Planning and executing an elk hunt out West is a major undertaking. Planning and initial preparations must begin a year or more in advance. Hunters with poor preparations wind up with the same quality of hunting experience.
In addition to the processes involved in applying for special hunts, tags, units or outfitters, there are a horde of other preparations that must be planned and completed long before leaving for the actual hunt. Among those are preparing your horses for a long trip and the rigors of hunting in the mountains.
“Horses aren’t that different from us,” stated Bob Hunter, an avid elk hunter from Missouri. “They need to be in top physical shape, too, prior to leaving on a trip.”
Hunter rides his horses all year round, but believes it is very important to make regular rides beginning several months before making an elk hunting trip out West. “The rigors of mountain hunting are rough on humans and horses alike,” Hunter confirmed. “Both need to be in good physical condition and regular rides are good for both man and beast.”
Hunter owns three horses, all of which are experienced and steady. “I like to fine tune my horses,” he said. “Regular rides help to do that. It is important to work out any problems with the animals before leaving on a trip.”
Riding an unreliable animal in the mountains can turn from fun to dangerous in a split second. “I ride my horses around the farm and expose them to all types of terrain features,” Hunter explained. “I ride up and down hills, cross creeks, ride through heavily wooded areas with thick brush and low hanging limbs as well open areas. Occasionally, I take them through a pond for a short swim. The variety helps condition both me and my horses.”
“I often ride the trails with friends to allow the horses to get used to other people and each other. Too, friends often go West with me on an elk hunt. Many of them do not have a lot of experience with horses. The rides are a great source of excersise and also provide the opportunity for individuals to learn how to handle the horses.”
Hunter knows it is important to expose his horses and any inexperienced friends to every available scenario. Just as he will do on a mountain hunt, Hunter leads the pack while on practice rides. “Every horse is different,” he explained. “The horse I ride is a little feistier than the other two. I like to keep her out front. The other two are happy to follow, but even they get jealous of one another occasionally and one will try to get ahead of the other. There is not a lot of room for that on mountain trails, so we ride more as trip time approaches to get those kinds of problems worked out. Too, horses which have been ridden a lot, figure a lot of things out quickly when we arrive in the mountains.”
New shoes for the horses and a trip to the veterinary are important items as well. Each animal receives a health check and a Coggins test for out of state travel.
I have been walking daily and riding a mountain bike as well for months. A number of horseback rides though the hills have also conditioned other muscles seldom used. I am confident that old “Dixie” and I well do well in the mountains.