Monday, March 15, 2010
On Saturday, members from three local chapters of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington met at the Mt. Baldy trailhead for a work party to clear trails. DN1 commented that the words "work" and "party" should never be used in the same sentence. That's what we called them in the Navy, so it doesn't seem all that strange to me.
Challenge #1 was getting Smokey in the trailer. If there aren't other horses already in the trailer he tends to be a bit, shall we say "leery", about getting in the trailer (read: hell no, he won't go). Combine that with the fact that he hasn't traveled since September, and, well, I'm sure you get the picture. So there were were, me in the trailer, and the horse five feet behind, feet firmly planted, head and neck and stretched flat as I'm pulling on the lead rope. Irresistible force, immovable object, and all that.
Salvation arrived in the form of DN2, who happened by on her rounds for the morning horse feedings. After a couple gentle whacks on the rump, he capitulated and climbed into the trailer. Door shut, and off we go.
Upon arrival, horses were saddled, tools loaded on the pack mules, work briefing and off to work. I was assigned with the crew that was headed out to clear the Jack Daniels trail. With a name like that it must be a good trail. In our group was was a retired U.S. Army Colonel who had been a Ranger. Bill was riding one of his mules and ponying two others that were loaded with tools. Every so often, the mules would manage to get themselves into some predicament or the other. One one occasion, a brush cutter snagged on a tree limb, and was yanked out of the box of the #3 mule. This spooked the #2 mule, who took off running, pushing the saddle mule ahead. Off they disappeared into the woods, while mule #3, whose lead had broken free, stopped to munch on ferns. After few minutes, Bill and the other two mules re-appeared. Things were fixed, and off we went.
Bill is absolutely unflappable. Each time a problem would occur, he just let the commotion die down before doing or saying anything. Then he would sort things out, and off he would go. I've heard that mules have to treated calmly, as they never forget, and you only get one chance to make a mistake.
The weather was co-operative, if you call sporadic rain and hail, with occasional sun breaks co-operative. We managed to cover quite a bit of ground, clearing a great deal of debris and overgrowth. Poor old Smokey was pretty whooped up on by the time we headed back to the trail head. He was walking pretty slow, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to carry him back.
A campfire, chicken and dumplings, and hot coffee were ready at the parking area when we got back. But not until horses were untacked, watered, and fed. The rule is that horses are tended to first, people second. The animals work hard for us, and they have earned that.
Strangely enough, I didn't have any trouble getting Smokey into the trailer for the trip home. I'm sure he slept good.