me to be part of them somehow. I would walk calmly through the herd to the very last one and then give a shout “Hup Boys! Let’s Go Home!” And we would calmly start for home. The horses hobble hopping along through the stumps of a clear-cut to a well worn path through the forest that only horses and wild game know of. We would wind through the trees, the bells ringing merrily behind me. The older horses had the hobble walk down to a science and they looked like they were dancing. The young ones looked more awkward and often did big deep lunges and a few hops and then another lunge hop walk. I’d arrive in camp and tie up my horse and then throw out oats for the horses hobbling in. The others would come up from the cabins and help me tie them up. A successful morning jingle!
Blaze was 29 years old that summer. A Thoroughbred Tennessee Walker cross. A bony-looking sorrel with a white blaze running down his nose. He had big feet, a round barrel and knobby knees. He was the herd patriarch. He had been the previous outfitter’s lead horse before he got too old to carry a heavy guy. Then he became the horse 6 year old Kurt often rode.
One night I decided to tie up old Blaze, after hearing lots of stories about him having such a smooth gait and being a really treat to ride in his younger years. “Make sure you saddle and bridle Blaze.” Greg said to me in passing that night. I hated saddling up in the morning. I was lazy. I like bareback riding. It was warmer. “For sure take a bridle, he can be a bit of a charger.” Greg cautioned when I whined about the saddle.
Well the next morning I was lazy and figured it was OLD Blaze after all. I had jingled on much younger, spry-er horses bareback with just a halter. What could it hurt? I untied old Blaze and swung up, settling deep into his sway back on his bony spine. Immediately his head swung up and his ears cocked forward intently. I got a slight niggle in my mind and hopped down and tied the other end of the lead to his halter so I at least had pull on both sides of his head, then swung astride.
We left camp at a very fast very smooth walk—thankfully, since his spine was so sharp it could have cracked me in half if he had been rough! We headed down the trail and not far from camp I heard bells and so did Blaze. Suddenly I had my hands full of a charging Thoroughbred determined to race home. I had to kick his ribs hard and keep a very tight hold on his head in order to keep him going forward. I wanted to do my usual and collect up the herd from behind so I didn’t leave any out in the bush. We made it half way through the scattered herd tucked in pockets of grass in a dense willow bush, when Old Blaze started whinnying—big LOUD trumpet blasts! Heads flew up! Tails raised, and the herd started a mad dash for camp. Blaze reared up and I lost my hold on the lead rope. I grabbed a fistful of mane and hung on for dear life as Blaze bolted forward. We smashed through the brush after the madly run-hobbling herd. We came up fast on the rump of a horse named Oreo and I tried desperately to rein Blaze back from running right over top of him. There was no stop in him! He bit at Oreo’s rump and the poor horse dodged off the trail running smack into a tree! (Oreo was blind in one eye). Horses were flying left and right off the trail, as we crashed through low hanging spruce, scratching my face, and jumped over a crik. I burrowed myself like gnat in his mane and prayed I stayed on and kept both my eyes! Blaze finally hit open ground and flew into camp, stopping dead center of the corral, his sides heaving.
I shakily untangled my hands from the knotted mane and slid to the ground. My shaking legs would barely hold me up. I leaned against Blaze’s side and gasped for air.
“That’ll learn ya.” Was all Greg said as he sauntered past to catch up the herd as they straggled in all sweated up.
Suffice it to say, I did learn from my mistake!
It is a good thing to learn from your mistakes. It’s a WISE thing to heed advice and learn BEFORE you make a mistake. It’s been proven that history repeats itself, because one generation tends to forget the hard lessons learned by a previous generation. I fear that we will see that happen very soon in these coming generations. We are forgetting the lessons learned by our great grandparents and grandparents during the settling of this country, the depression and the world wars.
Paul, the great evangelist for the Christian faith warns the Corinthian church to remember their history. To take the advice of someone who’s been there done that. We must be on guard so that we don’t get caught the way the Jewish people did back in the times of Moses—caught up in wanting our own way, as they did.
“These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 The Message
When I went to jingle on Blaze I didn’t take into account the warning Greg gave me. I was self-confident, lazy and naive. I could have easily injured myself or a horse. Thankfully I didn’t hurt myself and it was more of an adrenaline rush and a thrill ride. But after having to doctor a few of the horses that had cuts and a couple that showed up lame, I wasn’t so proud of myself. I should have heeded the warning given by someone who knew better. I did learn from that particular mistake, but there were many others that I have made due to not listening to a well-placed warning, either by people or by God. The key is to LISTEN and to ACT upon that advise.
“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. ” James 1:22-24 The Message