My interest in horses is something that I have always shared with my dad, so I naturally turned to him for support. We were out for a horseback ride when I told him all about my zany plan, told him all that it would entail. He asked a lot of questions about it as we rode along. I saw the twinkle in his eyes at the mere thought of it all. That was when I decided to invite him to join me. With his reply of “well, I’m not getting any younger”, our adventure was born. The week we spent in Montana in September of 2002 was one of the best weeks of my life.
We flew into Billings on a Saturday night. Sunday morning we hopped on a school bus that would take us to the Half Moon Ranch...a mere two hours away. The road was paved for about the first hour, after turning off the main road we traveled on a gravel road that wasn't much wider than most driveways. Did I mention that we were on a school bus? What had we gotten ourselves into?
The long, flat plains between Billings and the Half Moon Ranch were covered with cactus and sage brush. Montana was in the midst of a drought, everything was bone dry. This was the view from the bus. The snowy mountains are in the distance.
After two hours of dry, dusty plains we arrived at the beautiful, lush and green Half Moon Ranch. It was a welcome site. On the bus ride to the ranch we learned that a group of folks from Ireland was also going on the cattle drive. They made the trip go faster with their singing, laughing and commeradery. The group was made up of men and women that included friends and relatives. What a fun bunch! Here's a picture of "the Irish".
All of the saddles on the rail left quite an impression on me. Guest Dave from Boston and photographer Mark are also in the picture. The nice photographs I'll be showing were taken by Mark MacLeod with his digital camera, the rest were snapshots taken by me before my digital days.
After unloading the bus we were treated to our first Montana sized meal, then it was time to set up camp. We were assigned our tents and set them up in the corral, avoiding the thistles and pocket gopher holes the best we could.
It was a hot and dry afternoon at our tent city. 90 + degrees. The camp had a few biffs and a truck with hot water for showers.
Some of the horses and tack, a few more guests and a couple of wranglers arrived as we set up camp. We had some time to relax, so my dad got to know one of the horses. He was feeding "Spotty" some of the expensive trail mix that my mom had sent along for our trip...shhh...don't tell.
I think that he was wondering what in the world we had gotten ourselves into by this time. I know I was!
It was fun to see all the horses and corrals and the beautiful country that surrounded us.
Before too long it was time for our lesson in tacking up the horses. Cowboy Amos showed us how to catch, saddle, and ride like a cowboy.
photo by Mark MacLeod
He pretty much caught the horse, said "that's catchin' 'em", threw on the saddle and said "that's saddlin' 'em" and put on the bridle saying "that's bridlin' 'em"....then you ride. I Loved it.
After our riding lesson the wranglers brought in the horses and we saddled up and headed out for a test ride. There were about 18 guests, along with the ranch owners and a few wranglers and friends riding out to make sure everyone was somewhat competent. Dad and I are in the middle...last two of the front pack in this picture.
We rode in the corral and then out onto the rolling grassy plains....what a warm and beautiful fall afternoon. My horse was a roan named "Roany".
My dad rode a chestnut named "Sporty". We rode for about an hour, getting to know the horses, getting to know the wranglers and showing them that we could actually ride.
photo by Mark MacLeod
There was quite the crew of horses, guests and wranglers. Dad and I are 5th & 6th from the right.
After the ride we had a wonderful Montana supper, prepared in the back of a horse trailer by members of the fire department. A fund raiser for them, a treat for us! Each day was followed by a roaring campfire complete with tall tales and cowboy songs. The singing continued well into the chilly night.
We had survived the first day, but it was that first night of sleeping on the ground that had both of us a little bit worried.....do you think we made it?