Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Heading into the Bob for the Fourth

It has been such a busy summer so far that I haven’t had much of a chance to get out on the trail, but this weekend my stepson, Kevin, and I are taking a pack trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. And it should be a great time. The weather is finally starting to clear up (feels like it has been raining for a month straight), so we should have no problems that way.

So we are headed up the South Fork of the Flathead River. We will be leaving from the Meadow Creek Trailhead and riding about 12 miles in to an area known as Black Bear. I haven’t spent much time in there over the years. I always seem to be riding past it on my way to some other location. So this seemed like a good time to check it out. We will probably be camping at a spot called Kelly Point right near the river. We are hoping to spend most of the weekend fly fishing for Cutthroat Trout.

We are going in with two saddle horses, Marley and Rusty, and two pack mules, Rosie and Violet. We are not packing the mules with my TrailMax Not-A-Knot system like I usually do because Kevin wants to practice his cargoing skills. So we are packing strictly manties on this trip. We are going a little easy on the weight this trip since it is the mules’ first trip out. And the horses haven’t gotten a whole lot of use yet this year either. At the moment I am feeling generous enough to offer my new trail horse, Marley to Kevin to ride since we haven’t bought a horse for him yet. Rusty likes to be in front, so Kevin will be leading the pack string.

I also chose this area because it was a reasonable distance in. Not too much for a first trip for the pack mules and trail horses and not so close that we would be guaranteed lots of company in our camp or feel like we hadn’t really left civilization behind. This is what I call a tune-up trip where we start getting everyone ready for the mountains. So taking into account the criteria that I discuss in my article on how much weight can your horse carry, we’ll watch the weight in the packs on this trip. We are also going to be taking lots of breaks because the girls in the office want me to take lots of pictures for our catalog and website.

So I won’t be blogging for a few days, but we expect to have a good time and have loads to tell you when we get back. Have a great 4th of July, Everyone!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Last notes from Bernice's letter

This is the last bit from Bernice's letter.

Now I am on Highway 12 heading east and have passed through small towns with many, many curious people stopping to visit. The days are hot and must stop by 1 or 2 pm. I get up as early as possible. Honor grows more and more dependable. Three nights ago we spent the night along the side of Highway 12…just could not go on any longer. The headlights of passing semis did not bother her in the least. We move together well and are getting the routine down...packing and unpacking is a ritual. I let Honor eat as we walk. She’s learned not to stop and it keeps her happy. I try to get four hours of travel in before the heat sets in. Then we take a break with saddle and packs off. We then put in two more hours, rest and another two hours and then we are done for the day.

Claire always wears her booties on the pavement. The ditches are not safe with rattlesnakes and glass and being so very rough, so we stay on the road. It’s a trade off...hard on the feet and legs, but safer in the long run.

I hope to be out of Montana in a week or so, will make a hard push up to Miles City and then down to Ekalaka and stay. We will rest a few days in the Custer National Forest before looking at South Dakota. At the moment, Honor stands behind me half-dozing. We are in a little lean-to out of the strong winds and sun. Claire is in the corner, snapping at flies. We have taken a two-day break here in Vananda. Will send photos soon.

Best to all,

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bernice's adventures in Flatwillow

More from Bernice...seems like she still has her sense of humor.

Grass Range to Flatwillow was a long stretch with no cars all day. I told a passerby the other day that had stopped to visit with us that it wasn’t like being in a car out here. That on a horse or walking you were “in it”…and “in it” … and “in it.” That it didn’t just shoot past you. The immensity of this open country either terrifies or embraces. I feel exposed and touch by vastness.

We made it into Flatwillow in the late afternoon. It was hot and there was a storm coming on. I knew I needed shelter for the night. I try to find shelter most nights now as afternoon storms come through with high winds, rain and many times hail. The place a stopped was a house belonging to the Bulls Eye Ranch, a 50,000+ acre ranch. The Connellys were the managers and the set me up in the empty house. They took me over to their hours for supper and showed the ranch and were just a delightful family to spend the evening with. They gave me clean clothes and dog and horse food. We visited until late that evening.

Heading south out of Flatwillow, it was a cool morning. I was now heading through unmarked roads for a stretch of 30 miles or so that connected with 4 Mile Road that goes into Musselshell. Little dirt roads went every which way. Even with Jim Connelly’s directions, there was no way. I got lost, disoriented and worried. I just couldn’t keep going. About a mile or two away were oil wells and I thought pickup trucks. We hiked over to the ridge, climbed to the top and sure enough, there were a few little shacks that were used to work in, gather information, etc. Here I met Bob and Mark. I’d tied Honor and Claire down below as the place was fenced off from cattle. I walked in and said, “Your wives sent me to check up on you.”
Not a word.
I said, “You do have wives, don’t you?”
Yeah, yeah.
They were stunned I guess. Anyway, we laughed and I told them I was lost and could they help me? Water? Etc. Bob took me in his pickup and showed me the road...roads...I would need. As I said, I’d never have found my way through the maze of roads.

It was about 5 pm and they were finishing up work. That they were there was somewhat of a miracle. Bob and Mark sent me off with apples, bananas, candy bars, pretzels and tomato juice that I later made into soup that night. I headed back to a set of corrals that had shelter and water where we camped for the night and id it ever rain and storm that night! We walked the next morning in the pouring rain that soaked the clay ground making walking and riding so hard and long. But about 1 pm the sun came out and who came driving down the road but Bob and his wife, Nancy. They came to make sure I’d made it. Wow. And they brought food! Wow again. Hungry? Yes! They invited me to stay at their place that evening in Musselshell. I ended up staying two up and resting up.

Friday, June 23, 2006

More of Bernice's letter

Here's more from Bernice's letter. She offers a fairly poetic look at some lesser known parts of the Big Sky State. Enjoy! There will be more tomorrow.

So let’s see…here’s a brief round up of the past week or so after leaving the Lewistown area. We rode a few short easy days. We spent the first night in Giltedge in a rancher’s hay corral. The next day we made it as far as Highway 87 after a day of cross country riding along a ridge line that offered spectacular views, dirt roads, four wheeler roads, cattle trails and many, many fences and gates to go through. We came out somehow through a strip of trees lining the bottom of the ridge only to find a creek I could not cross. And a herd of cattle dancing circles around us as we walked the fence line looking for a crossing. Luck and good fortune were with me as evening approached and we found a grown over trail that still held a culvert for a crossing. We again stayed in a hay corral. There was even a watering tank where I could wash up and Claire and Honor could get good water. I try every night to cool Honor’s back off with water or ice if I’m at someone’s house. I know she appreciates it and surely it feels good. The ranch owner (of the hay corral with the water tank) stopped by checking to see who, what, where and said “Fine, yes, stay.”

Morning brought rain as we walked Highway 87 into Grass Range. Stopped at Little Montana CafĂ© and tied Honor up out front which brought many people to a halt with questions and looks. They brought my breakfast outside so I could stay with the animals. This was a little boardwalk, reddish building covered with years of dust, weathered and part of yet another, half-empty town. As I have passed through many more this week, I call them “born again towns.” They were once thriving towns, gold mining towns, railroad towns with hundreds, even thousands that populated the areas. Now all the snap, crackle and pop is out of them, but somehow a business has re-emerged or a house has been filled with a family and another town springs life from old decayed buildings and town sights. It is interesting. Flatwillow, Musselshell, Sumatra, Ingomar, Vananda all hold remains of prosperous towns, beautiful hotels, schools, banks, train depots, brick structures and many ornate, classy buildings rich with history and stories.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Word from the Trail

Hello, Everyone! It's been busy around the store as people prepare for the upcoming holiday weekend (myself included!) and haven't gotten to the blog lately. But we got a letter from Bernice today. She has had some troubles (which I have shared with you below), which have caused her to take some time off. The letter is much longer than this, but I thought I would just share this section today because I would like to make some comments about it.
Wind blows hard from the West. Brings cool, bug-free days. Without it, it is miserable.

Must get words off to you. Feel like I’m adrift on the ocean in another country. Northwest Montana is long ago. Even Eastern Montana feels like another state, so different is the landscape. This open, endless prairie, the rose sunsets, the skyline defined by a single tree or long forgotten building. It all feels far away and the ranchers, farmers or those holed up in some abandoned town in a house hardly fit to live in are just out there, surrounded by space the sound of wind and the hope that it will stay that way.

Spring has been good to this area…luscious, green grass, tall blades, crested wheat, alfalfa, clover, cheat grass. Cattle fat with young calves suckling move slowly across 10,000+ acre ranches.

We move slowly. Honor has sores on her withers … not from the saddle, not from pads, but from my own negligence, not paying attention. Remember when we spoke of cutting out the pads. Well, I cut out the white ¼” pad, but not enough. I had added a wool blanket, one I was using to sleep on and the Pro Choice pad on top. It was way too much. It was a hot day and I was tired. Honor was getting agitated by a bridge. We had stopped to rest and she was not willing to settle down, so I said OK, we’ll just keep going. This was crossing the Missouri River on 236 south bound. I put the saddle on fast and too far forward. She was all trot and dance and she had swelling that evening. No sores just swelling.

Anyway, long story short – I’ve taken two weeks off and am walking a hell of a lot. But we are all healing and are now just north of Forsyth, MT. There’s no one to blame but myself and I feel Honor is just now forgiving me for my pushing and for not paying attention. She’s a hard one to pad and I’m not done yet experimenting with padding. I think one can get away with more on a broad, flat-backed horse, but her narrow ridge line of a backbone is a just asking to sore up. I have to be very specific about pressure points. Anyway, we shall survive.

In my opinion, this is the type of situation that truly defines a long rider. The standard definition of a long rider is someone who rides a 1,000 miles in a stretch. However, unwritten in that definition is what it takes to be a long rider. A successful long rider will have some horse experience, creativity and tenacity. When you are on a long ride, you are out there on your own. So when problems occur, you are the only one who can solve them. You need to have the horse experience to recognize problems when they occur and with any luck, recognize potential problems before they occur. When problems do occur, you may be far from civilization and far from anywhere where you could buy a “fix”. So you need to be creative enough to find a solution to your problems or a temporary fix that will get you through. And you can’t give up the first time something goes south.

So, before anyone jumps all over Bernice for her current situation, I just want to point out that she has all of these traits. While Bernice may be condemning herself for causing the problem, she should possibly give herself credit for recognizing the problem before it became a bigger issue for the horse. Her horse experience allowed her to know that padding this horse would not be simple and to keep an eye out for potential problems. Her experience also helped her recognize the problem when it did occur. She is being creative in her approach to solving the problem by cutting the pad, trying different combinations of pads and blankets, etc. And her tenacity is what keeps her walking toward Minnesota even though she can’t ride the horse, instead of giving up. I think this experience of Bernice’s is proof positive that Bernice Ende is a true long rider.

Bernice had more to say that I will post in parts over the next few days as it was a rather long letter (she has promised to send pictures soon). As always, for more information on Bernice and her trip, you can check in at

Friday, June 16, 2006

More interview questions with Bernice Ende

Here is some additional information about Long Rider, Bernice Ende and her trip. We now have a map showing her basic route around the West.

Where are you going and how long will it take?
I have planned an 18-month, 5,000-mile round trip journey from Trego, Montana via Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona and Washington. I've planned breaks of 2-3 weeks along the way, but have also set deadlines to reach certain destinations.
East Glacier, MT to Waconia, MN
Waconia, MN to Las Vegas, NM
Las Vegas, NM to Tucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ to CA and the Pacific Crest Trail
Pacific Crest Trail, then north to the mouth of the Columbia River in Naselle, WA
Naselle, WA to Trego, MT

What is the biggest challenge during the first week or two on the trail?
Getting the routine down and getting everyone accustomed to the routine and accepting that this is it, we are out here and always going forward.

What do you miss most when you are out on the trail?
Not much really. Sometimes food, sometimes a hot shower. I was so happy out there last year. I really feel like I belong out there.

What do you miss most about the trail when you finally arrive home?
Time and freedom. When you are out there, it’s like another world, another time. Life takes on a different flow. Regular cycles as we know them do not exist. There are no gaps, no regular routines. The rest of the world seems bigger because my world out there is so small. And not having so many things out there makes me really appreciate having them when I am home. We have so much.

Did you have any trouble with wild animals last year?
There was something there just about every night. They come and check you out. I would know they were there because the horse would stamp and snort. He wasn’t bothered by deer or elk, so I knew it was a bear or a coyote or mountain lion. My usual reaction was to talk to it in a really loud voice for a minute or so. Then they would usually wander away. By dawn, they would stop visiting and the horse could relax, eat and rest. Their presence basically became part of our routine. I would purposely ride late, so I could set up camp late.

As I said on Wednesday, we'll keep posting more updates and Q&A's as we get them. If you have any questions for Bernice, please be sure to send us an email at or comment on this post. We can't promise when we will get the answer, but we will be sure to pass the question along. Happy Trails!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Interview with Bernice Ende, Long Rider

For those of you following Long Rider, Bernice Ende's journey around the western United States, I thought some background information on her might be interesting. Through conversations during her preparations and a question and answer session we held on the morning of her departure, we have some interesting information about Bernice to share with you. Here are a few of the questions we asked with Bernice's answers:

How did you get started with long riding?
I always knew I would do a long ride. When I started thinking about last year’s trip, it was just a perfect time in my life. I had sold my dance studio and I had no other responsibilities. I was training horses for the McCurry’s when the idea popped into my head. And it would just not go away. I kept trying to talk myself out of it and couldn’t. I just didn’t believe the doubts I would try and convince myself I should have. I finally told some friends that I was going to do it and that committed me. It was all planning from there on out.

How did you and Honor [the horse] train in preparation for the trip?
We worked a lot on “desensitization”. I exposed her to cars, trucks, semis, logging trucks, school buses, ATV’s, bicycles, llamas, hikers, anything and everything that we could find. Kids and dogs running at her from a house as we pass on the street. And every time, I turned her to face what was coming to make her braver. It also helps develop the trust bond that we need out there. I also used my dressage training to work on her responsiveness, flexibility and aids as well as fitness and muscle building. We worked with and without a saddle and with and without packs. Ultimately she has to be able to do anything I ask of her loaded with the saddle, the saddlebags and me.And we trained for endurance. We worked on walking, trotting, running, climbing, trail work, hill work and road work. We varied our schedule. Some days we would ride 8 miles and some days we would ride 20 miles.

What do you do in camp?
The first thing is to attend to the horse and the dog. Both animals need to be brushed, rubbed down and have their feet checked out. Once they are taken care of and eating, I will cook myself something as well. Then I like to sit, look, listen and observe. I will often check my maps and think about the next day or the next week or where we have been.Many times it isn’t all that quiet because something makes the horse nervous. She fills up on grass and now she is ready to go. Or maybe there is a creature out there in the dark or whatever. Claire, however, just passes out.

We'll keep posting more Q&A's as we get them. If you have any questions for Bernice, please be sure to send us an email at or comment on this post. We can't promise when we will get the answer, but we will be sure to pass the question along.

Monday, June 12, 2006

New Horse and Mule Packing DVD

We had another rainy spring weekend here in Glacier Country, so I watched our new DVD from Bob Hoverson. I was really impressed.

For those of you who don't know Bob Hoverson, he has worked for the Forest Service for over 30 years, riding about 1,000 miles and packing over 100,000 pounds of gear every year. He is a Master Instructor of packing and Leave No Trace and teaches the Forest Service Packing Class out of the Nine Mile remount station. Last year he released The Packer's Field Manual, a book on packing with a Decker Pack Saddle that makes a great companion to this DVD. Bob and I have been friends for years and I can't think of anyone more qualified to make this DVD.

As I said, I was impressed with the DVD. It is a great tool for learning everything you would need to know about how to pack traditional cargo loads on a Decker Pack Saddle. I call these manty loads, but Bob refers to them in the traditional terminology of cargo loads. The video is over two hours long and divided into eight chapters discussing equipment and techniques.

Bob does a great job of showing you the parts of the Decker Pack Saddle and explaining what each part does so that you really understand your equipment. He also does a great job of explaining how to fit the saddle and the rigging to each animal, (which is where I learned something about equine anatomy and cinch placement). He talks about the various hitches a person can use to tie up your load and sling your load to the saddle. And he really makes it clear why the Decker Pack Saddle is so well suited for packing big loads, heavy loads and awkwards loads.

He doesn't just talk about the pack saddle and the pack loads either. There are tidbits here and there on stock management, safety, etc. There is just a wealth of great information in this video. Even for you guys that just want to pack with panniers and a top pack or just pack in a couple times a year, the information presented here is useful and the skills you can learn might save you in an emergency sometime.

Plus, you know, cargoing loads is fun and a challenge and you look great going down the trail. And its an American tradition that should be kept alive for future generations. So, kudos to Bob for doing a quality job of filling a void in horse packing education tools.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bernice is on her way to Musselshell, MT

Good morning, everyone!

We received a letter from Long Rider, Bernice Ende yesterday saying that she was heading SE toward Musselshell. She sent a little note saying that she was recently interviewed by a writer from Western Horseman. So we can all be on the look out for that article. We will definitely let you know if we find out what issue it will be in.

She also said that a TV crew from Great Falls, MT was going to catch up with her sometime this week and a radio station in the area was also going to do a spot on her. Bernice is sure getting a lot more press and attention this year compared to last year, but she said herself that she thinks part of this is that she is much more accessible to the public on this year's route as opposed to last year where she spent a lot of time in the mountains and National Parks.

She also sent us some more background information on her and "her team" for all of you who have been contacting us with these questions. I thought to keep it interesting for all of you that I would post one or two questions every day or every other day. You can also check Bernice Ende's pages at the Outfitters Supply website for more information.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Highlines vs Picket Lines

I wanted to take this opportunity to clear up some terminology generally used by people who camp with their horses and mules in the backcountry.

I was talking with a customer on the phone and we were discussing how to feed and contain your trail horses and pack mules in camp. I started talking about how I would picket my dominant horse and hobble the rest of the group to allow them to free graze for a while. Then then I would put them all back on the highline. There was a short silence and then he asked, "Well, when does the dominant horse eat?"
"When he is on the picket line, " I said.
"How do you do that?" he said. "Leave his lead rope real long?"
"No, " I said. "He doesn't have a lead rope on. He's on a picket rope."
We went a few more rounds like this until I realized that he and I had very different images of what a horse picket line was. Once we got that cleared up and got our lingo straight, we were able to have a fruitful conversation.

I know for a fact he is not the only horseman out there using this terminology and I thought this confusion could be a good thing to talk about here, so that no matter what you call things, you know what your options are for feeding your horses and mules in the backcountry. Here are some definitions:
  • Horse Highline: a length of rope strung between two trees as high up as I can get it from which (in my case, anyway) hang In-Line Swivels to which I attach each horse's (or mule's) lead rope. The animals can then stand comfortably next to each other or move around in circles without getting tangled up. If I am able to keep an eye on them, I can even let them have enough lead rope to lie down or roll. Horses are typically much more comfortable on a highline than tied to a tree or a hitching rail.
  • Horse Picket Line: some people refer to a horse highline as horse picket line. Truly what they probably have in mind is a rope strung between two trees at about 5 feet off the ground to which they would tie horses on either side. Really, a horse picket line is a rope hitching rail.
  • Picketing your horse: when I talk about picketing my horse, I am referring to pounding a picket pin or picket stake into the ground with about 30 feet of rope that attaches to a single-leg picket hobble on my horse's front leg. He can then graze in a circle around the picket pin.

Hopefully this will help make things clearer and you can find the system of feeding or containment that will work best for you in your terrain. Some additional notes on each one...

  • I use my horse highline mainly for containment, although I can still feed my horses with feedbags on a highline or string a hay bag from an In-Line Swivel if I brought hay and was so inclined.
  • A horse picket line is used almost strictly for containment.
  • I picket my dominant horse and hobble the rest to graze them and then put them on a highline to contain them. But picketing your horse can be a viable option for containment if, for instance, you are camping where there are no trees. Just remember when you picket your horse to clear the area of rocks or anything the rope could potentially snag on and to move the picket frequently to limit damage to the area.

I could say a lot more on each one of these (and probably will!), but for now I just wanted to address any confusion folks might have.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Trail Riding Etiquette, Part II

Last time I got through about half of the basic trail riding etiquette tips that I had. This is by no means a complete list and as you can see, we have had one reader contribute another tip. Please feel free to add your tip by making a comment to this entry. Here are some additional tips.

Nasty horses in the back. If your horse is unruly, he should bring up the rear where his poor behavior will not be witnessed by the other horses and cause them to get upset as well. And, if you are lucky, he may learn a thing or two from watching calmer horses in front of him all day.

Tie a red ribbon in the tail of a horse that kicks. If you are following a horse with a red ribbon, obviously it would be safer to maintain a little more distance between you, but also you might be extra watchful for signs of forewarning: pinned ears, swishing tail, hind leg at the ready, etc. Remember that your horse could move to avoid the kick and put you in its path instead. A broken leg or knee from a kick 10 steep miles from the trailer is no fun.

Mares in season and stallions can present special problems on the trail. They require an extra level of attention on the part of the rider and the others in the group. If you are riding one, be extra vigilant of her/his behavior. If you are not, but they are part of your group, keep an extra eye out on these animals. Ideally the rider on either of these animals would be an experienced horseman, but we all know you can’t count on that. Warn oncoming riders if necessary. And then also consider that any horse you may pass on the trail could be a mare in season or a stallion and that the rider may not be experienced.

Watch the footing, especially on uphills and downhills. Gravel on rocks is like ice. Wet bridges can also be very slippery. If you encounter problems, warn any riders behind you.
When leading and/or riding with anyone behind you

  1. Walk

  2. Always ask before trotting/loping

  3. Warn of holes, bad footing and other dangers

  4. Warn when you are stopping

  5. Warn if a branch might snap back in someone’s face

  6. Keep track of other riders behind you

  7. Take turns leading, if possible…share the dust.

When you reach a watering area, take turns and don’t crowd. Wait for everyone to finish before moving off. And remember your Leave No Trace ethics: do not destroy additional water front so you can all water at the same time. Use only the obvious area where animals come down to drink.

Stop if there is a wreck. This should be pretty obvious. Your help may be needed. But also, once again, horses are herd animals and do not like to be left alone, especially in an unfamiliar area. If you ride off, while someone is trying to mount back up, their horse could panic and take off to catch up with the group.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics:

  1. Don’t cut switchbacks.

  2. Try not to walk through soft, wet ground. Horses’ hooves are sharp and destroy vegetation.

  3. Pick up all your trash, including cigarette butts, and pack it out.

  4. Pick up other people’s trash to keep places as pristine as possible and set a good example.

  5. Be respectful of those who live there and those who will visit behind you.

  6. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Always be prepared for the idiot or the inconsiderate. Be prepared for someone to take off at a gallop while you are mounting, bump into you from behind or stop dead in front of you.

Keep your comments to yourself (or pick your battles). Unless the situation is a health risk or puts a life in danger, refrain from passing on your horsemanship wisdom. Many people may not respond well to a “know-it-all” or will resent the implication that they are stupid. Your “helpful suggestions” may cause more harm than good.

Additional safety items
  1. Always carry ID on your person and on your horse in case you become separated.

  2. Tell someone where you are going in case you don’t come home, even when riding with a group.

  3. Carry basic survival gear on your horse and at least the bare minimum on your person: cell phone, matches, food, water.

    Following basic trail etiquette can help ensure the safety of you, your horse safe and others who you ride with or meet on the trail. But just as importantly, it can keep the trails open to horses. Many trails are closed to horses because of riders who abused the privilege. It is a privilege as much as your right to ride these trails. Remember that you are always an ambassador of horseback riding and that we all share the outdoors. If non-riders always meet a courteous and polite horseman on the trail, their impression of all of us will hopefully remain positive.