Trail Savvy: “Don’t Pass the Jigger Boss” and Other Unwritten Rules of Trail Riding

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(Photo Caption: “Our merry band of mule enthusiasts enjoyed time spent around the campfire as we worked towards solving the world’s problems and instructing young Hunter in the unwritten rules of ranch and camp life.”)

Memorable Sayings Get Defined in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

I recently had the opportunity to introduce new friends to the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. “The Bob” holds a special place in my heart, and it’s always a pleasure to bring new people in to experience this vast and wonderful area in Montana. We initially planned this trip into the wilderness to sample the cutthroat trout that call the ice-cold lakes and rivers of the Bob home. As with many plans, this one took several years and a pandemic to bring to completion. 

Our group included noted clinician Ty Evans, Joseph Gee (maker of tack and mule gear), John Hays (maker of fire), Hunter (the intern), and me. Besides helping with the aerobic conditioning of a few residents of the Sun River, our merry band of mule enthusiasts enjoyed time spent around the campfire as we worked toward solving the world’s problems and instructing young Hunter in the unwritten rules of ranch and camp life. 

“Lex non scripta” is a Latin term that means “law not written.” This expression embraces all the unwritten laws that do not come under the definition of written law or “lex scripta,” and it is essentially the basis of many of our customs. These unwritten rules are the behavioral checks and balances that serve to keep our culture humming along. For example, not only is the captain the last to leave a sinking ship, but a pet, once named, immediately becomes a member of the family. Here are a few more memorable terms that deserve a larger audience.

Don’t pass the jigger boss. For many working cowboys, a day job is referred to as a “jig.” Therefore, the boss of said jig runs the show that day. The boss decides the day’s task and assigns roles for each person on the job. It’s frustrating and rude to have someone barge in and change the plan of the day without knowing what’s going on. It’s the jigger boss’ ride; let them complete it their way.

Be ready and on time. If a ride starts at 0900, be prepared to head out at 0900. If your animal needs work before being ridden, accomplish that before the ride, don’t expect your ride partners to wait on you. Being late is equivalent to saying, “I don’t care about you or your schedule.” Being punctual shows others that you respect them and their time. Actions speak louder than your words ever will.

Stop and wait. When you find a good spot to water your animals on a ride, ensure that all the animals have had a chance to drink their fill before anyone continues riding up the trail. As herd animals, horses and mules will often forego a much-needed drink if they feel they’re being left behind. 

Don’t help unless you’re asked. Unsolicited advice is generally unwelcome, and unsought advice almost always comes across as judgmental. If you see someone struggling (whether it’s trailer loading, crossing a stream, or anything else) if they don’t ask, don’t give advice. It’s as simple as that. If your ride buddy needs help, they’ll ask you. Just remain friendly, open, and available if someone does happen to ask you a question.

Don’t steal another man’s corral. We shouldn’t have to mention this, yet here we are. If you pay for a campsite, that space is yours while you’re there. Think of it as a hotel room. Would you open the door and walk right in? Just because a corral is empty of horses doesn’t mean it’s not in use. The site occupants may be on a ride. This is especially true if the corral contains feed and water. The concept of politeness and common courtesy is lost on some. 

And there you have it, my top unwritten rules of trail riding. For more wickedly insightful information on trail riding, camping with horses, as well as the world’s largest guide to horse trails and camps visit us at You can also get a copy of the best-selling book The ABCs of Trail Riding and Horse Camping through Amazon.

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