After a seemingly interminable search, we have found the four horses, plus Pearl the mule, that will come with us across the plains. With our group finally assembled, we are set to leave mid July.
We found our third horse, Sally, at the end of an exhausting couple of weeks of 10-hour days driving around looking at every horse for sale in Montana. Eventually we found ourselves on a gorgeous ranch on the north bank of the swollen Yellowstone River half an hour east of Billings. When Robin and I hopped on the big red roan dun mare we had come to see, we both knew she was the one we had been looking for. Sally stands taller than our other horses, and is about twice as wide, but beautifully proportioned. She’s ¼ draft horse and ¾ quarter horse, getting size, strength, and a docile nature from her draft grandparent, and agility, responsiveness, and speed from her cow horse ancestors. She is calm, gentle, and gets along with our other mares well. Her namesake, “Sally” from Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove, is particularly auspicious because Robin picked up the book to read the night before we went to see her. It could be coincidence, but we’re chalking it up to a good omen.
We found our fourth and fifth horses, Pearl and Lonesome, a couple of days ago at an outfitter based out of the Paradise Valley. The place sits tucked into a bend of the Yellowstone River in the shadow of the formidable looking Black Mountain. They’ve both logged hundreds of miles in the backcountry, have packed a ton, and know where their feet are. Pearl is the sweetest mule around, is great with her feet, and lives and breathes for a good ear scratch. Lonesome originally came from Canada from a premarin farm where pregnant mare’s urine is harvested for a drug that’s used to decrease menopausal symptoms. Living conditions are poor for the pregnant mares and most of the premarin foals are sold to slaughter. Lonesome was brought from the premarin farm to Montana as a colt, had a good start, and has been used in the mountains ever since. He’s got a steady head on his shoulders, is pretty unflappable, and doesn’t pay much note to traffic or tractors. He is a seasoned mountain man, and we think he’ll take to the plains gladly.
Raven, a chocolate colored bay who we’ve had for a few months now, was rescued from slaughter. She is an amazing little 6 year old. She’s our youngest horse, but easily our most reliable. She’ll cross anything, has a great handle on her, and has a ton of heart. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her spook at anything and the other mares follow her lead. She is the boss.
The mare we’ve had since the beginning, Lil, has taken to the constantly changing team in stride, scrutinizing the new comers at first and eventually allowing them to nuzzle her withers and drink beside her at the water tanks.
We took three of the horses up the creek near our barn to camp out for the first time a few weeks ago. With the memory of Viper breaking his leg on our first night out last Spring, and with Denny’s accident fresh on our minds, we were half prepared for disaster. Thankfully, everything fell right into place under a beautiful full moon rising. We took Lil and Sally on a trip up into the Crazy Woman mountains last week and they both did great. They were entirely unperturbed by the absence of switch backs up steep climbs or by the elk cutting across valleys lit with spring wildflowers. The electric blues of Alpine Forget Me Nots mixed up in the pastels of Penstemon among the violet Shooting Stars made a pretty gorgeous canvas to ride across.
We’re especially grateful for all of the help we’ve received over the last few weeks and over the past year while preparing for our trip. Our farrier in Bozeman, Joe Plymale, has been a godsend for the project. He’s taken extra time to work with our horses to make sure their feet are in the best condition possible before we set out. He’s been teaching us shoeing skills that we’ll need on the road. Each time he comes to shoe our horses he spends at least as long patiently answering our endless questions about what he’s doing and why and what we should do in this or that situation as he spends actually getting the shoes nailed on.
Last summer a friend of ours, Kurt Ilgin of Big Horn, Wyoming, a killer storyteller and the best horsemen we know, taught us important shoeing and packing skills as well. We are so grateful to both Kurt and Joe; without their help and support, and the generosity with which they share their trade and art, we would be ill prepared for this journey.
Finally, we’re so thankful for our friends, family, and supporters whose words of encouragement have been absolutely paramount to meeting the challenges we’ve met and continuing forward with this dream. An enormous thank you to Pat Gormley who took time off from work to help us with final preparations, and to Joyce Young who has lent us all sorts of things for the road and is a joy to see everyday at the barn.
Thanks for helping make it happen. We can hardly believe it’s about to unfold.
Here’s to a good trip and a safe journey,
Sebastian and Robin