A Pack Horse Clinic

My mission, if I chose to accept it, was to turn a complicated math problem into entertainment for 13 teenagers.

My daughter, Abby, and I were helping teach campers to pack horses into the wilderness as part of our Back Country Horsemen club. Our subject was how to decide how much horse feed to carry on a 10-day trip.

In the past, I had created a game that taught how much various grazers eat in a year so I decided to modify that game.

It was all about Tootsie Rolls.

Most of the campers had little or no experience around horses. They came from across Montana. A couple were from Alberta. As they sat on pack boxes under a shade tent, they were surrounded by horses tied to trailers in tall grass with the Rocky Mountains beckoning. Smoke from forest fires created a light haze, turning the mountains from intimidating peaks to a hazy mystery.

Other Backcountry Horsemen members showed the campers how to Leave No Trace and how to tie up horses in the woods. Then Abby showed them how to be safe around a horse.

Lunchtime was looming by math time.

The campers paired up into teams. They would plan to take five horses into the Bob Marshall Wilderness for 10 days. They would pack their camping supplies, food for themselves and decide how much they would depend on grass for their horses and how much horse feed they would take. Each pack horse could carry 160 pounds, limiting the amount of supplies. Various colored Tootsie Rolls represented 10 pounds of camping gear, human food and horse supplement. Green Tootsie Rolls scattered in the area would be grass for the horses.

Then I rolled the dice to see where they camped each night and how much grass was available.

Just like in real life, the kids developed different strategies for their trip.

Some decided to eat oatmeal for 10 days so they could pack enough horse cubes and not rely on grass at all.

Some wanted to eat steak and potatoes every night so they had to depend on grass for some of the horse feed.

Some were sure every campsite would have enough grass for their horses so they packed light, with little supplemental feed.

Some decided they could sleep together in one sleeping bag to lighten the packs.

I didn’t think all of their decisions were wise, but at least all of them were thinking about the tradeoffs.

The dice determined the winners.

With every roll of the dice, Abby collected Tootsie Rolls that represented human food and horse feed from each team.

The first couple of nights, the dice determined good grass at camp so Abby scattered green Tootsie Rolls and the players could collect them as feed for their horses.

On the third night, the teams camped where the grass had been good, but other groups had grazed it off. Abby scattered only a few Tootsie Rolls. One team fed their horses a half ration that night.

By the sixth night, one team was out of food for themselves, but their horses were in good shape. Fortunately, they camped near a stream so they could catch fish for dinner. Abby scattered a few brown Tootsie Rolls as fish.

On the ninth night, a snowstorm blew in, covering all of the grass for the horses. Three teams were glad they were coming out the next day.

At the end of the game, the teams got to eat the Tootsie Rolls they had left.

We spent the afternoon helping the campers manty a box, tie half-hitches and saddle horses. No doubt, the kids won’t remember exactly how to balance a pack, but I hope they remember that it was fun. When they go back to town maybe they will find a Tootsie Roll wrapper in their pocket when they get home. They will know another world exists out there somewhere.

Lisa Schmidt