The outside of a horse
Teddy Roosevelt is attributed to having said, "The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse". Having completed an exhilarating week riding a spirited gelding while on vacation at a dude ranch in Wyoming, I feel I know exactly what Teddy meant. I'm rejuvenated, refreshed, and relaxed, but mostly full of regret that my path in life keeps me from spending months rather than weeks riding in the Grand Tetons.
After four visits in five years, I find I am happier in and around the Teton and Yellowstone National Parks than anywhere I've ever been. I've also concluded that my affection for this part of Wyoming is due in no small part to riding. God intended that we see the Tetons from the back of a horse (no sacrilege intended). Why? Well, when you ride a horse, you cover as much ground as you would driving. The stop and go pace of crowded park roads assures that driving is slower going than a long, comfortable trot - and yes, I'm finally a competent enough rider that I can actually use "comfortable" as an adjective to "trot". You also see more of the park than you'll see if you walk (unless you can walk about 10 miles, a mile and a half above sea level, over the course of 2 1/2 hours, twice a day.).
We encounter wildlife in its natural habitat, closer than if we were in a vehicle. How close? Less than one hundred feet. Elk run from an SUV, but allow riders on horseback to cut through the herd. There's no engine noise and emissions to prevent us from hearing how a calf and cow communicate to locate each other. The sounds and scents from horses don't spook elk, and apparently mask the stink of the omnivores astride their backs.
We circle a herd of nearly 300 American bison, and your horse instinctively maintains a safe distance. The bulls stare you down. We're close enough to see their breath in the cool morning air, and to note that bulls have straight horns while the horns of the cows are curved. We observe how the cows circle around their young, like wagons anticipating an Indian attack.
Our wrangler leaves the trail and blazes his own, in search of a bull moose, pronghorn antelope, even a brown bear (grizzly). Wolves now populate the Tetons, and we wonder if' we''ll catch a glimpse of the pack we heard howling the night before.
We stumble upon a coyote. It bolts, and our wrangler gives chase! Cowboy fox hunt.
Our daughter keeps a checklist of the animals we've seen in the Tetons: bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, eagle, great white owl, heron, pelican (really!), coyote, badger, beaver,ground squirrel, and red tail hawk. Many of these live in habitats unreachable by foot or vehicle.
Riding at this particular dude ranch, the Triangle X, is special. If you can ride, you *will* ride, as in trot, canter, and gallop. You'll climb foothills and cross ridges on trails narrower than anything most folks would dare cover on foot. Take a full-day ride, and you'll climb to Ram's Horn, about 10,500 feet. The trails here are narrow, rocky, *and* steep, but the view is incomparable. Imagine yourself at the top of the Sear's Tower, but from the tower you can see the Bridger Mountains in Montana, the Tetons and Yellowstone Mountains in the south, and in the distant south, the Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre Slide.
You'll gallop through the shallows along the Snake River to cool off, and your horse will prove beyond doubt that his breed is playful, intelligent and *competitive*. You'll jump gullies. You'll learn that there's no shame in grabbing hold of a fistful of mane when your horse shies from a shadow, or stump, or scary rock.
Our son Matt had the unique experience of swimming across the Snake River on horseback. You have to see the current of the Snake firsthand to appreciate how daunting an effort this might be if you swam alone.
The poorly kept secret is out: Dave loves horses.
BTW, Teddy was only partly right about horses. If you treat them well and earn their trust, horses are wonderful, reliable, and playful companions. The best thing for the inside of a man may just be the inside of a horse...
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by Dave Piscitello