"Good Judgement Comes From Experience & A lot Of THAT Comes From Bad Judgement..."


They say “good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgement”. I’d have to say I agree. In my lifetime with horses I’ve learned a lot, in many different ways: I’ve learned from books, videos, coaches, trainers, workshops, clinics, lessons and from friends and colleagues. I’ve learned from watching others, from hearing stories and of course, from the horses themselves, but the lessons I’ve learned most effectively, the ones that permanently burned themselves into my very being, are the lessons learned through experience.


There’s something about forgetting to latch a gate and having to chase 45 cows out of the barnyard, back to their own pasture that will make you remember to check the gate is latched, and something about riding through a hornet’s nest that’ll help you remember to go around old dead logs when you have the chance. I’m lucky that I’m not “one of those people” who can only learn from my own mistakes. I can (and have) learn from the mistakes of others and from the experiences they’ve been generous enough to share with me. I do believe, however, that this is only because I’ve made enough mistakes of my own to know the value of another’s experience.


For example, years ago, a friend Eliana and I, were working together at a ranch, guiding trail rides and teaching kids the basics of horsemanship. This ranch had two beautiful, intact, clean and complete horse skulls that they used for educational purposes. I admired them and expressed my interest in having a skull like that of my own. As it turned out, an older horse, Buck, had passed away the previous winter (in a remote area of the ranch) and most of the skeleton was still there. Our boss, Lisa, would be happy to hook me up!


That evening, we rode out to scout it out and sure enough, there was what was left of old Buck, resting where he’d gone down. Ribs, spine, pelvis, cervical vertebra and one complete, intact skull! It was decided that we’d come back after our work day the following evening and collect what we wanted, packing it out by horse.

Unfortunately, the next morning Lisa had an unfortunate incident with her mare. As she put it, “Annabelle taught her a flying lesson and she’d failed the landing”. Elaina and I would have to complete our mission without her. She told us which horses to take and which to use to pack the bones out on and we gathered supplies: An old bed sheet to wrap the bones in, 40’ of rope, and some scissors that we slipped into our first aid kit along with the walkie-talkie. Shortly after dinner we saddled up “Salty”, “Diesel” and “Frank the Tank”.


According to Lisa, “Frank” would be a reliable pack horse for this particular adventure and “Diesel”, a big old draft/paint would make a great tug boat for “Frank”. At the last moment, one of the Jr Wranglers, Vicky, decided to join us on her mount “Shorty”. We tied our sheets and rope onto “Diesel’s” saddle and decided we didn’t need to run back to the cabin for the knife we’d forgotten (since we’d packed scissors in the first aid kit), so we mounted up and headed out the gate… Leaving our first aid kit on the fence rail back at the barn… where it would be of absolutely no use to us.

When we got to Buck’s remains, we organized the bones we wanted in the old bed sheet, wrapped them up carefully, positioned them as best we could on “Frank’s” saddle and then began tying them into place. We quickly realized that we had neither a knife nor scissors to cut our rope into more manageable pieces but being young and stupid, we decided wrapping the extra rope around the parcel and the saddle would suffice.


Things seemed to be going well, until we looked up and realized we’d been surrounded by cattle. No matter. The sun was beginning to set and we’d be out of here soon enough. The cattle would be behind us. Elaina swung a leg over “Diesel”, Vicky climbed on “Shorty” and I mounted “Salty” and we said our goodbyes to the Heirford pairs that had gathered around to watch us work.




“Frank” seemed a little nervous (about the cattle we guessed). As he took his first step to follow “Diesel”, his bundle of bones shifted, banging against the hard seat of his saddle and he came unglued! “Frank” began hopping and bouncing and swinging around “Diesel”, like a tether ball on a post, and “Diesel” stood. Like a rock. He stood so well in fact, that “Frank” popped his lead rope right out of Eliana’s hands. “Frank” was gone! Hopping and bouncing across the open pasture, galloping towards the barb wire gate that we’d so diligently remembered to close behind us.



Elaina, Vicky and I sat in shock, watching Frank disappearing into the sunset, his bundle of bones and his tail popping into view over the long grass in semi-regular intervals. As the rusty old wheels in our heads began to break through the rust and into a slow turn, we gathered our thoughts and realized a few things:


1. We had about 45 minutes to get back to the ranch before dark

2. We had no walky-talky to call for help

3. We had lost one of the ranches main trail string horses and

4. we had no knife or scissors to cut “Frank” out of the rats nest he was sure to be in IF we could find him.


After a moment of panic and some heart palpitations, we decided we’d follow the trail of bones to see if we could find “Frank” in what little light we had left. Thank goodness, we were rewarded within about 15 min that felt more like hours. Frank was ok, although as shaken up as we were, and Elaina, Vicky and I decided that old Buck could stay where he lay.


We gathered the sheets, wound up the rope and had a pretty sober ride back to camp in the dark. It’ll be a long, long while before any of us forget that experience or the lessons we learned that day… Check that your horse is prepared for the job, check that your pack is secured properly, make sure you have your knife and first aid kit and be sure you have some way of contacting someone for help, should you need it, just to name a few.


That was one of those experiences that burned itself (and its lessons) deeply into my hide, branding me for life with the good judgement that it’s preceding bad judgement had inspired. It also branded me deep enough to recognize the value of the lessons others may have learned through their own bad judgement and has made me pay close attention to those lessons, should someone be generous enough to share them.


That experience (as well as others) also inspired me to continue to share own experiences, in hopes of saving someone else from gaining similar experiences of their own. All in all, we got off lucky that day and gained something even more valuable than knowledge. We gained the good judgement born out of experience created by bad judgement.

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