September 22, 2011
Montana Outfitter on Horseback Saves Boy From Grizzly Charge
By Hal Herring
Amid all the grizz stories coming out of the Rockies these days, this one stands tall. If you ever find yourself about to be keelhauled by 600 pounds of furious airborn grizzly, you can only hope that 25-year-old Erin Bolster is riding nearby on the mighty 18 hands tall horse, Tonk.
A young woman on a big horse charged out of the pack of grizzly bear stories this summer near Glacier National Park. In a cloud of dust, the 25-year-old wrangler likely saved a boy's life while demonstrating that skill, quick-thinking and guts sometimes are the best weapons against a head-on charging bear.
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 hourlong 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 of questionable lineage.
Tonk isn't the typical trail mount. Best anyone knows, he's the result of cross-breeding a quarter horse with a Percheron - a draft horse. Bolster is 5-foot-10, yet she relies on her athleticism to climb into the saddle aboard Tonk.
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 big fella around. They wheeled out of a 360 and bolted into the trees to wedge between the predator and the prey. "The boy was bent over, feet out of the stirrups, clutching the saddle horn and the horse's neck," she said. "That kept him from hitting a tree limb.
"But all I could think about was the boy falling off in the path of that grizzly. "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."
Did she think twice about that?
"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.
Read the Full Story Here.