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Feb 03
Community Articles, Sakyong and Family
The Medicine Bow on Horseback, part 2

photo taken by the Sawang. It's of John Cunningham (foreground) and Frank Iglehart.

The following story by Frank Iglehart, is part 2 of a story involving Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche from around 1980. Click here to read part 1.

The constant stiff wind during the day and hours of chores at our campsite allowed little time for conversation. Every morning after wake up began with a check on the horses, a campfire and breakfast for us and grazing for them, locating water and taking the horses to it, repacking and saddling up. One morning we looked up from our campfire to see the horses had somehow slipped their rope and had moseyed 50 yards into a large meadow. The sight made our minds freeze. We didn’t know if they trusted us enough to let us walk up and take hold of the short lead ropes still attached to their halters. If one did not cooperate, there was no limit to the distance it could go to keep from being caught. We walked up like we had all the time in the world and as if only to say hello. The horses for some reason let us quietly approach and lead them back to camp.

Every day was full of these details while being saturated physically and mentally by fantastic scenery and vast, open space. By evening, the wind died down. The evening air cooled, and the sky flooded with stars. We did morning chores in reverse, plus finding a safe place for the horses and their feed. Food cooking had to be carefully watched because there wasn’t any extra if a meal burned over the wood fire. With about 20 minutes of rest after chores, we were too tired to talk. That, plus the shared experience of the enormous environment, made talking seem superfluous. Each of us just wanted to roll up in a blanket on a camp pad and pull up a saddle next to his head to keep off the chilly, damp night breezes, and sleep.

The good weather held. The meadows and forests continued to show no signs of human use except every few days an old campfire that might have been one or two years old. The only other signs of people were on the dusty valley floor, thousands of feet below and miles to the west.

Eventually we rode into the northern boundary of the Rawah Wilderness. When the ridge became too narrow to ride anymore, we rode its eastern side and came into a succession of small lakes with bighorn sheep cautiously watching us, or rather, the big creatures we were riding on, from the rocks above. The thick green grass growing by the water was like candy for the horses. With care for the lake ecology, we took baths on shore by stripping and pouring pots of cold lake water over our heads.

photo taken by John Cunningham. It's looking to the northwest, and is of the Sawang and Frank Iglehart

Riding further south, we faced the cutting teeth of jagged rock, a hillside of barely three inches square of space between pointed rocks. We could see nowhere to ride or even dismount and lead the horses on foot. By this point we had learned that the ponies knew a lot more than we did about this way of life, so we let go of the reins and gave them no indication to push ahead. On their own initiative they found just enough foot hold for each of their four feet to pick a way through. We couldn’t spot where they would choose to put down a hoof, and never did figure out how they did it, but they made it through, taking us along.

Next was a slow descent for miles down a trail worn by hikers coming up from the south to the lakes. The only way down at one point was over a long, steep slope of small gravel, more like a rock slide. A person couldn’t safely walk down it and we’d never seen a horse handle anything like it. We let the horses look at it. Without hesitation, they stepped down the slope, tucked their rumps under for balance, and half walked down with their front legs extended and half slid down with their hind legs. All we could do was laugh and not interfere by staying balanced in the saddle, reins loose.

We had our second to last camp “dinner” by Chambers Lake, with a mixture of happiness that all went so well and sadness that it was ending. The Sawang wanted to cook for John and me. He set about with a bundle of energy fixing the pots over the fire, precisely adjusting their height and the coals underneath in ways we had learned over the past days. John and I couldn’t stop laughing in appreciation at his energy and care when we were all so tired. He even served us our food.

We had to go maybe 10 miles by road along the Cache la Poudre River for the last leg of the trip if we wanted to arrive on time at the MPE. We spent our last night in an aspen grove by the dirt road above the village of Rustic. The next day we packed, saddled up and headed to MPE. Setup was in full swing, so, after a few congratulations from friends, we made arrangements to trailer the horses back to their home stables, and fell into the encampment routine. The next day the Medicine Bow Mountains were covered in thick, grey clouds.

Frank Iglehart has been a long-time practitioner in the Shambhala community. He has served Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche as a kusung for many years and lives with his wife Karen in the beautiful hills of Western Massachusetts.

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9 responses to “ The Medicine Bow on Horseback, part 2 ”
  1. Melissa Howell
    Feb 28, 2012

    Beautifully written, cliff hanger (almost). Well worth the read. Thank you!

  2. Kristine McCutcheon
    Feb 25, 2012

    Sweet – Thanks Frank.

  3. Kerry Schwartz
    Feb 23, 2012

    Hey has John read this story?? Where is he? Tell him I say Hi and wonder how he is. It is amazing to see him, and all of you so young, as I remember us all. Thanks for sharing this, Frank.

  4. Thank you for sharing this wonderful adventure with the Sawang, Frank. Great writing, great photos! I look forward to hearing more stories.

  5. Linda V. Lewis
    Feb 9, 2012

    Oh wonderful! How delightful! But amazing that you all went straight into MPE right after! Goodness! And to be young again!

  6. Barbara Lynn
    Feb 9, 2012

    Thank you Frank! Loved the story and the photos.

  7. Felice Owens
    Feb 9, 2012

    Wonderful story & storytelling, indeed!! Thanks so much.

  8. Great story! That area is amazing and to travel by horseback sounds wonderfully challenging.

    (Editors: Maybe a link from Part 1 to part 2?)

  9. Therese Marchitelli
    Feb 3, 2012

    Thank you, Frank! What an exhilarating story!

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