Settled snugly in my horse’s saddle, I tentatively coaxed Whiskey up alongside our equestrian guide, SuzAnne Miller, who was perched with authority atop her shining chestnut colored horse, Power, as we crested a golden brown grassy hilltop.
Far below us the shallow Bitterroot River flowed along the valley bottom, calm and lazy as the wispy clouds streaking the faded blue fall sky. Giant cottonwood trees rose up all over the broad valley floor, their golden leaves aflame like Gulliver-sized torches illuminating the countryside.
Motioning toward the next rolling mountain top just a half kilometer east of us, SuzAnne pointed out a group of horses grazing, whinnying and occasionally tossing their manes.
“They’re wild,” she said. “They’re the descendants of some horses a rancher set free about 30 years ago. They don’t often let us see them this close.”
As SuzAnne’s business partner Dunrovin Ranch, manager Sue Matthews related to our group of five greenhorns the story of how Lewis and Clark nearly died in mountains very nearby when a deep snowstorm fell early and prevented them from being able to hunt, I watched the wild horses and savored the fall colors that adorned the entire valley with a full artist’s palette of golds and reds and oranges. This, I decided, was the perfect Montana moment.
And right about then, I also happily concluded that I was finally feeling almost comfortable sitting on a horse—one activity that instantly bucks me out of my comfort zone like no other.
That, I decided was another perfect Montana moment.
–by Lynn Martel, www.lynnmartel.ca
September 23, 2009