At first glance I don't suppose anyone would ever accuse me of being a cowboy. While I?ve rubbed elbows with a few and at one time even owned the trademark hat, I don't consider myself an accomplished equestrian.
But it's true, I have ridden horses for going on 35 plus years. I have also ridden horses in some amazing locations; from the wilds of Alaska, throughout the Rockies, to the distant wine country outside of Santiago, Chile. I have also ridden a variety of mounts -- everything from a worn-out, sway back nag on a buddy?s ranch to the ultimate steed, a purebred Paso Fino in the high Andes of Peru. Throw in rides to waterfalls on the Island of Kauai to cantering with giraffes and zebras in South Africa. So yes, I guess I might have a story or two to share about riding. Each and every ride I have ever been on has a vivid memory attached to it. A story if you will. One I will probably never forget even if I wanted to. I can still recall each ride like it was yesterday, Even that first ride as a young man (OK - boy) in the hills of Colorado. I had no idea what I was doing and the horse knew that better than anyone. I also recall introducing riding to my own kids. I am not sure the smiles could get much bigger.
Yes, I guess I do have a story or two to share and of course I do have a favorite. Not a favorite ride or a favorite horse; I would have to say it's a favorite experience, one I enjoy year after year and enjoy sharing with others even more.
I call it the TRUE Montana horseback experience. At my company, Austin-Lehman Adventures, we continually seek out the best of the best regardless of what it is or where it might be found. Horseback riding is no different. A dozen years ago I was doing just that, searching for the ?perfect trail ride? for our Montana Big Sky Adventure. Call it luck or call it fate, my search, aided by lots of local tales and testimony, brought me to Jack and Martin Davis. They're the owners of the Flying Diamond Ranch, based along the foothills of the stunning Absaroka-Beartooth Range in Montana?s Paradise Valley, just a stone?s throw north of Yellowstone National Park. This is where some of the movie The Horse Whisperer was filmed.
Brothers Jack and Martin are the real deal. They are 4th generation Montana ranchers. With some coaxing and the right cash incentive they will lead you on a totally ?uncanned? horseback ride into the backcountry, but only after the day?s ranch duties are done. Spending a few hours with these two (and their extended families) is as good as it gets. I mean they are classic Old West ranch hands and cowboys. They are a far cry from those part-time buckaroos who you often see leading those nose to tail rides in the summer as a way to possibly meet girls and cover their rent, gas and beer expenses. No, these are guys are genuine and you get a sense of that in the first two minutes of chatting with them.
We have now worked with the Davis family for over a dozen years. They provide us with one of our most talked about trip highlights on both our Montana Adventures and our Yellowstone Family Adventures. They have never failed to deliver and delight with their cowboy wisdom and caring style. They don't just put you on a horse and then slap its back side while telling you to ?hold on!? Quite the contrary, they take the time to share a little slice of their world with each and everyone. They teach you the basics of horsemanship before ever getting started. Then along the ride or when you get to their private camp high up on Dome Mountain, they share stories and just a bit of a snap shot as to what Western ranch life is all about.
I remember one trip that was filled with well-intentioned Sierra Clubbers. Martin took extra care to share the rancher?s views regarding the reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone eco-system. He did it in a way that was both convincing and honest. You should have heard the talk that night around dinner back at Chico Hot Springs Resort. He definitely shook the foundations of some long standing beliefs and even won one or two over to his side of the fence! But after hearing Martin talk everyone agreed that ranchers are indeed some of the world?s greatest conservationists.
I am proud to call these folks friends and I am thrilled to get a chance to share them with our guests each and every year. And yes, even after all these years, I make it a point to get out at least once a year and ride into the Absaroka with Martin and Jack. As the great Louie L ?Amour once said, they are truly ?One to Ride the River With?.
Director | Austin-Lehman Adventures