Back Country Horsemen of America Trains US Soldiers in Horse Handling

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Back Country Horsemen of America works hard across the country to keep trails open for horse use. They know the many benefits of horses, such as giving youth the confidence they need to succeed in life, and providing adults with stress-relieving recreation. Horses and mules are also invaluable in allowing us to enter fragile wilderness areas without the damage of motorized vehicles, and to access remote places surrounded by challenging terrain.

The Original Horsepower

For hundreds of years, the United States military depended on horses to transport supplies and soldiers. When our armed forces became mechanized, the use of the original horsepower ceased, despite the fact that horses and mules are still the most effective way to traverse the landscape in many parts of the world. This realization has led to new programs to train members of the military in handling and caring for horses.

Ed Haefliger, along with other members of Back Country Horsemen of Washington, were asked by US Army Veterinarian Major Therese Krautzberg to teach a workshop on horse handling to officers and soldiers of the 84th Civil Affairs Battalion, Alpha Company out of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. BCHW turned to Olympic National Park Ranger Mark O’Neal for assistance in acquiring permission to use the park’s facilities at the Dosewallips campground for this three day clinic.

A Special Class

The students were highly trained and educated medics, medical doctors, veterinarians, and various grades of officers, and many were combat experienced. The members of this unique unit are our country’s goodwill ambassadors. They travel to places all over the world that have suffered disaster and offer humanitarian assistance. Pack animals are invaluable for getting medical equipment, food, and supplies to areas where roads and other infrastructure have been destroyed.

As a fire officer, Ed is especially qualified to instruct this class. He’s been teaching similar classes for years to semi-military units, such as firefighters, and to members of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the US Forest Service. His goal: in three days, make 33 members of Alpha Company, who may have never even stood next to an equine in their lives, comfortable and safe in handling one.

A Classroom in the Wild

Students spent the first day at a ranch, learning how to groom, pick out hooves, and lead a horse safely. Then they used a two-man leading system to bring a horse or mule through an obstacle course traversing logs, brush, swampy ground and streams.

On the rainy morning of day two, the class met at Dosewallips trailhead in Olympic National Park. Each group of four students was assigned a horse or mule to lead along the trail, feed, and water during the overnight camping trip. They followed a well-maintained trail through the ancient forest along Dosewallips River.

As Thrilling as Parachuting

The value of this project rang true when one of the soldiers took Ed aside and said that this workshop was one of two highlights of his military career. The first was jumping out of an airplane and the second was the time spent with his team’s mule. Back Country Horsemen of America is pleased to be involved with giving United States soldiers the skills they need to do their jobs efficiently and safely.

About Back Country Horsemen of America

BCHA is a non-profit corporation made up of state organizations, affiliates, and at-large members. Their efforts have brought about positive changes regarding the use of horses and stock in wilderness and public lands.

If you want to know more about Back Country Horsemen of America or become a member, visit their website: www.bcha.org; call 888-893-5161; or write PO Box 1367, Graham, WA 98338-1367. The future of horse use on public lands is in our hands!

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