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12 Life Lessons I Learned as a Rocky Mountain Horse Guide

What I learned from keeping guests happy, laughing, and (more or less) on their horses

©Caelan Beard

Many of us, at some point in our horse careers, end up as trail guides.

Whether it’s taking out guests occasionally at your regular riding stable, or a summer job at a destination ranch, that first time you lead a ride can be a bit scary.

It can also teach you some surprising lessons about life, horses, and yourself

Here’s what I picked up on the trail while keeping people entertained, on their horses, and (pretty much) all in one piece.

1. Learn to ride backwards

Because you’re going to spend 90% of your time twisted around, trying to watch everyone at once and make sure that none of your first-time, unbalanced riders are about to topple off their mounts.

Life lesson: The path forward goes more smoothly when you keep potential problems in your peripheral vision.

©Caelan Beard

2. Be LOUD!

Guests who can’t hear you aren’t going to tip. You need to be loud enough that even the person furthest away can hear you. The good news is, you’re going to get a lot of practice at this when you’re yelling at wildlife to get off your trail and bikers or ATVers to stop before they run smack into you.

Life lesson: You have a voice—don’t be afraid to use it!

3. Be assertive

Don’t be afraid to yell out directions and tell people what to do if necessary. Again, this will come with practice, like when a branch breaks in the forest, the horses all start running, and you have to start screaming: “PULL BACK ON YOUR REINS! PULL BACK!”

Life lesson: Maybe you’re not a natural leader, but there are moments in life when you have to be in charge. When you find yourself in one of those moments, don’t shy away because you might just be keeping somebody safe.

4. Learn to improvise

If a guest asks you the name of something, and you don’t know, just make it up. Seriously, most people forget whatever you say about five seconds after you’ve said it. Throw in “mountain” or “Rocky Wild” and you’re golden. What’s that strange yellow flower, you ask? Oh, that’s a… rocky mountain sunflower!

Life lesson: You don’t have to know everything. You just have to learn how to think on your feet.

Photo courtesy of the author.

5. Agree with EVERYTHING

If they think they know the answer to something, they’re always right. If they ask, “Is that one Signal Mountain?” you say, “Yup!” Just smile and nod, y’all, smile and nod.

Life lesson: If you’re flexible, you can get along with almost anybody.

6. Be scarier than a bear

Is there a black bear, deer, or any other wildlife in your way? Don’t worry about it, just wave your arms, make any wacky noise you can come up with, and scream like a crazy person until it moves. Most wildlife are scaredy cats when it comes to people—especially bunches of people and horses—so you have a strong chance of just scaring them off.

Life lesson: You’re braver than you think.

7. Do not, I repeat, do NOT try that above tip with a grizzly bear

Most wildlife is afraid of humans, but grizzlies belong in their own category. They own the forest, they know it, and if you try to scare them off, they WILL bluff charge right back at your horse.

Life lesson: It’s good to be brave, but it’s even more commendable to know your limits.

©Caelan Beard

8. Always stay on

This might seem like a no-brainer, but as long as you’re on your horse, you’re okay. Horse tripping over rocks or mud? Sit back and hang on, they always rescue themselves. Horse walking casually off the side of a cliff? (Yes, that’s actually happened). Stay on, give them a massive kick, and hope their brain starts working again.

Life lesson: As long as you’re too stubborn to give up or let go, you can make it through just about anything.

9. Trust your partner

Horses are business partners with brains of their own. They’ve also probably been doing this job a lot longer than you have. Let them do what they do.

Life lesson: Getting through the days is easier with a friend.

Photo courtesy of the author.

10. Okay, don’t totally trust your partner

Sometimes, your horse may be smarter than you, and if you stop paying attention for a couple minutes, you might suddenly find you’re on a shortcut back to the barn (maybe it’s happened a couple times).

Life lesson: Pay attention and keep your eyes open, because you never know where you might be headed.

11. Find a napping place

You’re going to be working long hours, out in the elements, entertaining people for hours a day. When you get 15 minutes between rides, you’ve gotta take advantage: you need a secret nap spot. The best spots are ones where you can tie your horse nearby. If they stand the right way, it’ll help hide you. And if you hear your boss calling, you can crawl out, jump on your horse, and pretend you were just checking… something. Uh, your reins?

Life lesson: Work hard, but be sure to take care of yourself, too.

Photo courtesy of the author.

12. Have fun

Remember: you get paid to ride a horse all day. You have the best job in the world, hands down. Pat your horse, look at the beautiful nature all around you, and you’ll find a real smile on your face.

Life lesson: Don’t forget to enjoy the ride—because it’s a good one!


About the Author

Caelan Beard is a travel writer and horse enthusiast based out of Toronto, Ontario. She recently completed her third summer working as a trail guide in Jasper National Park, Alberta, where she spent her days leading people on horse rides through the Rocky Mountains.