By Anne Marlowe
Uhhhh Hank? I can’t see a thing. Where did you go?”
The calm voice in the darkness just said “It’s ok, just give Larry his head, he knows the way.”
I clamped my mouth shut and thought loudly in my head. Uhh…Have you not noticed that there is NO light?”
I was cold. I was scared, I was exhausted. I was sore and mightily bruised from a nasty spill the first day out and my knees were killing me, but I had never felt SO alive!
I grew up on horses. I was an excellent rider and won many trophies and ribbons. I took a bitchy ranch horse and trained her to be an excellent show horse. Horses were my life.
Well, that was a lot of years ago. Yes, I still know all the mechanics and know what I am doing on a horse, but THIS was different. I am a little older, have less strength, a few more pounds and haven’t been on an extreme trail ride since I was about 17.
Hank, Mia and I have been friends for quite a few years. We never really get to see each other except at SHOT Show (Shooting and Hunting Outdoor Trade Show) and then only for our annual lunch. This would be a huge treat.
When they invited me on this hunting trip, I was thrilled. I have not been able to shoot an elk, even though I have tried a few times and want to very badly. I love hunting and being outdoors. Since my divorce, there hasn’t been much opportunity to go hunting especially since I live in the city now.
I made sure I had my gear and everything I might need for the trip. We were hunting about 5 hours away from where I live in Colorado Springs, and I was so excited. I wanted to hunt with Mia and spend some great girl time in the mountains. I envisioned both of us leading the horses down the mountain with elk quarters slung on our saddles.
We made it down to the cabin that night, and had a great lasagna dinner Mia had prepared ahead of time and frozen. I could barely stand and keep my eyes open. I headed to the tub for a long hot soak after the dishes were done.
Part of me wasn’t sure I could really do this, but I was determined. Every morning at 4:30 or 5:00am until past dark we were out. We hunted for 9 days. This is what Hank and Mia have done for years. They are conditioned for it, they eat sleep and breathe this stuff. I want to be them when I grow up. But right now, that is not my reality. I work and live in the city and even though I hike a lot, still don’t have their skill set.
This trip would teach me many things. New hunting skills, that I am capable of way more than I thought, what a marriage of mutual respect looked like and trust of both man and horse.
I learned to trust. I had a difficult marriage for many years. I had issues with trusting a man to take care of me. Even though there were times I questioned his wisdom at first, I kept my mouth shut and soon recognized Hank wouldn’t take us into a place we would be hurt. But for Mia this is her every day reality. She trusts him implicitly, but he trusts and respects her equally. This is not to say I wasn’t very unsure on some of our rides. Mia always rode behind me, I am sure to make certain I didn’t fall off a cliff or something.
The first day out, we rode into a beautiful area by going up a big hill filled with downed timber. It was dicey and tough going for the horses. I was recovering from a stomach bug and just didn’t’ feel well. Just as it was getting light, the horse I was on, Harley, decided to take a leap with his front feet over a log. He had done it several times, and I was fine, I rode jumpers for Pete’s sake when I was a kid! But this time his foot came down a little lower than I was ready for and over I went. My leg was hooked on the opposite side of the horse and I was stuck hanging off the saddle for a bit. I finally wiggled my foot out of the stirrup and landed in a pile of logs but wasn’t hurt. Well, except for the many bruises up and down my legs.
THIS would be the first of many times this week, I wished I was thinner and had worked out more on my upper body strength. WHUMP…yep, landed on my back. Trust lesson, Harley could have done many things, but freak out and get upset, he did not. He stopped and waited for me to figure myself out and get back on.
The rest of the day I was a little nervous since I really was completely unsure of my abilities. We saw one bull but were not able to get close to the elusive bugger. There were a few times I frankly just became unnerved and lead Harley down some of the bigger hills, or let Mia do it. I was upset with myself, for being a chicken shit, but Hank and Mia were super patient and kind.
After this, and for the rest of the week, I refused to give in to fear. I took hold of my emotions and began to relax and listen carefully to what they told me. Mia was quietly encouraging, and both she and Hank coached me through many spots. I started learning to just shut up and follow, because if Mia trusted Hank, these horses trusted both of them, then why shouldn’t I? I followed Hank into difficult to navigate ravines, where I could only hope to hang on. I pointed this big horse, now Larry, who seemed a little better fit for me, straight at whatever obstacle was thrown at me.
I learned to trust a horse. I had always been the trainer in the past but had never had to really rely on a horse to get me safely out of a spot. Larry and I became great friends. He never once let me down. We covered many miles in sometimes difficult terrain and that big mountain horse, just plowed through everything like the expert he was.
Hank and Mia are the most amazing hunting team I have ever been privileged to watch. My previous experiences hunting were not always good ones, unless with my kids. I have girlfriends I hunt with but hunting with my ex-husband usually turned out with me feeling stupid and less than, and us in a fight. I am grateful to him for teaching me and giving me the opportunity to learn something I love though. One of my favorite people to hunt with is my son Tony. He is amazing, and we always have a good time. But even those trips have been hard to come by since I moved.
Watching Hank and Mia work as a team is fascinating. I don’t think they had a clue of the impact their relationship had on me.
Hank generally had a plan for the day but always asked Mia her thoughts. Mia is an amazing hunter in her own right. She has hunted successfully her whole life and is quite something to see. I learned so much from her and consider her a great teacher. Their daughter Lea is quite a huntress and had excellent instruction from both Mia and Hank. Mia has made quite a name for herself as an outdoor writer, teaching all sorts of things from survival skills to hunting, after all she WAS on the cover of Field and Stream! That woman isn’t afraid of ANYTHING!
Mia and Hank had these great little silent conversations with hand signals and if she had a different idea for what we should do, Hank carefully considered her views. I was able to watch a couple who genuinely love and respect each other work well together. At times, Mia is playful like a squirrel and Hank just grins and delights in her. He doesn’t have to say it, but it is obvious. It was a treat to see them in action.
We spent all day every day together and not once did they have a cross word with each other. Respect in their relationship has been developed and earned by each and they both have my utmost gratitude for sharing it with me.
My hunting trip didn’t end with a bull in the freezer, but my life was made so much richer then they will ever know. I missed a shot at one and was more disappointed to let them down than I could say. But we all gave everything we had to get it done. I have NEVER worked harder for an animal. Like most hunters, I don’t do it for the kill only. I do it to be a better person, to gain new skill in the outdoors, to be closer to God and to have stories to share. I was able to share my love of God’s country with two people who love it as much as I and was blessed with more than I could have imagined.
What I didn’t know when I left Colorado Springs, was that this whole trip was a gift to me. Mia wasn’t hunting at all. Nor was Hank. Talk about humbling! No one has ever done something like this for me. I was struck speechless when I found out and teared up quite often at their kindness. If I ever can pay something like this forward, I will be a very grateful woman.
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