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Heroes in grizzly chase featured on Letterman show

Horse who saved boy from bruin turns shy on television

Fans of heroes, horses, wranglers and grizzly bears got it all in one package Tuesday night on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Trail riding guide Erin Bolster and her horse from Whitefish, Mont., were featured on the CBS show after a Sept. 18 Spokesman-Review feature trotted the duo into the national spotlight.

“How can you not love this story?” Letterman said as he introduced Bolster. The host praised the 25-year-old wrangler who leveraged her own bravery as she persuaded the horse to save a child by charging a grizzly bear head on.

She’d been acquainted with the leased horse from the Swan Mountain Outfitters stock pool for only two months.

“Our first guest showed remarkable courage when she and her horse, Tonk, rescued a young boy from a 750-pound grizzly bear – 750-pound grizzly bear: that’s like (all the people in) Row 2,” Letterman said, pointing to the audience.

In the interview, Bolster said Tonk initially “didn’t want to be there” when the grizzly ran into her group of eight trail riders.

The bear was chasing a deer. But when the deer escaped in the pandemonium of panicking horses, the grizzly continued its pursuit – bearing down on a fleeing horse carrying Ian Turner, an 8-year-old guest from Northern California.

Horse experts have marveled at Bolster’s ability to get Tonk, a large Percheron (draft horse) mix, to overcome his natural instinct to flee the danger. With Bolster’s heels in his ribs, Tonk wheeled around and charged the bear three times before driving it away from the boy and the other horse.

“Erin was just awesome,” said Greg Turner, the boy’s father. “I can’t say enough good things about her.”

Tonk reacted similarly when Letterman introduced him to the nation Tuesday. That is, when the studio audience roared with applause, Tonk initially wanted to head for the barn.

“Must be a bear on 53rd Street,” Letterman said as the huge white horse pivoted and mooned the crowd.

But Bolster composed the horse, held his head tight to her shoulder and confirmed that she bought Tonk after his heroic performance against the bear.

“He’s my boy now,” she said, to the crowd’s approval.

“Lovely story,” Letterman said. “And take good care of this guy.”

“Wow. That was awesome,” Bolster said in a Facebook post after taping the show Tuesday. “Tonk tried his very hardest to be a good boy. He was so cute … love him.” 

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