Personally, I think a long
packing trip requires a well planned and organized outfit where everything
has to be concealed so that rain, dust, rodents… don’t spoil, in more
than one way, the joy of been out of doors. For me, panniers and sawbuck
trees are a must for a long trip.
Like a saddle, a packing
tree must fit the pack animal’s back. When I started my journey across
the States I hade the old “human” tree. They were fitted on my
animals’ backs (horses) and their rigging adjusted. This is not a small
task: you can get away with murder on a short few days trip (especially
with horses that are not as “sensitive” as mules). But for a day after
day, week after week or even month adventure you better keep you pack
animals’ back healthy or you won’t move.
When I got my equipment
from Wyoming Outdoor Industries
Steve Richards mentioned a new type of trees. They were more expensive and
I didn’t see the need, as I never had problem in the past with the
“old timer style” even on some long and fast trips.
We started slow and heavy
to put the horses in the right frame of mind and to give them a chance to
settle in a nice routine before starting to move.
The first three weeks
went well and once the animals were conditioned I started pushing further
and faster. From 12 to 15 miles a day we went to 20 to 30 miles a day The pace was
a succession of walk and slow jog and we would stop for a few days rest
every 6 to 8 days of travel.
It was at this time that
all the horses got sore back at once. It started with a very light
inflammation at the withers and got progressively worse even with extra
padding and a lot of pampering. Within a week of arriving
in Alpine they all busted in open ugly wounds.
We doctored them and I
worked again on the trees (rasp, glue and leather) to get a better fit.
The problem was the clearance between the cross and their backbone
associated with the jogging. I changed the padding and we restarted well
rested and with the sores almost gone. At the end of the first day the
packhorses were in agony. We reached Fort Davis after stopping a truck to
carry our gears. I phoned Steve and after a long discussion ordered the
new adjustable pack trees for all the packhorses.
We went on for a few days
with our gears send from camp to camp (ranch to ranch!!!) for the next 10
days giving the horses a chance to heal while running. We did cover a lot
of ground at very good speed and when we received the new packsaddles all
the animals were looking good but still very sore.
I went to the process of
fitting every one again with its new attire and we went on… And while
traveling and covering ground the packhorses were able to finish healing
under the packs!!! We reached the Four Corner Area where we rested over a
month waiting for the snow to melt further north and I didn’t have to
fiddle again with the horses’ back for the rest of the trip. When we
reached Cody (WY), Steve couldn’t believe how good the horses looked and
there was no trace of their early injuries.
Note from The Long
Riders' Guild: These adjustable pack saddles are available from
the manufacturer, Custom
Pack Rigging, as well as from Wyoming
Outdoor Industries mentioned above.