The story of Slick, a true mountain horse |

The story of Slick, a true mountain horse

Gary Hubbell

“Do you want a horse?” Jeff Pogliano asked me. We were fishing near Carbondale, and Jeff, himself an excellent fly-fishing guide, was following the wisdom of “don’t teach your own wife to fish.” He had asked me to instruct his wife, Michelle Pfeifer, an Aspen native and daughter of Buttermilk’s founder Friedl Pfeifer, on the art of fly-fishing. The year was 1991.”What do you mean, do I want a horse?” I asked. “Well, the tax code just changed, and the bottom dropped out of the Arabian horse market. We have three or four young geldings in Arizona that were worth $25,000 each last week, and they’re worth $2,500 today. We’d rather give them to someone who will give them a good home than to market them for six months and make a couple hundred bucks.”

I swallowed hard, not believing my good fortune. I had experience with Arabians, having ridden one many hard days in the snowy mountains while guiding elk hunting. “Sterling” was tough, strong, unstoppable. “Well, yes. Yes, I do want a horse!” I answered.I borrowed a truck and a trailer and went down to a big regional horse show at the Colorado State Fair Grounds in Pueblo. There were gorgeous Arabians everywhere, impossibly beautiful horses with fine arched necks and chiseled beautiful faces. Try as I might, I couldn’t find Michelle’s stalls. There were more than 300 horses at that show but as I walked past one particular stall, my heart almost stopped as I looked at one bay gelding. He was … well, my dream horse. A deep, dark eye, a wild black mane, a handsome face, a look of kindness.I went on. Finally I found Michelle, and she explained that the wind had whipped up the banner to their stalls. She led me to the exact stall with that gorgeous bay gelding and said, “Meet First Tense.” I had tears in my eyes. Michelle explained that since First Tense was there, they had shown him in the halter class the night before, and he had won reserve champion and $1,000. Now he was mine to take home. At home, my dad commented, “What a slick horse,” and so he got his name, “Slick.”My education began. I had never broke a horse -excuse me – started a horse under saddle before. I asked several horse trainer friends how to start. They all advised me not to try it, that I’d ruin the horse. Then there was the average cowboy’s perception of Arabians: spooky, unreliable, flighty, nervous. My roommate at the time, Mike Bell, was a potato farmer from Maine and knew nothing about horses, but he agreed to hold the lead rope while I saddled the horse. Nervous as hell, I put a foot in the stirrup and swung my leg over. I shifted my weight back and forth, and the horse cocked his ears back, listening.”Lead him forward,” I asked Mike, and so we began 15 years of wonderful times.

We got through the first 20 or 30 rides with neither of us getting hurt, and then we began to build confidence in each other. I rode him bareback with a halter and a leadrope, sometimes in the moonlight. I brought a nosebag of grain out to the field on those bitter cold December nights when the temperature dropped to 20 below. Fuel to burn, to keep warm.The summer that he was 3, I was traveling on the Navajo reservation when I met a gorgeous long-legged Swiss girl who was traveling with a girlfriend. I invited them to visit me in Carbondale. She looked at me skeptically when I told her I had a horse. When she arrived in Carbondale, we walked out to the fence rail and I called Slick, who cantered over. I think she fell in love with the horse as well as the man.Our courtship included a pack trip into the wilderness near the Maroon Bells, and Slick, as a 3 year old, never missed a step as he carried Doris into the wilds and back. That sealed the deal. She rode him to our wedding ceremony.Since then, Slick has been with me through all the good times and the tough times. That first year, I bailed off Slick and pulled my rifle out of my scabbard, dropped to one knee and hammered a bull elk. Slick stood there right behind me, ears up, and never blinked. He grazed next to the kill while I quartered it out, and stood quietly while I loaded the meat on the saddle. That’s when I knew I had a mountain horse.When we started OutWest Guides in 1999, Slick graciously became a dude horse. (The local barflies disparaged us as “The Arab outfitters.”) He has carried close to a thousand mostly beginner riders by now, and he’s our best kids’ horse. He patiently tolerates them as they yank on the reins, slouch, and don’t even realize when they’re falling over. He’s packed a ton of elk; he’s been to the farthest reaches of the wilderness; he’s stood quiet and hungry at a highline while snowstorms raged. He has swum raging rivers through whitewater, only his ears and nose showing. He’s seen bears, mountain lions, coyotes and lynx up close. He has always found home. He has never bucked anyone off. Slick has taught a couple of dozen wranglers the meaning of a good horse. After seeing him pack a bunch of 6-year-olds around, they think he’s lost his touch. They always seem to pick Slick as the horse to round up the rest of the herd, and he’s taught them what a responsive horse is all about. Several times they’ve reined him left or right, and he’s turned so quickly that they found themselves sitting in midair while Slick went where they told him.

I’ve been lucky since I met Slick. I have a lovely wife and two fine sons, a bunch of other nice horses, and some ground that we can call our own. I’ve started a couple of dozen colts since then, and many horses have come and gone. Those of you who have owned one good horse in your lives know what a true blessing you have experienced. Those of you who haven’t – well, I just don’t know what to tell you.

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