Young Wrangler Charges Grizzly to Save Boy

Wrangler Erin Bolster and Tonk, a Percheron mix.

Wrangler Erin Bolster and Tonk, a Percheron mix.

A 25-year-old wrangler likely saved an 8-year-old boy’s life . On July 30, Erin Bolster of Swan Mountain Outfitters was guiding eight clients on a horse ride on the Flathead National Forest between West Glacier and Hungry Horse. “It’s the shortest ride we offer,” she said recently, recalling the incident. “We’d already led two trips that morning. It’s always been a very routine hour-long loop, until that day.”

The group included a family of six plus a vacationing Illinois man, who’d booked the trip for his 8-year-old son’s first horse-riding experience. The young boy was riding Scout, a steady obedient mount, following directly behind Bolster, who was leading the group on Tonk, a burly 10-year-old white horse. “He’s a very large horse – 18 hands high. That intimidates a lot of riders. But I’ve always loved big horses. He’s kind of high-strung and spooky, the largest of our wrangling horses. I like a horse with a lot of spirit, and I was really glad to be on him that day.”

Bolster has accumulated a wealth of experience on and around horses of national and even world class. She started riding at 4 years old, became a professional trainer at 15, graduated from high school at 16 in Roanoke, VA, and ran a riding academy for several years. Seeking a more laid-back lifestyle, she wrangled in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic before moving to Whitefish three years ago.

Because they guide around Glacier Park, bear awareness is part of the preparation wranglers get when hired by Swan Mountain Outfitters. “We go over a lot of wildlife scenarios in our training,” Bolster said. “We learn to watch our horses for signals of possible trouble so we can steer clear. It was a pleasant ride until we came around a corner on the trail and my horse stopped firm and wouldn’t move,” Bolster said. “He never refuses to go, so that caught my attention quick.” But not fast enough to avoid the spike white-tailed deer that burst out of the brush and glanced off Tonk’s left front shoulder. As Tonk spun from the impact, Bolster saw a huge grizzly bear crashing through the forest right at the group in pursuit of the deer. Horses panicked and guests grabbed saddle horns for the ride of their lives.

“No amount of training could keep a horse from running from a 700-pound charging bear,” she said. Seven of the horses sensed the danger, peeled out and galloped back on the trail toward the barn. But Scout bolted perpendicular to the trail into the timber, packing the 8-year-old boy. “The deer peeled off and joined the horses sprinting down the trail,” Bolster said. “So the bear just continued running right past me. I’m not sure the bear even knew the roles had changed, but now it was chasing a horse instead of a deer.”

The grizzly was zeroed in on Scout and the boy – the isolated prey in the woods. Adding to the drama, the boy’s father, an experienced rider, could not convince his horse that it was a good plan to ride to his son’s rescue. “The last thing he saw over his shoulder as his horse ran away was the grizzly chasing his boy,” Bolster said.

With the bear on Scout’s heels, Tonk’s instinct was to flee with the group of horses. But Tonk responded to Bolster’s heels in his ribs as she spun the horse around. They bolted into the trees to wedge between the predator and the prey. “I bent down, screamed and yelled, but the bear was growling and snarling and staying very focused on Scout. As it tried to circle back toward Scout, I realized I had to get Tonk to square off and face the bear. We had to get the bear to acknowledge us. We did. We got its attention – and the bear charged. So I charged at the bear. I had no hesitation, honestly,” Bolster said. “Nothing in my body was going to let that little boy get hurt by that bear. That wasn’t an option.” Tonk was on the same page. And the bear got the point. Bolster then gathered the boy up with her on Tonk, grabbed Scout’s lead and left the scene. It wasn’t until Bolster reunited with her riders and found everyone ok and rounded up, that she started to shake. “I looked at Tonk, and he was wet with sweat and shaking, too,” she said.

“Some of the horses I’ve ridden would have absolutely refused to do what Tonk did; others would have thrown me off in the process. Some horses can never overcome their flight-animal instinct to run away.” Tonk’s mettle moved Bolster. She wasn’t about to send him back to Wyoming with the other leased horses. “Two weeks ago, I closed the deal and bought him,” Bolster said as she was wrapping up her 2011 wrangling season. “After what he did that day, he had to be mine.”

Source: www. missoulian.com

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