Residing on the northern end of Colorado's San Juan Mountains, the 13000+ foot Wildhorse Peak contributes to one of the most spectacular skylines in the entire state. The country around Wildhorse also boasts some of the best elk hunting in the area. Wide open basins, steep canyons, and spectacular alpine views make up this little piece of back country heaven.This is what brought me back, year after year. I have backpacked in this country on many occasions with no consequence. Add horses to the equation, and I have not once experienced a trip to this area without multiple serious or frustrating horse issues. I never really realized it until recently, when swapping stories with a friend. During this conversation, I realized that almost every horse mishap I spoke of happened in the same place; The Wildhorse country.
Just for some perspective, many of the same horses the I've seen loose their mind in the Wildhorse country have been on countless back country journeys into other areas. These are mostly experienced, steady mountain horses, well versed in the struggles of big country. But for whatever reason, the Wildhorse area has seen more than its fair share of horse antics.
Duke hobbled below Wildhorse Peak
There was the time big Joe front-flipped himself into a deep creek bed with his hobbles on. On this occasion, I was tending horses at camp while Tj and Shadoe were putting the moves on a herd of elk at the other end of the basin. I saw big Joe slowly edging toward the creek and decided it was time to go catch him. He was roughly 200 yards from me, however, and I didn't snatch him up fast enough. I had made it about halfway to him and watched him disappear into the creek bed. The maneuver that big Joe executed was very similar to flipping straight over the handlebars of a bicycle. When I got to him, he was simply lying there flat on his side. His eye followed me as I walked around him, so I knew he wasn't dead at least. After a little poking and prodding big Joe found his way onto his feet, and was no worse for wear from the incident. I must admit, I was relieved once I realized that big Joe hadn't made that creek bottom his final resting place.
Then there was the time the buckskin mare somehow destroyed the highline at midnight. The sound of the rope breaking and whipping through the still of the night was unmistakable, as was the sound of several horses' hooves pounding across the alpine as they ran away, still tied together. This horse had spent many a night tied to a highline in a variety of places, but the scent of freshly killed elk around camp had her more worked up than usual. We gathered the horses only a short distance from camp, thankfully with no injuries to any of them. This is also a good time to note that once your ropes become weathered and worn from use, replace them. Note to self.
On yet a different trip, the young gray gelding had done his best to stomp my guts out while his owner was attempting to bridle him. Granted, he wasn't tied to much of a tree, more of a stunted alpine bush. I was tacking up one of the other horses tied to the next tree. Hearing the commotion behind me (I was basically in between the two horses), I turned my head to look and all I could see was the belly of the little gray gelding. He was nearly vertical, reared up toward the sky, and swinging in my direction. I was somewhat trapped where I was standing, so I did what anyone would do. I jumped and rolled under the other horse and hoped for the best. This was not wise, but it was largely reactionary, as I had nowhere else to go. The grays front feet landed right about where I was initially standing, with half of the sapling he was tied to still dangling off of his lead rope.
Wildhorse peak from the north
These are just a few of the stories from the Wildhorse country. If you are reading this and perhaps wondering if using horses in the back country is for you, please realize that the vast majority of these trips go smoothly, without incident. Don't let me talk you out of trying it for yourself! I have come do believe that the Wildhorse country is simply cursed when using horses. Maybe its something in the water or that beautiful alpine grass. Maybe the place is just aptly named. After all, it is called Wildhorse.