June 01,2015


“Tales From Outside The Underbrush” is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside “The Underbrush” of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This “outside world” is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.

This month’s entry continues the tale.


"Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are."

Old English Saying

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

variously attributed to Sir Winston Churchilll and Will Rodgers


“I can make a General in five minutes but a good horse is hard to replace.”

Abraham Lincoln

It had been more than fifteen years since my last Ecuadorian horse race and I had just landed in Vancouver, British Columbia to shortly start a new job with a new company. In the meantime, since my Ecuadorian adventures, I had barely seen a horse, never mind ridden one or smelled the smells that come with horsemanship. The memories of such were still strong however, and before commencing this new employment, I decided to explore my new home province, with which I had little practical familiarity, and in particular, to renew my acquaintances with horses, preferably first hand and in a saddle again. For after all, was I not in a province that had one of the world’s largest cattle ranches, the Gang Ranch? Where cattle roam so do horses needed to manage the cattle herds.

After purchasing a used Toyota pickup truck with a fibre glass canopy fitted over the rear truck bed and in which in a pinch, I could camp overnight, I set out to explore central and northern British Columbia. Between the interior band of mountains known familiarly as “The Rockies” and the belt of Coast Mountains that border and largely define the province’s Pacific coast line, lies a high intermontaine plateau that ranges from Alaska in the north through to the southern tip of South America. It is essentially the same plateau that separates the two belts of Andes Mountains and that comprised a major portion of our Ecuadorian exploration concession.

In British Columbia, the interior plateau also is, or at least used to be, home to a large number of cattle ranches, including the Gang Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in the world. Where there are cattle there are invariably also horses. But the terrain is also of a nature that one does need to be a rancher to own and ride horses. In the rural areas therefore, it is rare that a family property might not also be home for one or more horses. While the object of my month-long journey of exploration was principally to become more familiar with the rural and wilderness region of the province in which, nearly thirty years hence, I still reside, there was also the intention to renew my acquaintance with the horse.

To that end I decided that having my own saddle and bridle might be useful items to call my own. As earlier mentioned, my Ecuadorian wooden saddle, besides being a bit on the heavy and cumbersome side, had too small a seat to comfortably accommodate my somewhat heavier build, of which some might more succinctly and directly summarize as my having wider rear end. To that end, and for that end……..ha! ha!............ I set out to seek out a comfortable used saddle that I could lug around with me in the truck.

I cannot remember exactly where or under what circumstances I came upon such a saddle for sale but somewhere high in the interior part of the province it happened. And what a gem it was. Innocuous in appearance and without any adornments that are featured on some saddles, including my Ecuadorian one, its simplicity masked the fact that it fit me like the proverbial glove. It was what is termed an army saddle, that is to say it was not meant to be ridden by cattle-chasing cowboys. Rather, its horn was small and narrow, not suitable for encircling the rope of a lasso after the latter in turn had encircled the head of an angry steer. It had a high cantle, that is saddle back, that provided good support for my gimpy back during long rides. The stirrups were wood but also narrow rather than the wider stirrups that perhaps provided more boot support for the often violently swerving actions of a cattle chasing horse. As such the saddle was also a bit lighter than a cowboy saddle and although well used, the leather of both saddle and harness was in great shape. It was perfect for me, and was even more enhanced by the fact that I paid the grand total of one hundred dollars to secure it. The importance of a comfortable saddle was brought home to me again a few years ago, when out riding for a half day with a wrangler in the Tucson desert, I sat on a saddle that no matter how I manoeuvered my rear end I could not find a comfortable seat. Later that day, I found that, as a result, I had developed a saddle sore on my butt whose signature scar exists to this day.

Suitably equipped with my new gear I set out to both explore the British Columbia wilderness but also hopefully, to accomplish much of this on horseback. Not being a horse owner, there was but two strategies with which to satisfy my desire to explore by horseback. Renting a horse was one obvious means and on the surface perhaps the most attainable, aside for the cost of such. Nearly all sources of horse rentals were however guest ranches, sometimes colloquially referred as dude ranches. The problem there was that renting a horse in nearly all cases required that one become part of a trail ride as led by an employee of the ranch. Aside from the fact that these “nose to butt” walking excursions held no interest for me, their routes were pre-determined and one was not allowed to go off on one’s own. A reasonable question of legal liabilities no doubt but nevertheless unacceptable to me. At best I might be able to ride on my own in the company of a ranch hand, a more preferable alternative but not necessarily preferred to the joyful solitude of just a horse and me. The cost of such a “one plus one” would also inhibit the amount of time and distance I could afford.

Instead I thought to attempt a different strategy, not one in which I had much confidence would bring great statistical success, but one to be attempted anyway. Succinctly, anywhere I saw one or more horses on a non-ranching property, I knocked on the property’s dwelling. Being that we are talking about rural and not urban Canada, my knock on the door was invariably met with a pleasant and welcoming response. After confirming the fact that the property owner did indeed have saddle horses, I made my pitch. Equipped with my own saddle gear and being both an experienced outdoor person as a geologist and an experienced rider, which I had become, I wondered if I might explore the area by “exercising one of your horses for the sole purpose”….ha! ha!...”of helping to keep your horse in good shape.” I don’t know whether it was the twinkle in my eye, my deportment, or the effectiveness of the pitch I made, but invariably I was invited to indeed pick out a suitable steed and take off for the day. I had become good with horses so separating one out of several in a corral and expertly brushing it down before saddling also provided some reinforcing comfort for the horse’s owner who might have had second thoughts about agreeing to my request. I always volunteered to pay for the joy of the day’s ride that ensued but I don’t recall ever having to do so. This once again confirms the generosity and good will of rural Canada.

Over the ensuing month or so that I toured around British Columbia, I must have ridden more than a dozen horses in different locations, and without ever having to pay one cent in rental fees. Often, a dinner and a place to stay for the night was offered at the end of the day, and gratefully accepted. I even had the offer of employment on one occasion and was hard pressed to decline. Aside from the joy of the ride and an appreciation of the landscape on which it occurred, an interesting aspect was the experience of always riding a different horse on each occasion. Since horses have their own distinct personalities and foibles, there was much horsemanship to be gained by the experience.

Another side experience of fond memories was the fishing that I often had the chance in which to engage during the day. Some years before, on a business trip to London, England, I had, for an absolutely outrageous price, bought a “Smugglers Rod”, a “crème de la crème” fly fishing rod made by Hardy, one of the most elite manufacturers of fishing tackle in the world. The unique feature of this beautifully light weight, four ounce, eight foot rod was that it could be broken down into seven pieces. Snuggly wrapped in cloth and within a leather-wrapped aluminum tube case, the latter could easily be tied to the saddle and transported along the ride. With a full reel of line and a tin of artificial flies in my pocket I was totally equipped to stalk the wily trout that inhabits many streams and rivers in the British Columbia interior. And stalk I did, many a respite from the ride taken while my horse, tethered or suitably hobbled nearby did his own stalking of grass feed. Unlike Eastern Canada, biting flies are not nearly the problem in BC’s interior so fishing the streams and rivers could be undertaken in peaceful freedom. On more than one occasion I was to return from the day’s ride with a saddle bag replete with at least a few trout to be given to or at least shared with the horse’s owner.

To be continued

Copyright © 2015 Ian de W. Semple. All rights reserved.

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