Hayden Valley

horses in the Hayden Valley

5:15 a.m. Catch and feed horses. Get ready.

6 a.m. Leave for Hayden Valley.

8:45 a.m. Arrive at trailhead and gear up horses.

9 a.m. Meet guests, adjust stirrups, and give basic riding instructions.

The group is ready to ride and they wait
for me to finish my chores. In Yellowstone Park, all domestic
livestock manure must be scattered because it decomposes quicker
and harbors fewer parasites. As I fulfill this last pre-ride duty,
I see that Bedavi is twisting and turning frantically, his trailer-tied
rope stretching to the max.

I turn around and stare at 10 to 15 buffalo,
circling us in. Just a little while ago, they were grazing at
least 300 feet away. Their curiosity must have overcome their
hunger and now North America’s largest land mammal is approaching
us slowly.

By now, their massive 6-foot tall bodies are less than 25 feet away from us and their eyes are watching us closely. Together we are facing massive dark-brown 2,000 pound creatures covered with thick shaggy pelts. Above their big black eyes, two dangerous horns bring me no peace of mind either.

Sparking their curiosity, Bedavi is twisting
and turning faster, trying to get out of this encounter. The fact
that buffalo are herbivores does little to calm me now.

They are near-sighted and short-tempered.
And every year, tourists are gored or killed by buffalo attacks.
I pull on the end of Bedavi’s rope, and the quick-release knot
comes undone instantly. I love it when knowledge becomes practical!

We walk to rest of the group and are greeted
by smiles of relief.

Bedavi checking Hayden Valley for buffalo

I get up on my horse and wait for the end of the group to start
moving. As we stand there, a car stops in the middle of the road and a guy rolls down his window.

I scan my surroundings and I am a little
surprised since there is nothing worthwhile stopping for. Surely, the buffalo are close, but there are better pullouts to view them.

Nonetheless, he sticks his head out of
the window and yells to me: “That’s a beautiful Arabian!”

He smiles, gives me a thumps-up, and drives

I am perplexed. Amidst the beautiful scenery
of Hayden Valley, the rolling plateaus behind us, the Yellowstone River across from us, and an entire buffalo herd roaming through the fields, this guy actually stops to praise my horse. This must be one of Bedavi’s biggest compliments ever. I know I will never see this person again, but I am grateful that they stopped. This proud feeling will stay with me forever. I pat Bedavi on the neck, excited and happy to have him with me.

I straighten my back, sit tall and upright,
take a deep breath, and follow the group with a smile.

For the next few hours we stroll through the plateaus of Hayden Valley, watching deer and buffalo.Riding on until we stop at the perfect lunch spot. Through our spotting scope we see a grizzly sow with two cubs and an elk with huge antlers.

I am as excited about the grizzly as I
am about our horses.

They are grazing right next to us. Some are sipping water from a pond while others are taking a nap. It
is so joyful to witness horses in such a beautiful setting.

A Yellowstone Kodak Moment.

Like all good things this ride must come to an end too, and we work our way back towards the trailhead. It is 3 p.m. and we have made good time.

The edge of a small forest serves as one last stop for the day and we are happy that all went so well.

That said, Bedavi and three other horses raise their heads as if something spooked them behind us. They trot away for 60 feet and stop. We look behind us, but see nothing. We get up to bring them closer again, but as we approach all four of them take off running.

With their spirits pumping and saddlebags
flapping, they run over a hill – and are gone!

A split-second later I find myself on top
of good old Joker, cantering up the hill after our horses. On top of the hill, I see nothing. The beautiful rolling plateaus prove to be as hindering as they are scenic.

When I am on a top, the four runaways must
be in a bottom and vice versa. A nice game, leaving me as the loser. I canter over a mile straight and my heart sinks.
How will I ever find Bedavi again? He could be anywhere.

Not sure whether I am even heading in the right direction, I canter on at full speed nonetheless. Waiting is not an option.

Joker, my temporary ride, works away furiously
underneath me and we fly through Hayden Valley in a flash. I remember daydreaming about this just hours ago. But I always dreamed of riding my horse, not chasing my horse. This humorous thought stays
with me for just a second though.

Reality gets back to me. I am on a high-speed
horse chase through the wild west. This is not a movie, this is real. Sagebrush, tall grasses, roots, flower patches, and dirt spots; they flurry by in a glance. Mike has joined our chase, and is heading towards the southwest. Instinctively I trust him and follow.

After two miles we finally catch up with
them. I could have sworn Mike would be mad, but he only says, “We’ll set his clock straight tomorrow”. Mike’s personality never ceases to impress me. I ask how he found them and he said he was just heading back to the trailhead.
I can’t believe it. These guys were heading back to the trailer even though we rode in a large loop – incredible.

The horses are a sweaty mess, but we decide to give them no rest and canter back to our group.

While this was supposed to be a form of punishment for running away, Bedavi’s Arabian endurance shines through. He doesn’t mind at all. In fact, I have to stop him from passing us.

Deep inside, I am excited about his power and endurance, but I am also disappointed that he ran away, leaving me standing there. Mike was right, we will have to set his clock straight tomorrow.

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