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Cowboy Heaven Consulting, LLC
6116 Walker Road
Bozeman, MT 59715

Past Month's Moccasin Telegraph

May 2003

5/27/03 Spring is in full bloom in the lower elevations of Montana, but things are looking mighty white still in the high country. I see crews in Glacier National Park failed to get the Going-to-the-Sun road open for Memorial Day weekend. They’ve just about got it, but the Big Drift at the top is significantly bigger than the last few years, reportedly about 80’ deep, and cutting through that sucker is no job for rookies. Plus they say there’s an awful lot of snow precariously hanging higher up, that is going to let loose at some point in the presumably near future, and the powers that be in Glacier wisely don’t want it taking out a bunch of tourists in the process. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I believe that would be an exception! Anyway, if you want to follow their progress, the Glacier website has a page of photos and video that’s very interesting. Mercy, but there’s a lot of snow up there!

But, warm weather has finally arrived in recent days, with highs in the 80’s (possibly 90’s by later this week). It’s no longer freezing at night, even in higher elevations, which means the snowmelt is in full swingThe secret mother lode of giant elk resulting in small stream flood advisories for many streams draining higher-elevation country. Here in southwest MT, the rivers are really high and murky, and barring any cold snaps (which I am about over and will gladly do without) will stay that way for a while. So, if you’re hot to go fishing, you’re going to need to stick to tailwaters below dams for a while. That’s no big secret, so don’t plan on solitude on the Missouri below Holter, the lower Madison, or the Bighorn.

Personally, I just don’t find fishing in a crowd all that much fun. Lake fishing is high on our agenda for the summer, but that is going to have to wait also as the lakes I want to hit are high-elevation affairs. We’re planning packtrips to several lakes known to host (in some cases) seriously large and (in all cases) unsophisticated trout. Float-tubing lakes like that is an unmitigated blast, and I can’t wait. Although, I guess I have to, for a few more weeks.

On ventures of that nature; getting there is half or more of the fun. There’s nothing quite like traveling by packstring in remote country. Not only doesTravelling by packstring it allow a much higher degree of comfort and cuisine, but there’s just something about the interaction with horses that gets me off in a major way. Come on, admit it, you’ve always dreamed of doing that also, and we just so happen to know several absolutely top-notch outfitters who have openings for trips to the same lakes we’re planning to visit, so pick up the phone…. 1-877-613-0404.

My personal packstring was getting well along in years, and it was time for some new blood in the bunch, so I’ve been in horse-trading mode lately. So far, so good, too! Bought a 4-year old mare and a 10-year old gelding last week. We took ‘em on a shakedown ride yesterday, and it turned into sort of an acid test for prospective mountain ponies. . It was an exploratory trip to an outfitter's camp in the Madison Range (not currently in use, just wanted to check out the campsite & neighborhood). The "trail" is really pretty rough, with lots of up & down and steep rocky stuff. Plus it's been raining a lot, and it was muddy in spots, so some of the steep downhills resembled mud skiing. And as mentioned, the runoff is getting underway, so the creek crossings were considerably high and murky. They both did fine. Outstanding, in fact, considering I don't think either of 'em had done that sort of thing before. Especially the gelding was subjected to all kinds of new experiences, since we packed him. I rode one of my other experienced mountain ponies, to sort of set an example for the two new ones, and we put a pack saddle and panniers (pack boxes) on the geldingAnyway, when we put the panniers on him he got that "what the hell's this all about" sorta wide-eyed look, and spooked the first time some brush rubbed on the canvas, but he rapidly came to see it wasn't a threat to his well-being, & settled right down.

So anyway, horse traders have a not undeserved reputation for being liars, you know, and if a horse doesn’t come with papers you’d best be able to verify what the seller claims to be their age. And that, folks, is this month’s hot tip; how to age horses by checking their teeth. I know; it’s an obscure skill, which you may not have immense personal use for. Still, it’s interesting, and if nothing else the next time you find yourself in a lagging conversation, you just might be able to jump-start it by mentioning what you’ve learned here. And if you go on a packtrip with an outfitter, you just might score knowledge points with ‘em, which can’t hurt. Besides, where else can you get this sort of vital yet still totally obscure information?

This is by no means a comprehensive guide to the subject, but it’s what works for my purposes. For mountain use, I value a calm disposition above all else. OK, they need a sound running gear and a bit of size also, but a steep, narrow trail is no place for any variation of equine neurosis, which are many and prevalent. So that automatically eliminates most younger horses. Ordinarily, anything less than about seven years old is best viewed as a teenager, although you can make exceptions and I did with the four-year-old we just bought. She is totally calm & quiet, and I’ve yet to see her get shook up at anything. And besides, she’s really friendly and likes people (which is not extremely common, you know. Horses are not dogs!). And, she’s good looking to boot!!

And if you’re buying a horse, you of course don’t want one that’s too old. Not too young, and not too old….. Generally, a horse’s useful working life is nearing its end by age twenty. Again, exceptions exist, but…. So, that means you don’t ordinarily want to buy one that’s over about fifteen, unless you get a heck of a bargain.

Where most misrepresentation of age occurs is with horses that are getting to be past fifteen, but aren’t really looking "old" yet. A lot of fifteen to eighteen yearGalvayne's Groove on a ten-year-old horse olds get sold as being twelve or thirteen. If they don’t have registration papers (which is not a prerequisite for mountain ponies, IMO), it behooves you to be able to tell the difference. And best, it’s not that hard! The critical feature is called Galvayne’s Groove. Besides being a decent name for a band, it’s a groove or depression that appears in a horse’s upper corner incisor. It’s easy to see, as it tends to be darker than the surrounding tooth material. It starts appearing at the gum line at age ten, will extend about midway down the tooth by fifteen, and reach the bottom by age twenty. Beyond that, it starts to disappear from the upper end. I have one senior citizen here that’s thirty, which is truly ancient. He’s earned his retirement, though, and can live out his days on the place. Anyway, I haven’t gotten him in for a dental photo session, but did take photos of some of our others as you’ve noticed.

As with most horse matters, there’s a right and wrong way to go about checking their teeth, and you might get hurt if you do it wrong. First, stand to their side, so if they spook at something they won’t run over the top of you, and don't have a straight shot if they decide to rear and strike at you with their front feet. That is sound advice no matter what you’re doing with them. If you want to display properGalvayne's Groove on an eighteen-year-old horse form; stand on their left side. That’s the side you ordinarily mount from, and if you want to sound horsey it’s called the "near" side. The right side is the "off" side, but if you’ve dismounted voluntarily you should do it on the near side. Horse people can be anal about this stuff, but if you have the right kind of horses for mountain use, it doesn’t matter that much. So anyway, place your left hand under their chin. Horses, even the calm ones, usually aren’t keen on having you messing with their mouth and lips, so expect some resistance at this point. They’ll probably toss their head around a bit, but just keep hold of their halter rope with your other hand (or better yet, have an assistant hold them from the other side). The key is to stay calm. Horses, and for that matter all animals and sometimesGalvayne's Groove on a twenty-year-old horse even other humans, can sense your emotions, and if you get shook up so will they. So just be calm but persistent, and they’ll usually settle down. Then pull their lower lip down with your left thumb, and raise their upper lip with your right hand, and Galvayne’s Groove will be apparent. And yes, I was curious about the origin of the name also. Thanks to the never-failing abilities of Google, you and I both now know that he was an Australian 18th-century horse trader, who apparently had a flair for self-promotion, and is so immortalized among horse traders everywhere.

Below age ten, the process is trickier, but also more precise if you have the knowledge. Prior to age four, there are a host of changes that allow very preciseThe teeth of a 4-year-old horse aging, but misrepresentation is just not an issue with colts. Not for me, it isn’t anyway. At four, the wolf tooth erupts, which is a small canine-like tooth on the upper jaw just ahead of the molars. With geldings, it does anyway, sometimes not with mares. Between four and seven, the cups wear away, which are dark brown to black depressions on the biting surface of the incisors. Eight to ten is a bit trickier, but for my purposes if the cups are gone but Galvayne’s Groove hasn’t appeared, the horse passes the personality and conformation tests, and the price is right; buy him!

So now even if somebody gives you a horse, you can ignore the adage about never looking in its mouth, and your store of knowledge has just been expanded to include something you never thought it would include. No problem, we’re happy to help, and you just never know when this could prove handy.


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