Welcome, Greenhorn

Let me preclude this story with a story… I have taken a step out the family business the past couple summers. My life simply took me in other directions, but I have somehow managed to burn up the road between Havre and Seeley Lake with the mad skills of a Nascar driver this summer. Although, Havre is starting to feel more like home, my heart belongs in the mountains. Always.  So, I soothe myself with quick weekend trips to help out and visit family when I can. This 30,000 foot view has given me a whole new appreciation for this operation, and the new guy(s) that are brave enough to accept the challenge of being new to the operation and riding for our brand. It’s not easy walking into a family business like ours. 

As most of you know by now, I grew up working for my aunt and uncle’s outfitting and guest ranch business in beautiful western Montana. Over the years, I had the honor of being graced with several titles: babysitter, shit shoveler, kitchen help, drag guide, aka the toilet paper (the last one a trail ride of 16 to shut gates, pick up dropped hats, reins, and bring up the rear), kids’ camp counselor (there are still a few kids out there recovering from a week of horseback riding and camping with me talking to a counselor of their own!), and backcountry cook. (I use the term cook lightly. Hunger usually won out over taste the first few years of cooking!) 

Eventually, with a little luck, some 7 years of blood, sweat and tears, and a magical 18th birthday, I became a trail ride guide and eventually, barn manager. But never, ever, was I the greenhorn, the new kid on the block, the red-headed, bastard child that showed up in the barnyard with brand spankin’ new gear of all the wrong sorts and a fresh tin of Skoal in my jeans.  I was never on THAT side of the fence in this operation… Thankfully…

The greenhorn is the guy that shows up eager the first morning all smiles with no idea of what’s in store. His new hat will be deformed and made fun of. He will be the brunt of dirty barnyard jokes and shenanigans.  He will inevitably be drug across the barnyard by Spade, the mule, on shoeing day.  He will saddle horses wrong and get bitched at by second year know-it-all wranglers (usually of the female variety).  He will work from sun-up to sun-up, and meet his ass coming and going on the dusty trail.  He will never drive the truck with the horse trailer. EVER.  He will get the smartest dumb horse in the corral for all intent purposes of teaching him the ropes. He will ride drag behind the mules watching packs and eat enough dust to choke a horse.  If he has a lick of sense, he will learn to completely disappear on his day off if he doesn’t want to be recruited for fixing fence, repairing tack or picking rock.  He will dig the latrine at every campsite.  His packs will have to be re-roped and slung correctly. He won’t have much chance at socializing with the opposite sex, unless he has the pleasure of packing Miss Kitty, the ornery mule.  He will be teased mercilessly by the seasoned crew, and make all the same mistakes that those before him did. He will forget to close gates, and get to change flat trailer tires.  He will eventually meet the ground when ol’ paint makes a high dive through the ground hornets.  He will hear the same songs in the breakfast line every morning, and he will eat more damn hotcakes than he ever thought he could. He will feel bruised, beaten, tired, and sweaty.  His hands will be calloused and his butt will drag.  But, at the end of the season, he will look back on it one of two ways… He may think this is the last year he ever cares to do this, to ride another horse or pack another mule or fix another fence. Or, he will know he’s grown in more ways than he could have dreamed. He will have seen more miles of backcountry than most men will ever know about. He will hear the boss man’s stories and poems and feel like part of the family. He will love pancakes of all sorts.  He will welcome hugs from the ladies in the kitchen. He will know each of the mules’ names and their favorite spots to scratch. He will bond with the horse he’s come to know over miles in the saddle, and lay claim to him for the seasons to come.  But most of all, he will walk back into his old life, reflect on the long days of hard work and his time spent at the ranch and be left yearning for more and wishing it were summer all over again.

See ya next year, greenhorn…

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