Plenty of MSU students have been able to see the beauty that our neck of the woods has to offer through hiking, biking and boating. But there's another form of transportation that is under-appreciated: exploration on horseback. While visions of cowboys and cowgirls may run through one’s head at first, horseback riding is something anybody can take a shot at, and it’s sure to lead to an awe-inspiring view of the area we live in.
A trip through the mountains on horseback starts with finding a proper outfitter to give you the best opportunity to have a positive experience. While you may be able to find some friends who own horses, another great place to start is by checking out some of the local companies that offer guided horseback trips. To help narrow down your options, first think of where you would like to ride. If you desire to ride through the Gallatin mountains and the Big Sky area, I’d recommend you check out Lone Mountain Ranch or 320 Guest Ranch. Both offer half-day and full-day trips that will provide you with a relaxing ride through some of the most breathtaking country the Bozeman area has to offer. Lone Mountain Ranch also offers rides through our nation's first national park, Yellowstone. Diamond P Ranch, located near West Yellowstone, also provides trips that go right up next to the park's boundaries.
To ensure you have an enjoyable trip, make sure to schedule one before the snow starts falling and the trails become impassable. Though some outfitters continue trips through the winter months, it’s recommended that beginners get out when the fall weather is comfortable and the footing is good for the horses. Also, make sure that the wrangler that's leading you is qualified and experienced. Horses aren’t four-wheelers, and they can be unpredictable and emotional. You want someone to lead your group that knows how to handle them, and, even more importantly, how to guide new riders through the various situations you may find yourself in. Before sitting in the saddle, it never hurts to watch some instructional videos about how to ride Western if you’re a first-time rider. A good place to look is on Craig Cameron’s Youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJQeil7b9fEAl8ur2OmDobA. Just knowing a couple ground rules and the basics of western riding can make a huge difference on your first trip.
If you love being in the mountains and you love animals, horseback riding can’t be beaten. It’s an experience unlike any other, and it will likely leave you wanting more. Make sure to bring some buddies along to help ease the nerves, as the horses will be able to sense your confidence or lack thereof. Do your homework, get out there and enjoy everything a Southwest Montana autumn has to offer on horseback.