The trail climbing the flanks of the Rocky Mountains up to the Great Divide was narrow, rocky, and sometimes treacherous as it forded rushing mountain streams and edged along the sides of sheer canyon drop-offs. It was Wrangler’s first time in the mountains and he seemed a bit edgy himself, especially for a pony who had been raised on flat land as a rodeo roping horse. A big flaxen-maned sorrel, Wrangler nonetheless trusted me to the point that he would have charged into a pen full of hungry wolves and bobcats—as long as I went in with him. We had been together since he was four months old.
First night in the mountains, camped alongside an alpine lake with elk bugling, was a new experience for the big horse. I finally spread my bedroll underneath his front feet to reassure him. Rest of the night I felt his warm nose sniffing to make sure I was still there.
We met hunting buddies and their horses and began climbing into elk country. Wrangler took everything in stride, neither spooking nor hesitating where even veteran mountain ponies might have had second thoughts.
“We have a pact,” I explained. “I take care of him, he takes care of me.”
I always travel light. A bedroll wrapped in a poncho, my .270 rifle, and a pair of saddle bags with my chow in one and the other stuffed with alfalfa cubes for Wrangler.
You could barely see my partners’ horses for the loads they carried. Nothing but legs and heads sticking out.
Only problem with Wrangler was he sometimes developed separation anxiety. I fed him cubes out of my hat. Would you feed your pal off the ground? Then we hunters left the horses tethered while we separated and scouted high for game.
I returned in late afternoon, hiking across a wide meadow. Scotty had returned early and took the horses out on a picket line to graze. Big Wrangler tossed up his head, whuffed the wind—and wild mustangs couldn’t have held him. He broke free and came thundering to greet me.
I got to ride the last mile back to camp. What more can you ask from an old friend?
West Virginia shuddered mightily as a torpedo from a Japanese midget submarine penetrated her hull below the waterline, almost knocking Arles Cole off his feet. . . From Two Fronts, One War by Charles W. Sasser, an epic and far-reaching personal history of American warriors in both fronts of World War II. To be released April 15 but available now online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.