~Most folks, like myself, are more interested in the horses than any other part of what, how and why we do what we do in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, in Chisana and with Pioneer Outfitters. So, as I promised, here is some information on our Chisana Range Horses.
Our horses are range horses. When we buy horses, we look for “mountain horses,” (mountain horse- build) short coupled, stocky, short backs, average between 900-1,200 pounds, 14.5- 15.5 hands, short necks, heavy boned, average size 2-3 shoes.
What about their disposition? You are better off looking for horses that would prefer not to have anything to do with you. (no pets) Horses that have the mind set that would rather not have anything to do with you, people, the barn, following you into the Lodge or begging like a puppy at the front window!
We usually buy horses from British Columbia and long term outfitters there, historically, because the horses are already range horses, wild stock already living free and have the survival instinct and mentality along with the draft mix that we look for. The feed in British Columbia as well as the temperatures the horses deal with is very similar to what we have to offer in Alaska.
Buying range horses is a trick. The trick is, “Who is broke to ride?” Either way, dramas of the discovery aside, by the time the 80 mile trip has been completed and the gate is closed on the big corral in Chisana, most if not all the horses are broke. They are broke to ride or pack and rarely we end up with one (even two) that just isn’t ready to “be a horse.”
The horses here in Chisana are used to work and play approximately 90-100 days a year. The rest of the time, they are range horses. Free and wild. The average life span for a horse is 25-30 years old. We have horses that are retired, and live well into their 30’s. Our greatest prizes are the horses that are born and bred here in Chisana.
Our involvement with our horses is consistent, in that even though they are range horses and would really prefer not to be caught or wrangled or (God forbid!) ridden, after the first “wah-hoo!” they know the gig is up and it is time to go to work.
By using the airplanes all year long and the snow-machines in the winter, we keep close track of where they are and what groups they have decided on, to hang out with as their own sub-herd.
Keeping a close and in person eye (and hands) on the horses is extremely important so that we are familiar enough with each one to be able to evaluate his condition and predict if that horse is going to need our help to maintain his conditioning for the harsh winter months ahead and remaining.
All the hay and feed for the horses here in Chisana is trucked into Tok or Northway, Alaska, then flown into Chisana. Years ago, we ended up going all the way to Washington, D.C. to demand that someone put a stop to the fact that “Essential Mail Service” was going to be dis-continued. That would have been disastrous. We have our hay baled at 60-65 pounds, just so that the US Postal Service will mail it. (after it is bagged, of course!)
Any veterinarian help, that any of them may need is usually, approximately 98% of the time, is handled by phone. Rarely, although it has happened in the past, we will fly one of our vets into Chisana to get an “in person” look at a problem. Living in such remote conditions, supplies for animal first aid and medications are just as important to have on hand as it is for people-supplies.
When you leave Chisana, after spending time with these horses, you will be impressed at what they can and will – do, for you. They definitely have a spot in your heart and memories.
Pioneer Outfitters are horse outfitters. The horses are a major part of our lives and the history of the area.