“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man”– often attributed to Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan, probably neither coined the saying.
And so our spirits have been high at the sight of our new horses! So far we’ve acquired two of the four horses that Robin and I plan to take on the project. Lil (pictured right) was the first. She is more or less perfect in every way. We think, second in rank to the two of us, that she will probably be our lead Mare. Experienced at 14 years, even-headed but energetic, willing and brave, she will lead the others well. The second horse we decided on, Denny (Pictured left), is younger at 8 years old. He is sound, smart, gentle, and aims to please. We think he’ll do well.
While looking for horses we have found a number of things to be true. One of which is that advertisements for horses in the MiniNickle, on Craigslist, or anywhere else, are almost guaranteed to omit certain unfavorable characteristics of the horses for sale. “Great 14 hand horse for sale!” (actual height at the withers, 12 hands – that’s a pony). “No holes, no bullshit!” is a favorite line. There are always holes, and often bullshit.
Buying one horse can be a harrowing experience. Buying four can be downright nerve wracking. Especially if those four need to carry you and your gear across 1,500 miles of remote, sparsely populated country, through towns and busy cities, across rivers and interstates, without pooping out, breaking down, blowing up, running into traffic, going lame, or being a general headache the whole way. To find a horse that is sound and healthy, with good conformation and good feet is one thing. To find a horse that has a good mind, that is another thing. It has to be calm enough to be gentle and even headed in scary situations. It has to be smart enough to learn new things all along the way, brave enough to take on challenges, energetic enough to have some go and get you there. It has to have some years under its belt to have seen enough to know a thing or two, and young enough to not break down. Now to find a horse with both the necessary physical and mental qualities, that’s a real trick.
A lot of horses that are calm and experienced are on their way out at 20+ years old. Most horses that have “go” and can “walk out” without constant leg pressure and prodding are high strung and nervous. Often horses with years of experience in pack-strings, working for dude ranches and outfitters are fine as long as they’re on a single track staring at the backside of another horse, but try and take them out on their own, through an open field, and it’ll be like trying to ride a nervous snake. The horses with the best handle on them (the ones with the best steering) often have spent a lot of time in an arena, and little time out in the big scary world. Most young horses are sound, but inexperienced; lots of old horses are experienced, but not sound. It is not easy to have the best of all worlds. Plus, we’re on a budget.
Luckily, there are good horses out there, and for reasonable prices. After a long search, we couldn’t be more excited about the two that we have found.
Lil, a bay, has ridden trails all over the western states, from California to Nevada and Utah to Montana. Denny, a dark buckskin, was a ranch horse in his previous life. Beginning to work with Lil and Denny over the past few weeks has been such an incredible joy. We were lucky enough to find a stable nearby, a ten minute drive from our little basement apartment in Bozeman, and have been working with them every day. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to see those two everyday. To feel their breath and hear their foot steps, to smell their coats on my hands as I’m driving home. Its true, I think, there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. There is something too of connecting with their interior, looking into their eyes and seeing them for themselves, as individuals with personality and agency. Respecting that they are horses, not humans, but acknowledging them as conscious beings with their own agency, and greeting them as partners, does good for a man’s (or woman’s) insides as well.