Back in the Saddle

Trip Start Apr 20, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Friday, May 11, 2012

Today's the day! We'll be working on a ranch in exchange for free horseback riding lessons.

For a little back story: Since the beginning of the trip, we thought it would be really cool if we could work on a real ranch in Montana for the day. When we arrived in Idaho, we did a random search on Craigslist, under Montana > Bozeman > Gigs > Labor, and sure enough we found a posting by this guy named Tom Heintz, saying he’d offer free horseback riding lessons in exchange for some labor on his ranch. His website seemed legitimate (you can see it here:, so we emailed him and hoped for the best. Neither of us had been on a horse in about 20 years, so we figured it was time for a refresher.

Less than 12 hours later, we got a response from Tom.

Tom Heintz is a fifth-generation Montanan. He pretty much grew up on a ranch, he’s been giving horseback riding lessons since 1974 and he’s lived on his property outside of Belgrade since 1981. While working as a wilderness guide – hunting, fishing, riding – he built an incredible heavy timber home in ’89-'92 with his own two hands; no plans, no blueprints. This guy is the real deal.

But before the busy season starts up again, he needs help cleaning up trails and putting up fence posts.

This morning when we arrive at 10am, he greets us with a hearty handshake and a quick lesson on identifying the natural surroundings. Mr. Heintz shows us the ground nest of a Killdeer (bird) and its four perfectly placed, brown spotted eggs sitting in the middle of a field as a demonstation to watch where the hell you step. We move on to a portion of the trail that needs a little grooming and we set about removing the rocks that are troublesome to the feet of his horses. After working for about 2.5 hours, we realize that time is flying and we kick up our pace in an attempt to please our host. So much squatting, bending, lifting and turning on a perfectly sunny day that the sweat doesn’t take long to pour. Around 3:15 our work is done and we retire our gloves with holes in the fingers. Tom says he’s happy with our work and he thinks the horses will be too. It’s time to ride.

After a quick snack and lots of water to rehydrate, Tom introduces us to the three horses we’ll be with this afternoon: Tom will be on Bandit, Lizette will be on Duke and Bret will be on Trooper. After some maintenance and grooming lessons, we mount the horses and take off.

We were expecting a 30-minute or hour-long ride, maybe just up and down the trail we helped clean, but Tom and Bandit lead us on a two-hour trip all around the property, over streams, through rivers(!), past beaver dams, and over lush green meadows (see videos). We spot deer, a beaver, some marmots and the snow-covered mountains in the distance always seem to be in view over the tops of the cottonwood trees.

The ride was a relaxing treat after five hours of labor. The steady beat of the horses feet made it easy to realize why cowboys came up with and sang so many soothing trail songs.

At the end of the ride, we let Bandit, Duke and Trooper join their other horse friends for dinner and we take a quick tour of Tom’s place. After the tour, Mr. Heintz shares a story on how he killed a bear with a bow and arrow, and tips on what to see and do around Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons over a glass of scotch. We had the feeling we could sit here, listening to his stories all night. We ask for one more story before we leave, and in return we offer him some of the Wild Turkey American Honey we’ve had in our ice chest since we left San Francisco.  The story was great, but it’ll cost you a drink to hear it…

It’s finally time to depart and find a campsite or someplace to sleep for the night, so we head out, wishing we could work on his ranch for a little while longer. (We can’t say how grateful we are to Mr. Heintz and his hospitality, and would recommend anyone headed to Bozeman, MT to look him up for his wilderness services.)

We strike out for a campground along Spanish Creek that we had our eye on (it wasn’t open for the season yet) and decide to skip a KOA for another stay at a motel in Bozeman, where we can shower and grab some so-so Mexican food next door before catching some shut-eye.

Tomorrow: Yellowstone!

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Justin Hult on

I think this is my favorite blog post yet! Love it!

Erica Woodruff on

Love reading your Blogs! This was one of my Favorite. Can't wait for your next adventure!

Janie on

What fantastic adventure!

Jeanne on

You two are amazing...what memories you are making...continue to enjoy this beautiful country.

Auntie Kay on

Enjoying the tour. Looking forward to seeing you two.

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