A big draft horse pulling an Amish buggy is a pretty common sight in our part of the world, often bringing me to my office window when I hear the clomp, clomp, clomp of hoofs coming down Boyt Drive. It makes think that even in today’s fast paced, ultra tech world, we are not that far removed from the days when our nation was settled by adventurous men and women with pack trains and mule drawn wagons.
Across the western United States and Canada, hunters and outfitters are getting their mountain horses shoed up and ready for the upcoming elk, deer and sheep seasons.
At the end of a long day on the mountain, it is nice to know there is a ride waiting down below, in that regard, the mountain hunting horse reins king. From the farthest north reaches of the Dall sheep range in Yukon and Northwest Territories, south to elk and deer camps throughout the Rockies and all the way down to the Coues Deer haunts of the southwest, horses continue to play an important role in mountain hunting.
Those in the know will forever argue the merits of one breed over another when it comes to mountain hunting horses, but one fact that cannot be argued is that many of the horses engaged in the hunting business are draft horse/quarter horse crosses.
Since the beginning of outfitting history, light saddle horses have been crossed with draft horses to get big, strong colts that will carry a heavy load in difficult mountain country from morning till night. The inherent gentle dispositions of most draft breeds make them well suited for Dude horses as well, although their large size can make mounting and dismounting a bit difficult for some hunters. Draft breeds like Belgians and the Percheron, are prized for their intelligence, agility and wiliness to work, making them ideally suited for hunting. Many draft breeds were originally bred as warhorses, and breeds like Percherons can be traced back to before the first century. If you ever wonder why we mount horses from the left side, the most accepted explanation goes back to these original warhorses whose riders wore their heavy swords on their left sides so they could more easily draw with their right hand. They would grab a chunk of mane with each hand and swing their right leg over the top. Today we have stirrups to help with the mounting process and fortunately, heavy battle swords have gone out of fashion, but we still mount horses from the left side.
I try and go on a horseback hunt at least once a year. It is one of my most favorite things to do and I am not a horseman by any stretch of the imagination.
Until next time,