As I was chasing on foot a runaway horse this past week through a swamp pasture, I was reminded of my times wrangling in the Yukon. I touched briefly on tracking horses in a previous post, but here I will expand on some of the less than fine moments of catching up horses.
One time in particular, was at a halfway camp near the Coal River. This is the camp with the cabin that had deep imprints of a grizzly bear track right in through the door of the cabin. This is the spot where I pitched my little pup tent below some mighty huge trees and prayed a bear wouldn’t come sniffin’ in the night. From what I remember this camp is pretty much surrounded by river on at least 2 or 3 sides, basically making an island for the horses to be turned loose on to graze. Willow bushes shrouded most of the “island” with a few pockets of open grass.
The first night the horses stayed close to camp keeping everyone awake with the ringing of their bells, and by the second night the whole area was a mess of tracks from the horses roaming around in endless circles.
The brush was thick and tall and I basically had to pick a direction in the morning and hope my ears could catch the sound of bells so I could know what direction to head. This was also early in the season for me and I was still trying to get the hang of coming into brand new area with no idea of where the horses liked to hang out. From the tracks it seemed they preferred to graze in circles that ranged further and further out and then circle back in and start all over again. It was completely frustrating and confusing for me—new to tracking that I was. It’s one thing to follow one set of tracks in an untouched area and entirely another to pick out the freshest tracks of fifteen horses that have been in an area for a few days. Hats off to Mantracker!
Well it was a few mornings in and I was basically sucking at bringing the horses in fast enough to please the guides. I was told to NEVER EVER come back to camp without the horses. But the one morning I just couldn’t figure out where they went and it was getting later and later. I figured I would tuck tail and just ask for help, rather than delay the hunting anymore. I was told they were probably across the river. I assured them that I hadn’t found any tracks leading that way.
Well one of the guides was more than displeased with me. After tearing a strip off my back, he stalked off into the bush to show me a thing or two. Within fifteen minutes of flat out walking we came to the river. He pointed emphatically and stated that they were across the river. I firmly pointed out that I hadn’t found any tracks leading into the river, so I wasn’t crossing the river on the supposition that they MAY POSSIBLY be across the river. It was wide and fairly fast flowing and I was on foot. I only had the jeans I was wearing and one spare pair to last me to the end of the hunt. I wasn’t getting wet unless I absolutely had too!!!
He told me in no uncertain terms that I was crossing the river, because the horses were there whether I had found tracks or not. I think he realized I was a little upset and so crossed the river with me, shouting profanities the whole way.
Yep it was waist deep and shockingly cold. And yep he was right the stupid horses were on the other side lazing in a grassy meadow, all the bell mares laying down having a snooze. I was astounded at the time that the hobbled horses would cross that chest-deep, rocky-bottomed river. But after the things I’ve seen horses do since then, it takes a lot to shock me now.
The only upside was I could ride back across the river and I had a pair of dry jeans and socks to change into.
Well the next morning I was counting on the horses not ending up in the same place, as they had never yet that year returned to the same place the following morning. So I started tracking as best I could. After over an hour with no sign and not a whisper of tinkling bells, I began to get a sinking feeling in my gut. They were back across that river.
Oh that water was icy cold!!! Oh was I ever mad! I used a few choice words I had picked up the previous morning on those horses when I found them. Barely managed to snag a horse to ride before they all perked up and charged back across the river to camp.
Dang it! My last pair of jeans was soaked and the pair from the day before wasn’t dry yet. Definitely made for an uncomfortable day in the saddle.
All this was running through my mind as I was stomping through a mucky swamp after the horse who had bolted away from me a few days ago. A huge part of me was mad and grumbling at the mare as my jeans were soaked to the knee and my hikers were saturated and making wet squishy sounds with every step I took. However, a funny little part of me was gleefully delighting in the fact that I was again chasing after a stupid horse in some mucky wet country. Kind of made me nostalgic for my younger “wilder” days. Only this time I was able to change into dry shoes and jeans!!!