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Building a barn and getting horses.

Southern Elk

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Before moving to Montana I had horses. I sold them and said I would buy more when I got here. That’s been almost 6 years, so I think it’s time to make that happen.

As soon as the ground thaws in the spring, I plan to build a shop/barn. Right now I’m thinking about a 40x40 shop with a tack room in the back corner. Off the back of the shop I will build a lean to shed with 3-4 stalls. I already have the pad ready and electricity to the site. Water is 300 feet away at the hydrant at the well. I’m debating on running a hose that far or fencing in such a manner that gives them access to the creek. I would welcome input on any of this.

As far as horses, right now I’m thinking about getting 3. One for me to ride, one for my son to ride, and a pack horse. We could also lead the riding horses if we need them for packing an elk. The tack that I have right now consists of 2 complete riding setups and some of the panniers that go over a riding saddle. I would like to purchase a pack saddle. One thing I can’t decide on is a sawbuck vs a decker setup. Sawbuck seems to me to be much easier, but here in MT the traditional setup is decker. I would like to hear some opinions on pros and cons for the two types.

I’m also curious about what features you look for in a good mountain horse? Most of my experience with horses is with quarter horses that wouldn’t be sturdy enough for the mountains. Then there’s also the question about whether or not to try to find gaited horses that can cover more ground. Our plans are to do pack trips exploring wilderness areas in the summer and elk hunting in the fall.

Anyway, it’s a lot to think about over the winter and I would welcome advice from those who know the ins and outs.
 
Water: If the creek flows year round do that. Nothing worse than screwing with hoses and tank heaters when it’s -30.

Tack: I much prefer Deckers. I’ve never heard anyone say sawbucks are easier, that’s a new one to me. Sawbucks are probably cheaper. Deckers are about as easy as it gets for slinging weird loads.

Horses: pick disposition first. I never liked really big horses. If the downhill pack slips and your horse is 16.5 hands, that sucks. Don’t get hung up on sturdy. My best pack horse was 14 hands and I paid 400 bucks for him.

Look for good withers and sound feet. Beyond that, straight legs and a good hip. You aren’t going to put enough miles on a decent confirmation horse to notice. If you were doing 100 miles a week, maybe.

If you’re going to do gaited they all have to be. You’ll pay more for it.
 
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Water: I’d the creek flows year round so that. Nothing worse than screwing with hoses and tank heaters when it’s -30.

Tack: I much prefer Deckers. I’ve never heard anyone say sawbucks are easier, that’s a new one to me. Sawbucks are probably cheaper. Deckers are about as easy as it gets for slinging weird loads.

Horses: pick disposition first. I never liked really big horses. If the downhill pack slips and your horse is 16.5 hands, that sucks. Don’t get hung up on sturdy. My best pack horse was 14 hands and I paid 400 bucks for him.

Look for good withers and sound feet. Beyond that, straight legs and a good hip. You aren’t going to put enough miles on a decent confirmation horse to notice. If you were doing 100 miles a week, maybe.

If you’re going to do gaited they all have to be. You’ll pay more for it.
Out of everything involved in this endeavor, I’m least of all familiar with pack saddles. I think what I was trying to say is that with whichever setup I go with, I want to use panniers. I’m not interested in wrapping everything in canvas and trying it to a decker saddle like some of the pros do. Hopefully that makes sense.

I think your right about the creek. In my situation it will require more fencing, but I’m sure it will be with it in the long run.
 
I’d buy Smoke Elsers book and read that. He talks at length about Decker vs sawbuck. IMO learning to mantie a load is easy and worth doing.
I have his book. Been a while since I’ve looked at it. I will give it another read before making any decisions.
 
I’m thinking about a 40x40 shop with a tack room in the back corner. Off the back of the shop I will build a lean to shed with 3-4 stalls. I already have the pad ready and electricity to the site. Water is 300 feet away at the hydrant at the well. I’m debating on running a hose that far or fencing in such a manner that gives them access to the creek. I would welcome input on any of this.
Our daughter, much like Big Fin who is CPA only to support a hunting habit, has a CPA business only to support a barrel racing horse habit. She designed and built a large metal barn with good features. Large doors at each end for easy drive-thru for hay and whatever, shed roofs on side for covered stalls and corrals next to them, tack room on one end close to where she parks trailer for easy loading of horses, hay, and tack. She placed big round bale feeders outside which cover the bales, but protect them as horses eat out of small openings. It's really a nice setup and well thought out. Likely there are sources of information that may guide you in design.
One barn I saw had alleyways with tiedowns and tack hangers so that horses could be saddled and packed inside and then ready to hit the trail.
 
Congrats on bringing horses back into your life.

I was middle aged before horses entered my life, over twenty years ago now.

Hunting in the mountains wasn't a consideration for me originally. The first reason was having a horse suitable for horseback pointing dog field trials. Tennessee walking horses are predominant for that use, along with a few other gaited breeds. So, TWHs have been the horses I have owned.

Shortly after getting a horse for field trials, I began using them for big game hunting in the mountains. They have certainly been fine for that use. The smallest horse I've owned is 15 hands even, somewhere between 950-1050# in weight. I weigh north of 200# and he takes me up a mountain and down without trouble. He and the others pack whatever, just fine. The horse in my avatar packed an entire cow elk off a mountain, when I needed to get off the mountain before a bad storm came.

My other horses have been 15.2 or 15.3 hands. I can attest that the extra height is noticeable when mounting or dismounting. Not that it is a big deal, but swinging a leg over a 15 hand horse is easier than one that is taller.

Renting is cheaper, but the more you use a horse, the better both of you are for it.
 
The stayemmade about disposition is probably the most important. The seond is the footing and height. I have a good buddy who has a quarter horse crossed with a draft horse I cannot remember the draft horse breed for the life of me. He always said the footing was sound and given the stoutly frame could bring an elk out no problem.

If it were me and was looking for a mountain animal I would look for something in the Morgan breed of horses. The old man has Morgans and his have sweet dispositions even the stud. They are from the "old bloodline" and it was said "A Morgan will plow your filed all week and then drive you to church on Sunday". You could ride in and they would definitely pack out your critter. The down side to Morgans is they can be finicky with their diets. They do really well on grass hay, too much alfalfa can twist them up.

Now if going to the backcountry I'd consider a mule or mules as well. They tend to be less skittish of things with teeth and sharp claws, however, they can be, as we all know,a bit, more stubborn.

Obviously it's gonna come down to your personal preferences and what the budget will allow. I'm not a horse expert by any means just a few ideas. I gave serious consideration to taking one of the Morgans this year and am looking at doing it next year.

Horses are a great tool to have in the hunting tool box.
 
Screenshot_20221124-105556_Samsung Internet.jpgive put a pile of these in, when its 20 below, i put a 60 watt heat lamp bulb in the very bottom. it never freezes

good luck in the horse buisness, this is the the most expensive time i can remember to buy horses or mules, sellers market though
 
I can't think of a more controversial topic when it comes to gear. Put a bunch of horse guys in a room and ask a question about tack. Everyone is right. :D

We always had quarter horses for packing and riding. They may not have been the best off trail on steep rocky stuff, but you can always get off and walk. We used sawbucks with hard boxes or stiff paniers (leather panels), and some cheap rollup paniers for fluffy stuff. We didn't really have any issues that I can think of using the sawbucks, ever. Also didn't really ever see any advantage to a Decker, its really about your setup. Packing hay, meat, camp etc. We packed out a lot of meat on riding saddles. Split the front/back half down to the hide, leave the hide in tact, and put the front or hinds on, cut a hole for the horn, a couple short lash ropes to the cinch and head down the trail. I think at one time we had 2 pack horses, and 4 riding horses. One was half Belgian/quarter. He had one speed (slow as F), could haul a ton, wasn't spooked by anything and was sure footed.

Time was the biggest issue, and really how many camps are you going to pack in a year? Organizing gear, planning, etc is a lot of work. Then you have horses to take care of when you're camping/hunting.

I'd think hard about mules for packing. My brother in law had a bunch. stupid bulletproof, tough, sure footed and smart, but a sucky ride.

Chopping ice out of a stream isn't fun in the winter.
 

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