While riding yesterday I remembered an almost-wreck I was involved in once, that was caused by problems with the humans, rather than the horses.
I was on a 3-day pack trip in the Blue Wilderness Area of eastern Arizona with my wife, sister, and brother-in-law. All of us had been raised with horses, however, other than myself, most of the collective experience was in the arena (gaming, roping). As we were making our way along a steep mountainside up in the pines at about 8500' elevation or so, we came up to a huge pine tree, fallen across the trail about 100' from the end of a switchback. Now the trail wasn't all that steep, but it was narrow, and the mountainside it was on would remind one of The Man From Snowy River, except there were a lot more large trees.
My brother-in-law (BIL) was lead, my sister next, then myself, my wife bringing up the rear. Oh, almost forgot the packhorse. He was loose, just following along...until we stopped at the log. My BIL and sister turned to me and said the log was too large to cross and there was no way to go around it. I just told them to turn the horses downhill and walk down to the trail, as it was only about 50 feet or so below us. They sat there and discussed whether they might figure out some other way to do this, or maybe just turn around and go back to another trailhead. While they were discussing it, and I was getting a little impatient, telling them to just ride down the hill, the packhorse got a little impatient and decided to find out what was happening up at the front. He pushed past all the horses, one by one, and made them all impatient and scaring everybody into thinking they were going to fall down the hill. Nobody but me seemed to notice that our packhorse, with the huge first-day pack, was walking off the side of the trail, and up and down, and back, with no problem at all. They still would not consider just riding down the hill. Finally, sensing that we were in for a real problem if we didn't get these horses moving, what with the packhorse wandering around and pushing the horses around (before flaming me about the loose pack horse, remember, this is taking place within a matter of about 2 minutes and shortly before he had been plodding along calmly behind the rest).
Finally, I just hollered up ahead and told them to just follow me and let their horses have their heads. The horses know what to do. I turned my QH off the trail and she calmly slid, walked, and skidded the 50' to the trail below. "No problem, see?" Well, they still wouldn't do it. Now their horses were starting to fidget, because they could see no good reason for not following my horse. The goofy packhorse certainly had no problem with it and followed us on down the hill. But then once he got down there with me, he remembered that his best girlfriend pasture buddy was back up at the upper trail, so he simply turned around and headed back up. He got about half-way up, and decided to come back to us...at least for a minute...
Meanwhile, BIL, sis, and wifey, saw me waiting down at the lower trail and decide the best thing to do was to get off and walk their horses down to me. They were fuming at me, because I went down and made their horses fidget. Ok, I thought, at least they'll get down here. So then, astonished beyond belief, I watched my BIL lead
his horse down the hill...I mean leading from the front! He was sliding down this hillside with his horse sliding along right above him! All I could do was grit my teeth and hope for the best. His roping horse was good on his feet and all went well. So then my BIL tied his horse to a tree...directly below the horses that were still up on the upper trail. He got off and went up to help sis bring her horse down (I was holding the packhorse by this time). So, then, at my pleading, they led my sister's gelding down by leading him from the side...me still gritting my teeth. They parked her horse right next to his, directly below my wife's horse.
By this time my wife is the only one on the upper trail and her horse is just about beside itself because all the other horses are down on the lower trail. She would not ride her down, despite my pleading. About this time the packhorse somehow pulled away from me as I was preparing to head up to help my wife with her horse. She was already off her horse, but was afraid to lead him down the hill. In fact, I was hollering at her to just let the mare go an just follow, but she wouldn't do it (she was so mad at me she wasn't listening anymore).
So, as I was about to head up the hill on foot (note that my horse was nicely tied to a tree waaaay off to the side of this scene), the packhorse decided he needed to go help his best pasture pal (my wife's horse) and headed back up the hill. This time he got about 3/4 of the way up the hill, when he lunged and the 250# or so pack settled back and pulled him off balance. I watched in horror as his front hooves came off the hillside and I had visions of him tumbling backwards down the hill (remember where my BIL and sister are?).
Then, just as he was about to go over backwards, the young gelding squatted on his hind legs and caught his balance, with his front legs in the air. I remember seeing the raw power in the muscles of his haunches, as he squatted and gained control of the load and powered himself on up the hill. He must have stood there on his hind legs for a full 30 seconds as he caught his balance. This time he went up the trail and stayed there until I got up and brought my wife's mare down. I let the gelding get himself back down. I had my hands full anyway (horse, wife...you know).
We all made it down the hill to the lower trail without injury to us or the horses. Once we all calmed down and got our wits about us again, we headed happily off down the trail and enjoyed a wonderful weekend.
In the end, this would have been an uneventful detour had my companions had more confidence in the abilities of their horses. Horses can do amazing things. This was the converse of the problem most people talk about. You normally hear the stories about horses doing crazy things. This time the horses were trustworthy, but the riders didn't trust them. The fear of the riders was the problem in our case, and poor decision-making...and, of course, the loose packhorse
Sorry it's so long, but looking back it's a good memory and I enjoy telling it.