Category Archives: Horses

Backcountry Horsemen volunteers help build 66-foot bridge

From left: Tristan Rivers, Sawyer Meegan, and Taylen Howland, all USDA Forest Service employees assigned to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument backcountry recreation crew, build a rock gabion that supports a 6' tall earth-covered ramp to a new 66-foot equestrian bridge over Fossil Trail #242 on Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington. USDA Forest Service photo, 2019.

AMBOY, Wash. (Aug. 19, 2019) — Backcountry Horsemen of Washington‘s Mount St. Helens Chapter and the USDA Forest Service’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest recently completed a 66-foot equestrian bridge over a creek on Fossil Trail #242, located in the southwest corner of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (near Goat Mountain).

Decades ago, the trail was an active logging road, with a bridge that connected both sides of the narrow gorge. Equestrians have long been interested in replacing the bridge to provide better access to what is now a non-motorized loop trail for riders on horseback, Camille Stephens, Recreation Assistant for the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, said.

While hikers and even mountain bikers could climb down the gorge’s steep embankment to ford the creek, the embankment was too treacherous for horses, and most riders, such as those staying at the nearby Kalama Horse Camp, were forced to experience the loop only as two disconnected segments, she said.

Forest Service employees Dean Robertson and John Cruse install bridge stringers. USDA Forest Service photo
Forest Service employees Dean Robertson and John Cruse install bridge stringers. USDA Forest Service photo

The non-profit organization had secured grant funding for the project several years earlier, and USDA Forest Service employees placed the bridge’s supporting beams in 2018.

The Backcountry Horsemen volunteers installed the bridge’s decking later that same year.

Backcountry Horsemen of Washington members Jim Anderson and Mitch Hensley use a skidsteer to build the bridge approach. USDA Forest Service photo.
Backcountry Horsemen of Washington members Jim Anderson and Mitch Hensley use a skidsteer to build the bridge approach. USDA Forest Service photo.

This summer, agency employees from the forest’s Mt. Adams Ranger District and Backcountry Horsemen volunteers worked together to complete a 6′ tall rock and gabion support structure for a ramp leading up to the bridge. The structure was then covered in dirt to create an approach to the bridge.

“This trail is now ready to be hiked, biked, or ridden,” Stephens said. “I think all of the partners involved should be very proud of bringing this project to fruition.”

Forest Service employee Camille Stephens harvests rock for the bridge approach. USDA Forest Service photo.
Forest Service employee Camille Stephens harvests rock for the bridge approach. USDA Forest Service photo.

Source information: Gifford Pinchot National Forest – Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument recreation staff.

Forest Service seeks Recreation Resource Advisory Committee members

View of Stairway and Accessible Ramp at Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

PORTLAND, Ore. — The USDA Forest Service is soliciting potential nominees as part of its effort to re-establish a Recreation Resource Advisory Committee (Recreation RAC) for the Pacific Northwest Region. The Recreation RAC will provide recommendations on recreation fees for Forest Service lands in Oregon and Washington.

Recreation RACs consist of 11 individual members, and an alternate for each, who represent the following balanced and broad interests:

  • Five people will represent recreation users who participate in activities such as summer and winter motorized and non-motorized recreation, hunting, and fishing;
  • Three people who represent, as appropriate, the following recreation interest groups: motorized and or non-motorized outfitting and guiding as well as environmental groups; and
  • Three people who represent state tourism, Indian tribes, and local government.

Public lands are a valuable part of our national identity and provide a wide range of benefits to Americans. Recreation fees, an investment in this legacy, help protect natural resources, expand educational opportunities, preserve our cultural heritage, and enhance recreation experiences for millions of users annually.

Recreation RACs are instrumental in establishing recreation fees on public lands and help improve the experience that visitors have on National Forest lands. Recreation RAC members provide recommendations to Forest Service officials on initiating, adjusting, or eliminating fees on National Forest-managed recreation sites.

“The Forest Service is proud to work alongside partners, volunteers, and local communities to provide world-class recreation opportunities across the Pacific Northwest” said Glenn Casamassa, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester. “In addition to making recommendations about recreation fees, the Recreation RAC will help us connect more people with their public lands and build a stronger stewardship ethic for the long-term, sustainable management of our recreation areas.”

Applicants will be recommended for appointment based on:

  • Ability to represent an interest group as required by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act.
  • Ability to contribute to the committee.
  • Ability to work successfully in a collaborative group.
  • Ability to represent diverse or underrepresented groups.

All applicants must be United States citizens and at least 18 years old. People selected for positions will initially serve two or three-year terms and can apply to serve a subsequent three-year term. Recreation RAC members serve without pay but are reimbursed for travel and per diem expenses for regularly scheduled committee meetings, which occur at least once annually. All Recreation RAC meetings are open to the public and an open public forum is part of each meeting. Meeting dates and times will be determined by the Designated Federal Official in consultation with the Recreation RAC members when the committee is formed.

If you are interested in potentially serving on the Recreation RAC, please send your contact information via email to or write us at USDA Forest Service, Attn: Recreation RAC; 1220 SW 3rd Ave., Suite 1700; Portland, OR 97204.

Please contact us by November 30, 2018 to express your interest.

Following the re-establishment of the Pacific Northwest RAC, all interested individuals who respond will receive further instructions regarding the application process and next steps.

For more information on the Pacific Northwest Recreation RAC, visit

Help wildlife stay wild!

A trio of wild horses graze

PRINEVILLE, Ore. – Aug. 3, 2018 – Experiencing nature, up close is much of the appeal of a trip to a National Forest – but when visitors take a wildlife encounter too far,  it’s often the animal who suffers the consequences.

Last month, campers on the Lookout Mountain Ranger District befriended a wild mustang that entered their camp. They fed the horse, petted and groomed him, and the horse followed them on rides with their own horses. It was not the first time this horse had human interactions – he’d been coming into the campground for at least a year, receiving similar treatment from campers who wanted to befriend him.

After the campers departed, the horse remained – seeking food from other campers and companionship with their horses. Because of his lack of fear and failure to return to the forest for forage, the horse had to be trapped and removed – a risky undertaking.

“When we have a wild horse that has become accustomed to human interaction, we have to remove the horse from the territory for the safety of the public,” Slater Turner, Lookout Mountain district ranger, said. “This takes a lot of time to plan and execute. My commitment is that my staff will implement the capture and removal in the safest manner possible for the horse, the public, and our employees.”

The horse was successfully loaded into a trailer last week without injury or incident by skilled employees, but not without several days of work and preparation. Wild horses may seem calm and friendly in the forest, but their response to captivity and transportation can differ from domestic horses. There is potential for a life threatening injury when attempting to trailer them.

“This was a very stressful situation for all involved including the horse, which is unfortunate and really unnecessary,” Tory Kurtz, a Forest Service wild horse program manager, said.  “I’m happy that he will be going to a good home and I appreciate all of the partners who helped make this successful.”

“The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition is extremely concerned about the rise of intentional interactions between public and wild horses in the Ochocos,” Gayle Hunt, president of the coalition, said. “There are currently several horses which exhibit all the signs of persons deliberately attempting to tame the horses, and many other cases where persons have been observed doing this or have posted photos.”

There are several reasons why taming wild horses is a problem, Hunt said.

“First, the wild nature of these horses is what keeps them somewhat safe, and promotes the level of interaction between their own species needed for immediate survival and long-range sustainability. More urgently, close encounters with people and with domestic horses will almost certainly result in the injury or death of some or all of the players. When domestic horses are allowed to mingle with wild horses, the risk of disease or parasite transmission is greatly increased, as is the likelihood of loss of fear resulting in aggression or breeding attempts between the horses. One photo taken recently showed the lone stallion in question being stroked by humans while their horses were hi-lined in camp. A wild stallion approaching a tied domestic horse would very likely end in strangulation of one or both animals. Too, this stallion is now fearless around humans and the breeding instinct will be unencumbered by any efforts by the human to protect domestic mares. The only way to resolve this situation is to remove the young stallion to a life of captivity,” Hunt said.

The captured mustang has been removed to a private pasture where he will be halter broke before he is sent to his new adopters.

“We are fortunate to have a good relationship with the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition,” Turner said. “They have been very helpful in finding a good home for the horse.”

The Ochoco National Forest and the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition offer these tips and guidelines for camping and recreating around wild horses:

  • Do not harass, chase, or harm wild horses in any way. This is a federal crime and can lead to a hefty fine and even jail time.
  • Do not feed the wild horses. Handing out table scraps, grain, apples, or even livestock salt, can cause the horse to lose the fear necessary for survival. Poultry feed containing wheat, large amounts of grain, small yard apples, and mineral blocks formulated for other livestock can all kill a horse.
  • Do not touch or attempt to tame wild horses. Doing this causes the horse to lose its fear of people and can lead to the horse being permanently removed from its habitat because of public or wild horse safety concerns.
  • Never let wild and domestic horses establish a relationship. Make certain your horse has not been exposed to equine disease and is current on vaccinations and de-worming. Camp away from known water holes and gathering places.
  • Don’t tie horses unattended in wild horse country. Don’t expect flimsy portable panels to keep your horse safe. Use hotwire pens to leave a lasting impression on the wild ones.
  • Please drive slowly in wild horse areas. You never know when a horse may jump out in front of your vehicle.

If you have any concerns about wild horses please call the Ochoco National Forest office at (541) 416-6500.

A painted wild horse

Sure they’re cute – but its important to let wildlife stay wild. A wild horse like this one (from Ochoco National Forest’s Lookout Herd, photographed Sept. 20, 2014) was removed from Ochoco National Forest in July, 2018. The operation took skilled staff several days to plan and placed the horse’s physical health and safety at risk, because it had lost its fear of humans and instinct to forage for its own food. Wild horses are not accustomed to being confined or transported by trailer, and can be react unpredictably when being caught. USDA Forest Service photo.

Source information: Ochoco National Forest public affairs staff

Horses pull weight on Forest Service pack string

In some parts of the old west, horse culture still reigns- and there’s no place where that’s more true than Washington State’s Methow Valley, on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Traditions and skills that were once required by every Forest Service employee are today kept alive by people like Amber Deming, Lead Wilderness Ranger for the Methow Valley Ranger District and organizer of the inter-agency Horsemanship and Packing training the forest hosted in June.

For people like Deming, horses and mules are more than just animals or a recreational activity, they’re friends and companions that carry a lifeline of food, supplies and all of the tools needed to survive an eight day patrol in the rugged and roadless Pasayten Wilderness.

A horse carrying a man approaches the camera

National Park Service Horse Packer Jeff Fitzwater rides “Clancy” during a joint agency horsemanship and pack training clinic on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 5, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Created by the same legislation that created North Cascades National Park, the 531,000 acre Pasayten Wilderness is home to hundreds of miles of trail, and because it straddles an international border of more than 50 miles with Canada it has some very unique and challenging management needs.

For USDA Forest Service, U.S. Border Patrol and National Park Service employees at North Cascades, the annual Horsemanship and Packing Training outside of Winthrop, Washington is a much needed chance to get reacquainted, both with each other and their animals, before the start of the busy summer season.

A rider mounts a horse in a gated corral, while two riders observe

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Josh Bocook demonstrates how to properly mount a horse, putting his left foot in the stirrup while holding onto the horn of the saddle with his left hand, during joint agency packing and horsemanship training on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 7, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Born from a chance encounter between Deming and Morgan Seemann and Josh Bocook of the U.S. Border Patrol, the training combines decades of practical and hands-on experience to provide both new and returning riders a solid background in good horsemanship.

“Even though our agencies have different missions, a lot of what we do is the same,” Amber said, “and the training gives us a chance to get together and learn, both about each other and our horses.

Starting with horse and rider safety, students learn about the different parts of a horse and types of personalities and ways in which they might behave.

Two women kneel over a package tied with rope, while the woman on the right pulls the rope to tighten a knot.

Heather Swanson, a National Park Service horse packer, left, teaches Amber Deming, lead wilderness ranger for the USDA Forest Service’s Methow Valley Ranger District, to tie a pack using the unique Methow style of packing June 6, 2018 during joint horsemanship and packing training on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

They learn how horses see, about the two blindspots that every horse has (directly behind them and directly between their eyes) and how having an eye on each side can help them see almost completely around their bodies as they look out for predators.

Students then take that knowledge out to the arena, where for the first time they learn to approach and catch their animals before proceeding to halter, lead and tie stock with various quick release knots and hitches.

Before riding, the animals are thoroughly brushed and inspected, and extra care is given to remove any burrs or sharp objects that might aggravate when stuck under a saddle.

To provide cushioning for both rider and horse a saddle blanket is placed on the withers, or ridge between the shoulder blades, where it is then slid backwards to rest comfortably in the middle of the back.

Then it’s time to saddle up; the latigo, or cinch strap, goes underneath the horse and once tightened helps keep the saddle snug and in place.  The rear cinch strap gets buckled in the same manner, and last but not least the breast collar is attached.

Four people look left of the camera while relaxing in a rustic, white-painted barn.

Participants in a joint agency horsemanship and pack training are surrounded by saddle blankets in the horse stable’s tack room on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 7, 2018. Pictured from left are Rob Messick and Zack Schaarsmidt, both USDA Forest Service employees from the Methow Valley Ranger District, Jordan Allen-Flowers, Wenatchee River Ranger District, and Heather Swanson, a National Park Service horse packer and an instructor for the training. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Before hopping into the saddle, each rider learns to inspect everything diligently – making sure the saddle is comfortably attached, for themselves and their horse. The latigo is tightened one last time. When the saddle is secure the horse is ready to be ridden.

To mount up a rider approaches on the horse’s left side and, holding the reins in their left hand grabs the horn of the saddle. The right hand holds onto the cantle, or back of the saddle, and the left foot is placed in the stirrup.

The rider then stands up straight and, once balanced and standing in the stirrup, finishes the maneuver by swinging their right leg up and over and into the other stirrup.

But before a student can mount a horse they have to learn their ground work. Taking the time to determine the horse’s attitude before a trip, the rider goes through a number of different motions and exercises to make sure the horse is ready before ever hopping in the saddle.

For beginning riders time is spent on learning how to gain forward momentum, how to turn, circle and stop.  Riders learn how to hustle by driving forward with their hips and through rhythmic kicking, and they learn how to maneuver by safely taking their animals through a cleverly designed obstacle course.

After learning how to ride, students spend time learning how to pack for their horses and mules.  Perfect for use in the non-motorized Wilderness, a typical pack string can carry up to four times the weight a helicopter can carry, with each animal carrying an average of 200 pounds.

A man ties a rope overhead to secure a horse in a corrale, while a second man observes attentively

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Morgan Seemann, left, teaches Mike Calvert, Methow Valley Ranger District, how to tie a highline, used to tie and secure animals when in the field during a horsemanship and packing clinic on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 7, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

In addition to hauling food, heavy tools and supplies, a Forest Service pack team can be essential for a successful search and rescue.

“As an example, one time, when the sheriff’s office contacted us about helping with a search and rescue, one of our outfitter guides had a Girl Scout camped in up at Robinson Creek who sprained her ankle really bad,” said Deming.  “They asked us to go in with a horse and go get her and ride her out.”

To get some search-and-rescue practice, students conduct and exercise where they work together as a team to sweep a meadow for a hidden backpack. Then, after successfully finding it, students finish out the class by learning how to get their animals ready for transport.

A stock truck or horse trailer can be used, depending on the route and destination, but hauling a live load always requires extra caution. With each horse easily weighing up to 1,000 pounds or more, students are taught to watch for special signage, to drive slower than usual and to watch out when going through a curve or driving over bridges.

Without regular training to introduce new generations of riders, the skills required to maintain supplies to the backcountry using horse and mule pack trains would likely be lost. The continued use of horse pack trains on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is made possible, in part, through partnerships with Mt. Adams Institute and the Washington Trails Association.

A woman rides a horse in a corral at the base of a forested slope

Katlyn White practices riding during a horsemanship and packing clinic on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest June 5, 2018. White is a Forest Service employee for the Wenatchee River Ranger District. USDA Forest Service photo by Kathryn Dawson, Region 6 Office of Communications and Community Engagement

Source information: By Kathryn Dawson, USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest region’s Office of Communications and Community Engagement. Dawson is the editor of “Valuing You: An R6 Update,” region’s employee newsletter. This story appears in the July, 2018 edition.

Ochoco NF reminds visitors to give new foals space

A wild horse nurses a foal in a grassy forest meadow.

PRINEVILLE, Ore. — March 24, 2018 — The Ochoco National Forest reminds drivers and other visitors travelling through the Big Summit Wild Horse Territory, located east of Prineville, Ore., to slow down when passing groups of horses, and to give newborn foals some space as they work to stand up and assimilate to the herd.

This is the time of year when horses have moved down to lower elevations. The majority of pregnant horses will giving birth to new foals in spring or early summer (March through June).

Earlier this month, a foal was born in a ditch along Forest Service Road 22 near Ochoco Ranger Station, about 20 miles east of Prineville, Ore. When Forest Service staff arrived to check on the situation, the foal had gotten up and moved away with its band, but the incident caught the attention of numerous visitors.

“I know it is tempting to want to intervene when you see a new baby horse, but please give it space. The best thing you can do is keep moving to your destination and contact the Ochoco National Forest if you are concerned,” Tory Kurtz, the forest’s wild horse program manager, said.

The forest has established an email account for members of the public to report sightings of wild horses within the Big Summit Territory to assist land managers with tracking and understanding herd movements.

The public is encouraged to email horse sighting reports and photos to

For those interested in volunteering with the Ochoco wild horse program, a volunteer information day is scheduled in May. For more information, contact Stacey Cochran, Discover Your Forest community engagement director, at (541) 383-5530.

To learn more about the Big Summit Wild Horse Territory, visit:

By Patrick Lair, USDA Forest Service – Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland

a wild horse, nursing a foal

A horse nurses her foal in this July 29, 2015 USDA Forest Service photo. The horses are part of the Lookout Mountain herd of wild horses, which live on the Ochoco National Forest.