Public Lands Stewards: Horsemanship in the Methow Valley

by | Land Stewards

It’s a quiet June evening here in the Methow Valley and I’m slowly soaking in the last few days off before heading back out into the Pasayten Wilderness. This hitch I’m headed out with a few members of the trail crew to put my newly earned crosscut certification to use, logging out Andrews Creek Trail. The season is finally shaping up to a proper work schedule of eight days on, six days off. A schedule I’ve come to know and love from my time spent serving in a conservation corps. The eight days of hitch melt together as you become immersed in your work and the environment, while the six days off gives you ample time to go out on your own adventures.


Thus far my internship with the Methow Valley Ranger District has been a jumble of trainings, certification courses, orientations, and paperwork. This is to be expected with any seasonal work and while few of the trainings are spent fighting with one’s eye lids, most have been informational and experiences where I’ve either gained an official USDA certification (such as a crosscut cert.) or skills I’ll be using throughout the season and make me that much more marketable in my pursuit for future seasonal positions with federal agencies.

Perhaps my favorite training was horsemanship and packing. This training is unique to our district as we have over 500,000 acres of wilderness and use stock frequently. The training was designed to prepare a person with little, to no background with stock and have them proficient with catching, saddling, riding, tying manty loads, and leading stock trains. Before the week began we were assigned either horses or mules that we’d care for and work with for the entire week. I was assigned Alex, a 26-year-old buckskin gelding, who as a veteran of public service was retiring from the Forest Service after the training. Every morning I’d catch Alex with a halter, brush him of dirt and bird poop, and saddle him. Mornings were spent working on riding skills and afternoons were spent on packing. We covered how to tie loads in canvas manties and how to properly load the manties on the stock, how to provide basic first aid to stock and the daily feeding routine of the animals while on hitch. Throughout the week I’d always give half of my apple to Alex and to celebrate his most likely unrecognized many years of service with the Forest Service I brought him two whole apples on our last day.


I had a blast and learned so much in one week. It was a great experience working and bonding with an animal and work partner, and I’m looking forward to stock hitches this coming season. Now I just need some cowboy boots.