Finding Lost Horses and Mules in the Backcountry

If you spend much time in the wilderness, sooner or later your trusty steed and his sidekick are going to turn up missing. So what do you do? Someone once told me you will always find your lost horse in their last tracks. While that may be an over-simplification, it is a good place to start. The first thing I do when looking for a stray is to check the back trail for tracks. Chances are your stock is going to head for your starting point, but I caution you that doesn’t always hold true. So look around to determine which way they headed.

Go Prepared
Whether you are going after stock that may be headed 10, 20 or more miles back to your trailer or just around the bend to that big meadow, go prepared. Halters, leads, grain in a feedbag, food for yourself, rain coat, flashlight and vehicle keys. You never know what might happen. If you do have to walk out, I certainly hope you're wearing something besides cowboy boots.

Stay Off the Trail
I have learned to stay off the trail to avoid covering any sign that I might want to check several times before committing to what could be quite a trip. Hopefully, you’ll be riding and not walking. I always keep at least one saddle horse securely tied on the highline at all time for just such emergencies.

Horse with horse bellHorse Bells
I also use horse bells. These are usually just a small horse or cow bell on a strap that goes around the horse's neck. The sound of the bell lets me know that my hobbled or picketed stock are still nearby or, if they do decide to take off, where they are headed or hiding. Sometimes it is easier to track the horse bell than the horse. Many people leave the horse bells on all night just to know that their horses are still in camp and that all's well.

Keeping your Stock in Camp