||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. Theyve 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 theres 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 dont want it taking out a bunch of tourists in the
process. They say theres 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 thats
very interesting. Mercy, but theres a lot of snow up there!
But, warm weather has
finally arrived in recent days, with highs in the 80s (possibly 90s by later
this week). Its no longer freezing at night, even in higher elevations, which means
the snowmelt is in full swing
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 youre hot to go fishing, youre going to need to stick to tailwaters
below dams for a while. Thats no big secret, so dont plan on solitude on the
Missouri below Holter, the lower Madison, or the Bighorn.
Personally, I just dont 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. Were 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 cant 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. Theres
nothing quite like traveling by packstring in remote country. Not only does it allow a much higher degree of comfort and cuisine, but theres just
something about the interaction with horses that gets me off in a major way. Come on,
admit it, youve 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
were planning to visit, so pick up the phone
My personal packstring was getting well along in years, and it was time for some new
blood in the bunch, so Ive 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 gelding. Anyway, 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 doesnt come with papers youd best be able to verify what the
seller claims to be their age. And that, folks, is this months hot tip; how to age
horses by checking their teeth. I know; its an obscure skill, which you may not have
immense personal use for. Still, its 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 youve learned here. And if you go on a packtrip with an outfitter,
you just might score knowledge points with em, which cant 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 its 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 Ive yet to see
her get shook up at anything. And besides, shes really friendly and likes people
(which is not extremely common, you know. Horses are not dogs!). And, shes good
looking to boot!!
And if youre buying a horse, you of course dont want one thats too
old. Not too young, and not too old
.. Generally, a horses useful working life
is nearing its end by age twenty. Again, exceptions exist, but
. So, that means you
dont ordinarily want to buy one thats 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 arent really looking "old" yet. A lot of fifteen to eighteen
year olds get sold as being twelve or thirteen. If they
dont have registration papers (which is not a prerequisite for mountain ponies,
IMO), it behooves you to be able to tell the difference. And best, its not that
hard! The critical feature is called Galvaynes Groove. Besides being a decent name
for a band, its a groove or depression that appears in a horses upper corner
incisor. Its 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 thats thirty, which is
truly ancient. Hes earned his retirement, though, and can live out his days on the
place. Anyway, I havent gotten him in for a dental photo session, but did take
photos of some of our others as youve noticed.
As with most horse matters, theres 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 wont 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 youre doing with them. If you want to display proper form; stand on their left side. Thats the
side you ordinarily mount from, and if you want to sound horsey its called the
"near" side. The right side is the "off" side, but if youve
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 doesnt
matter that much. So anyway, place your left hand under their chin. Horses, even the calm
ones, usually arent keen on having you messing with their mouth and lips, so expect
some resistance at this point. Theyll 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 sometimes
even other humans, can sense your emotions, and if you get shook up so will they. So just
be calm but persistent, and theyll usually settle down. Then pull their lower lip
down with your left thumb, and raise their upper lip with your right hand, and
Galvaynes 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 precise aging, but misrepresentation is just not an issue with colts.
Not for me, it isnt 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 Galvaynes Groove
hasnt 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, were happy to help, and you just never
know when this could prove handy.