Horse Senseless

On the Range

"I have suggested to several outfitters that they consider tacking an additional $500 to the price of their hunts and allowing the hunter to shoot his stead at the end of each hunt. This would allow the hunter to shoot the animal he most  wants to kill."

Russell Thornberry

Bucks, Bulls and Belly Laughs

Poor Russell has it wrong. Now, he’s a fine fellow and a fabulous outdoorsman – I know this because his signature is on the checks I receive for this column – but when it comes to horses he doesn’t know open sights from a fogged-over scope.

I’ve spent my entire life around horses. I’ve been dragged (once), kicked (once), bucked off more times than I can count (three times so far this year) and survived numerous other wrecks involving ropes, remudas and runaways. I’ve raised registered Paints and Quarter Horses and dealt in bucking stock. My father raised many more before me and gathered wild horses when the range was still open.

I love horses. The best ones are the finest animals gracing this planet and even the worst are better than most people. To me, the ultimate hunt in the Lower 48 would have to involve horses, wilderness, and the bugling of rutting elk. Two of the finest pack horses I ever met – they happened to be full brothers – once saved a friend and I from disaster during a pitch black thunderstorm in the Rockies. The two horses nickering to one another guided us off that mountain.

Ain’t nothing better than a good horse, yet Russell seems to have problems finding one. In the interest of fair and balanced journalism I sought out and interviewed a horse -- I suspect Mr. Thornberry stuck him with the name "Alpo" -- that had once served Mr.Thornberry in the northern wilds.

GH – Mr. Alpo, I understand you carried an outdoor writer named Thornberry?

ALPO – Outdoor writers? I’ve carried a ton of ‘em. Lousy tippers. They promise you color photos and you’re lucky if you get a cube of sugar.

GH – This fellow wrote a chapter in his book about mountain horses. He inferred you were all dumb, blind, and awkward.

ALPO – Thornberry? Can’t say I remember him. All these dudes look and act alike. They wanna pat you on the neck. Geeze, we horses hate being patted. Give us a good scratch where we can’t reach. You should try wearing a hair coat all year.

GH – But you don’t remember Thornberry?

ALPO – Is he the guy that wears the black hat?

GH – No, that’s another Canadian.

ALPO- Well, like I said, they’re all the same. They set a saddle like a bag of potatoes in a shopping cart. Amateurs. It would nice to be ridden by a real hand once in awhile.

GH – You know the difference?

ALPO – Know the difference? Give me a man who knows how to pull the on-side rein toward him, take a hunk of my mane in his left hand and mount me like the war horse I want to be. Instead, they kick me in the side twenty times trying to stab the stirrup then fall aboard like they were dropped from a cliff. Geeze, and they wonder why we’re grumpy.

GH – I suppose many hunters are more afraid of you than they are bears.

ALPO – I know they are. I can smell fear. Remember, I’m a vegetarian and an animal rights activist, yet, I’m supposed to go into deep, dark timber with the smell of predators everywhere believing my human is going to keep me from being eaten. Heck-fire, think about it. I’m a prey animal with a carnivore on my back and I can feel him trembling in his boots.

GH – How about the charges of being lazy and blind?

ALPO – Lazy? No one tells us how far we’re going when we leave camp. Its in our nature to conserve energy. And blind? Well, I suppose we are in some ways. I can’t see directly in front of me or directly behind me but that’s where the humans always want to stand. And they wonder why they get stepped on. And I don’t see colors, just shades of gray and motion. Imagine a forest looking through my eyes. Squirrels look like the twitch of a lion’s tale.

GH – I suppose in today’s world most of your clients are fairly ignorant about horses.

ALPO – Ignorant? They think we’re four-wheelers with iron shoes. We’re flesh and blood. We think. We have feelings. They think they can just get on us, push a button and make us do whatever they want. Listen, the prettiest places and the best hunts can only be found with our help and that’s the way it should be. If humans would work with us instead of against us they could have the adventure of a lifetime.

GH – What are some other common misconceptions people make about you?

ALPO - First of all, they think we smell. Smell? We eat green grass. Have you ever tried to sleep downwind from a human who’s lived on airplane food? Secondly, they think we’re supposed to be some sort of willing partner in this hunting business. We’re not dogs. If they want a hunting partner they should get a Black Lab.

GH – You sound like you’re on the elk’s side.

ALPO - Hey, elk and moose have never kicked me in the ribs and yelled "Hi-ho, Silver, away!"

GH – But this Thornberry—"

ALPO – Who?

GH – Thornberry. He’s a widely published and widely traveled outdoor writer.

ALPO – He’s probably just wide, most of ‘em are. From horn to cantle, their cup runneth over if you know what I mean."

GH – This interview makes me wonder how you got into this business.

ALPO – Too slow for the track, don’t care for cows, and the show ring is for sissies.

GH – I bet you’ve met some interesting humans, though.

ALPO – No, not really. They don’t spend anytime with us. They sit around the fire, passing a jug of stinkwater and tellin’ lies to one another.

GH – How do you know they are lies?

ALPO – We can smell lies.

GH – This Thornberry…

ALPO – Who?

GH – Thornberry. This writer guy. He likes to hang names on horses. Derogatory names. Did he name you Alpo?

ALPO – Might have. I don’t really understand words. I understand tone. I don’t care what a human calls me as long as his tone is decent.

GH – I suspect Thornberry might have used the wrong tone?"

ALPO – Who?

GH – Thornberry.

ALPO – Thornberry? Sounds like a bush you can’t eat. Speaking of eating, there’s a whole string of dudes comin’ in today and we have no idea how far we’re gonna have to pack ‘em. I best stock up on the groceries. A few minutes in a meadow are probably in order.

GH – Well, I thank you for your time, Mr. Alpo, and if I see Mr. Thornberry I will give him your regards.

ALPO – Who?

GH – Thornberry. Russell Thornberry."

ALPO – No, I don’t wanna rustle no thorn berries. I want real berries. Actually, I want oats and a good scratch on the tailhead. And color photos. Humans. They shoot pictures but never send us any. Geeze, you’d think we didn’t have feelings or something.