"Bear", I though to myself as the slight breeze made its way into my geldings nostrils. The horse was suddenly on high alert due to whatever scent the breeze was carrying. He was tense in the body and neck and although he was still generally walking straight, his head turned ever farther to the left with each stride. I thought to myself for a moment and made the decision to guide my horse in the direction that he so desperately seemed to want to investigate. The old bay gave no fuss and gladly moved off in our new direction. At this point, I simply became a passenger and let the horse follow his curiosity. We approached the edge of a mild canyon, fairly open and just lightly peppered with small junipers and rock outcroppings. Suddenly the horse stopped. I looked straight out between his forward pointing ears, and there, not 15 yards in front of us, was a good looking four point mule deer, bedded under a small pine and staring straight back at us. This buck was in the 170-180 inch range, and most hunters would be glad to take such a buck. He gently rose from his mid-day slumber, stretched for a moment, and sauntered his way into the gentle canyon.
One a more recent trip, a friend of mine and myself were riding in Colorado's San Juan mountains in search of a suitable backcountry camping spot for an upcoming elk hunt. It was the last weekend for the Colorado archery season, and the backcountry was oddly devoid of human activity, especially for Colorado. As our two saddle horses chugged and churned up the mountain, I remember thinking to myself that either there are no elk around this country and everyone else is just smarter than we are, or we may have found a nice, low pressure hunting spot (again, almost unheard of in Colorado, even in the backcountry). Hell, maybe guys that were out archery hunting were just spent, having 4 weeks hunting prior to this particular weekend. Either way, we pushed forward, higher and higher, switch-backing through a fairly dense timbered ridge until we popped out into a small meadow that we recognized from our map study. Our plan was to ride another 2 miles or so up and over into the next drainage, but shortly after entering the meadow, the body language of my young mare recommended otherwise. Her being a 3 year old without a whole lot of real mountain experience under her belt almost had me ignoring her cues, figuring she is just young and worried about any scent the wind carried. Then I thought about it for a moment, and realized that although young, this particular horse was not generally the worrying type. After a short discussion, my friend and I decided to dismount and hang out at the edge of the meadow for a short time. We figured the horses wouldn't mind the break, either.
The Trail is off to our right, The young horse turned 90 degrees and pegged her attention on that saddle, almost as if she knew what we were looking for.
Five to ten minutes later, 4 cow elk stepped out from the patch of timber and into the meadow about 200 yards from us. Yep, you guessed it, exactly where my little filly had directed her attention a few minutes earlier. We watched them make their way toward the saddle at the end of the meadow, exactly where we had planned on riding through to the next drainage. A few more minutes passed, and another, much larger group of elk made its way out of the same patch of timber. I would estimate 40-60 cows made this herd, with a respectable 5 point bull in the mix. I turned to my buddy and stated "there is no way that bull has all these cows". Well, my statement proved to be correct. A bugle erupted from the timber patch at the tail end of that herd. In short order, an impressive 6 point herd bull came meandering out behind the bulk of the herd. We simply watched as the elk made there way over the same saddle as the previous small group of cows. We decided not to push forward to our original destination, but instead found a camp spot at the edge of that very meadow. Two weeks later we were back hunting in that spot and took two respectable bulls in just a couple of days of hunting (not to mention the one that I missed). Glad I listened to my filly.
This is the same saddle as the above picture, just zoomed in, taken only minutes after the first picture.
Horses have tremendous senses, far superior to our own. But how often do we listen to them? How often do we pay attention to what they are trying to tell us? It seems that we are far too often worried about simply getting from point A to point B, a spot on the map, or some other predetermined destination. A horse can be far more valuable on a hunting or scouting trip than simply being our transportation. The scenarios I wrote about in this post are just a few examples, but this type of thing has happened many times once I decided to slow down and look where my horses look. Our horses will often show us what we cannot see, we just have to let them.