Lessons from Bogging Hodge the Horse in New Zealand
Many years ago (2001) I was helping Allan Crawford muster cattle on the North Island of New Zealand. The cattle were scattered through a low range of mountains covered in tea tree scrub and crisscrossed by murky creeks. Allan and I split up to circle a mob of cattle scattered across a mountainside a half an hour’s ride away. Allan was riding his horse Dancer and I was riding Hodge, a fleabitten gray he’d loaned me for the day.
Here are some photos from earlier that week.
Stuck in a Creek
My job was to ride Hodge across a valley. Then I would cross a narrow brook and look for cattle on the other side of the creek. The stream was about ten feet wide and the water was milky, so I couldn’t see how deep it was. Hodge dipped a toe into the creek, perked his ears, and instead of jumping across the brook, stepped into it.
Down, down, down he went. “Shit!” I thought, and the freezing water poured into my boots and rose up over my pants. Hodge reared up, to leap out of the creek. His front end rose and when he tried to climb out of the creek, he couldn’t.
“No big deal,” I thought, “he’ll get it the next try.”
Hodge tried again, couldn’t get out of the steep-sided creek, tried a few more times and I grew worried. This was turning into a big deal. I was stuck in a creek with a horse and Allan was a long ways off. I wasn’t even sure he knew where I was.
Damn! I unsaddled Hodge, hoping he taking the weight off his back would help him jump out. No go. The water was freezing cold so I shucked off my shirt to keep it dry. That left Hodge and me standing all alone in a freezing cold creek in the Middle of Nowhere New Zealand. Me with no shirt on. Him looking dazed. What next?
What a Fool
Fifteen minutes passed. I started shivering and Hodge’s fleabitten hide started twitching. He was getting cold. Allan was nowhere in site. “What a fool,” I thought, “for getting this borrowed horse stuck in a creek.” After half an hour of struggling, Rangi and I were both numb with cold. What hurt the most was that the creek was so narrow that I could crawl in and out but Rangi couldn’t. Every time he tried, it was like his feet were stuck to the muck at the bottom of the brook.
Hodge thrashed and flailed in the icy water and I could tell he was getting weak. I didn’t want him to loose his strength and go down. If his head went under water, there would be now way for me to keep him from drowning.
I was so stiff with cold I could barely move but I stood in the water next to Hodge to keep him from lying down and getting wedged underwater.
“You Got the Old Bugger Stuck”
Finally, after what seemed like half a day but was probably only 40 minutes, Allan rode up on Dancer. He looked down at me, standing shirtless next to his unsaddled, bogged horse, and asked, “What are you doing in there?” Allan was as matter as fact as they come. Kiwi stock men are a steady bunch.
I explained I couldn’t get Hodge out the creek and he said, “Well, the truck’s an hour’s ride away so let’s see if we can hook Dancer to Hodge and pull him out that way.”
Allan uncoiled the heavy rope he had hanging from his saddle. We tied a loop around Hodge’s barrel, right up next to his front legs, and made another loop in the other end of the rope. Then we put the loop around Dancer’s neck, so he could tow Hodge out of the creek.
Boy, did I feel low. I’d met Allan on the side of the road only a few days ago. He’d invited me to spend the night at his house when I didn’t have a place stay. Now I’d sunk his horse in a nameless creek far from help. Allan got on his horse, said “Pull on the rope” and urged his horse ahead. The rope drew up tight around Hodge’s barrel, he thrashed like a giant fish and…nothing. “You got the old bugger good and stuck,” Allan said and smiled. Like I said, he was steady.
“Make Sure You See the Bottom”
We tried again. Hodge thrashed most of the water out of the creek, Dancer gave a tremendous tug and jerked Hodge sideways out of the creek. “There you go old boy,” Allan said, got off his horse and coiled his rope back up. I was freezing cold, put on my shirt and my fingers were so stiff I could barely pop the buttons through the holes.
By the time I had my shirt tucked in, Allan’s patience melted away. He said, “I wondered where you went. I was expecting you up on that hill I told you about but when you didn’t show up, so I had to ride all this way back to find you.” I took that as my sign that the work day wasn’t over yet so I resaddled Hodge and climbed back on.
“The next time you ride a horse into a creek, make sure you see the bottom,” Allan said. Then he turned and rode away. I tagged behind him on Hodge and all I could see was the back of him, but I knew he was smiling.
It’s About More Than Creeks
I now think of Allan every time I come to a creek I need to cross with my mules. Then I smile, see if I can see the bottom, and ride across.
I’ve never bogged a horse or mule since Hodge and I met our demise in that nameless Kiwi brook.
Thanks, Allan, for a life lesson that goes well beyond crossing creeks.
Download a Free Copy of my Photo Book
I’d love to give you a free copy of my just-released 134-page photo book 19 Million Mule Steps. The book contains a lot of the material that didn’t fit into my upcoming book Two Mules to Triumph, about my 7 month, 2,300 mile Long Ride from North Carolina to Idaho with my mules Brick and Cracker.