Hooves versus Wheels

Repacking after Bert threw his pack and busted it all to pieces.

Repacking after Bert threw his pack and busted it all to pieces.

Well after a long week of mechanical breakdowns with my school bus I was reminded of the time when I was helping a guide repack a blown pack on a horse for the six time in less than two hours and how he was ranting  “Give me wheels any day over these dumb animals!”

Hooves over wheels or wheels over hooves? It was a hot topic that came up at various times in my years working with outfitters.  Some guides swore by their string of horses.  “Give me a horse and I can go anywhere.”  Others swore at their string of animals, “I’d trade them for four-wheelers in a heart beat!”  And every single one felt very passionate and strongly that his view was the right one.   And maybe every single one was right.

I can think of a few times in particular when I was tired of repacking a horse for the umpteenth time on the trail to a camp when I longed for the simplicity of turning a key and driving forward with no such drama.  I can think of the mornings of near-hyperventilation as I walked out into the pitch black to try and locate a herd of nearly wild horses that had been set loose to graze all night, and rarely ever finding them parked next to the cabin all ready for the days work.  Nope it was always a challenge to find them, bring them back to camp, feed and saddle and bridle them.  It took hours of work.  Flat out running sometimes.  Often harrowing rides bareback or crossing rivers and stream on foot, or meeting up with some other form of wildlife.  And when they did stay close to camp with their bells ringing and all their snorting and fooling around nobody got sleep except for the wrangler.

Whereas, I can think of the times we took those quads that stayed so obediently where they were parked.  They never moved and they didn’t make any noise.  With the turn of a key they fired up, ready for the day.  Minimal fuss it seemed.  Yet I remember the morning one had a flat tire or the other time that engine that was cranky because of the cold or some fluid or another leaked.  The numb hands and getting lost in the dark because the dang quad couldn’t find it’s way home.  Or the time the quad just couldn’t make it through the clear cuts and had to take the long way around to pull an elk off the mountain.  Sure a quad can go faster and farther but eventually it needs gas and it always needs steering and there are many places you can’t make a quad go when a horse has no problem going through or over.

Bert decided to unpack himself and busted up his packboxes

Bert decided to unpack himself and busted up his packboxes

Horses are noisy at night and when they are loose, but generally quiet when be being worked.  Vehicles are the opposite.  A quiet morning is ruined by the loud racing of a diesel engine.  Yet rarely will a vehicle reach out and bite you or kick you in the back when you are walking around it just because it felt cranky that morning.  Rarely do you have to worry about making it from the ground into the driver’s seat without being thrown into a muddy creek just because the truck was feeling it’s oats that morning.  However neither will a truck greet you with a “Good Morning” whicker and a soft nose kissing your face or grant you the pure pleasure of working in harmony to accomplish a task together (though I’m sure that’s debatable to some engine junkies).  I only say because I’ve worked both sides.  Used both horses and a vehicle for work and they both have their advantages and disadvantages and I guess like most debates this one will keep on going as long as there are advocates for both.

Scouting new country for sheep with a string of packhorses

Scouting new country for sheep with a string of packhorses

For me I don’t know if I’ve come to a set conclusion.  I have leaned in the past towards horses probably because I was used to them and their finicky habits.  Today, I think I will still go with horses because it seems more “romantic”.   I noticed that I rarely take pictures of quads or trucks but have lots of horses—they are much more photogenic.  Traveling on horseback through wild country is absolutely an unbeatable experience in my mind.  To top it all off, there is nothing like the feeling of an animal working in sync with you.

Then . . .

I think of those mornings when that horse bucked me off in the creek or the herd refused to come back to camp, or mare blew her pack for the umpteenth time, or a set of hooves went whistling past my ear when I was laying out feed, and how I wished for a solid set of 4 wheels to deal with.  Anyone who works with horses day in and day out knows they are anything but romantic and rarely come those moments when they are working in-sync with you or you with them. (maybe I just worked with a lot of crap, half-broke half wild horses, but still, if you have one of those perfect horses that is like an extension of your own mind, then they are a rarity and an exception)

However . . .

Then there are those bitterly cold morning when I am trying to get a bus started and it won’t start, or refuses to retain any sort of heat during a route, or the emergency brake won’t release or a fuel line breaks and I lose half a tank of diesel on the road, and I’m wishing life was simple and I could have a set of four hooves and warm back underneath me.  (And if you have one of those school buses that never breaks down and always starts like a charm, then you too have a rare exception!)

So maybe I haven’t made up my mind as of yet, after all!

Like most debates, I think the side you choose is the one that makes most sense to you at the time and usually benefits you in some way immediately.

So I’m curious, Hooves or Wheels?

Scouting new country in northern BC for sheep with a small pack string

Scouting new country in northern BC for sheep with a small pack string

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2 Responses to Hooves versus Wheels

  1. Andy says:

    Hooves. Peace and tranquility are important to me in the mountains, because wheels are part of my civilized life. Sure, you may get pitched, but it’s part of the experience. Conquering the elements, embracing the danger–be connected to ancestors who were drawn to the wilds like we still are today. Plus, I hate smelling like exhaust.

    • Jake says:

      Yes I totally agree with you Andy! When I’m out in the wilderness I love love love the feeling of exploring it on horseback. There is nothing like it! I don’t think I will ever get used to the noise and fumes of vehicles. And even if horses can be inconvenient and slow and a lot of work I think I would always gravitate to using them. However I am learning that in most all debates you always side with what you know the most and are the most familiar with.

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