Bitterroot Ranch - Monday

We were told there’d be a demonstration followed by an evaluation and then a short ride because of the evaluation. I was worried that the demonstration would be long and boring given all the beginners in attendance. Fortunately, it was very brief.

I was put on Nebraska, a large chestnut gelding, who I was told was a very good horse. He was pretty homely looking, but he did work out fine. My husband was on Sienna. They put myself, my husband, and two other women in the “advanced” group and we rode out to the arena for the evaluation lead by one of the wranglers, Robyn.

The riding style here is very weird. Horses are ridden western with western or endurance saddles and are neck reined (a few go in snaffles and are direct reined), but riders post the trot and must do a two-point for all canter work. You also are not allowed to use contact. Like, at all. Slack reins are required. Which is apparently very difficult for some people to handle.

The owner of the ranch, Mel, does the evaluations and she’s pretty tough. She doesn’t mince words and she puts people in their place. We went around the arena in a line following the guide. We did trot and trotted over a line of trot poles. Then we zigzagged around some upright poles and then we got to canter.

One of the two women in our group could not get her horse to move. The other one could not get her horse to slow down. The first time we tried to canter the one woman’s horse went flying by us all and the rider got yelled at for keeping her leg on. Mel kept yelling at her to take her leg off. And the woman kept trying to explain that she’s used to lesson horses that require leg. That’s fine, but if the horse is running away with you, maybe remove your leg? But she couldn’t do it. Mel was going to make her move down to the less experienced group, but the woman on the slow horse offered to switch. That ended up working out well enough. They went and did a few more canter trips around the arena while my husband and I just sat there. Our guide later told us that Mel never compliments anyone. The highest compliment you get is her not saying anything. So I guess we were good.

Since our evaluation was so short, we rode out on a pretty long trail ride. I hadn’t though we’d go for such a long ride or I’d have worn my knee and ankle braces. The saddles we were riding in were pretty wide and uncomfortable. I’m used to riding in either an english saddle or my treeless. After lunch, I added the braces and my sheepskin saddle cover and that helped a little, but it couldn’t fully make up for the saddle’s design.

In the afternoon I was assigned to Padlock and my husband rode Comanche. We rode out with Mel and one of the other wranglers, Paige, to herd cattle. A bunch of the cows that are supposed to be up in the national forest had gotten through the fences and come down into the ranch property. Mel said they’d lost a cow to wolves last week and the cows had basically decided they were done with being up in the forest.

We first gathered up a bunch of Angus cattle that were right down by the stables and cabins and herded them out to the big valley near the arena. There we picked up a small herd of highland cattle. At one point we had to cross a stream and the crossing was pretty rough. The horses basically had to jump across the ditch. All of the horses did it except mine. He would go up to the edge, I’d grab mane and go into two-point and then he’d spin away. Eventually the wrangler had to come lead me around to a better crossing point. I don’t know what his issue was. At this point, all of the cows had run back down the valley because a calf had been left behind and the crossing had only one spot to get across. The horses all had to wait for the cows to cross first so the cows had a head start. By the time I got across, they were all heading back up and I joined in.



We had another adventure at another creek crossing. The cows got across first again and some of them then went into the trees growing by the creek. We had to ride around in there to get them. Then a few ran through a fence. Mel and Paige had to get off their horses, climb through the fence and chase them back through.

trying to herd cattle inside an aspen grove

Then we had a long push up a hill with the cows not wanting to go up the hill and also having to keep them off the fence. We finally got them to the top and through the gate into the pasture they’re supposed to be in. Then we cut across the hills to go straight back to the ranch. For parts of the ride, we rode over bentonite hills, which are made out of volcanic ash from when Yellowstone erupted 640,000 thousand years ago and hundreds of miles away. The ash is very pretty and is apparently nonporous so companies mine it and sell it for pond lining and kitty litter and things like that. No plants grow on it since the water won’t stick. It also apparently gets very slick when wet.

Striped Bentonite Hills
After coming down some bentonite hills we had a choice between doing “The Moonwalk” and “The Rollercoaster” with the rollercoaster being the more advanced ride so we elected to do that. Some of the less experienced riders went to do the moonwalk with Paige. The Rollercoaster was basically a full out gallop up and down and winding around the bentonite hills. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my helmet camera had run out of battery by that point.

We were near the ranch after that so we walked back in and soaked the horse’s legs in the creek before putting them away.

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