Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A little horsepower gets a lot done in the White River National Forest

Horses and mules are tied up in the indoor arena at the Garfield County Fairgrounds before a training clinic starts on Feb. 8, 2024. U.S. Forest Service employees use them to get around wilderness areas where motorized and mechanized vehicles aren’t allowed.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Horses and mules are tied up in the indoor arena at the Garfield County Fairgrounds before a training clinic starts on Feb. 8, 2024. U.S. Forest Service employees use them to get around wilderness areas where motorized and mechanized vehicles aren’t allowed.

In his leather fringe chaps, cowboy hat and boots, and a sharp-looking neck kerchief, Crosby Davidson looks like the textbook example of a western cowboy.

“I can't get enough of horses and mules,” he said. “I'll tolerate the trail work in order to be able to be around horses and mules.”

Davidson is the Trails and Wilderness manager for the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming, and the leader of the Shoshone Speciality Pack String. From Feb. 6-8, he was in Rifle at the Garfield County Fairgrounds, hosting a three-day clinic to help White River National Forest employees get experience on horseback.

His co-instructor is three-year-old Slim, who is literally champing at the bit to get the day started.

“I really like Slim,” Davidson said. “Slim is very curious. He's very willing. He's always willing to try to get the job done. He's one of the good ones for sure.

 Crosby Davidson and Slim take a moment to get ready before day three of their clinic in Rifle on Feb. 8.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Crosby Davidson and Slim take a moment to get ready before day three of their clinic in Rifle on Feb. 8.

Slim is three years old, and hasn’t had very many riders. Today is a learning experience for him, too, to help him get adjusted to being around lots of different people. Once he’s more comfortable, he’ll do a variety of work, like hauling heavy loads in and out of wilderness areas.

Or, he’ll help folks like Recreation Specialist Trish Barrere.

“A lot of our areas are off trails or off-road,” she said. “So (we’re) getting out to kind of see how the public is using our public lands outside of, you know, our designated systems.

She says she’s often hiking 10 miles or more a day in the Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District, and getting comfortable on horseback will make those days a lot easier.

Trish Barrere and Nathan during a break in the action at the Garfield County Fairgrounds on Feb. 8, 2024.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Trish Barrere and Nathan during a break in the action at the Garfield County Fairgrounds on Feb. 8, 2024.

Like many of the other Forest Service employees, Barrere has limited equestrian experience. She said it's been a two-way street for her and the horse to get to know each other.

“(We’ve learned) to really have them respect you and to, you know, ask them and then you sometimes have to demand them to do things,” she said of the experience. “But that they ultimately want to work.”

Barrere is now part of a very long tradition of horseback riding in the U.S. Forest Service, one that dates back to the agency’s beginnings in the early 20th century.

Curtis Keetch is a ranger for the Blanco District, based in Meeker. He’s at the clinic to help and observe.

“Rangers at that time used to have ranger stations one day's ride away from each other for their district,” he said. “And so they would have one horse and one pack horse and pack all their gear for a week, all their food and everything, and ride from ranger station to ranger station to patrol their district and cover their ground.”

 Curtis Keetch (foreground) looks on as some of the Blanco district employees get comfortable on horseback on Feb. 8.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Curtis Keetch (foreground) looks on as some of the Blanco district employees get comfortable on horseback on Feb. 8.

Keetch’s district is a lot more remote than the rest of the forest, with a lot of wilderness and no ski resorts.

“We like to joke that hunting season is our ski season on the Blanco district.”

That means having to be just as handy with a horse as the professional hunting and fishing guides that do business in their district, and, of course, the ranchers that have grazing permits in the Flat Tops Wilderness.

“We have a lot of cattle grazing and sheep grazing, and to go out and ride their allotments with them is an important part of the job.”

 Scott Woodall and his mule, Tammy, look on as WRNF employees do training exercises on horseback on Feb. 8.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
Scott Woodall and his mule, Tammy, look on as WRNF employees do training exercises on horseback on Feb. 8.

And pretty much everyone who works on the White River National Forest will have to get on a horse at some point, according to Scott Woodall, the forest’s rangeland program manager.

“We have geologists and botanists and wildlife biologists and fisheries biologists and hydrologists and geologists and rangeland ecologists,” he said. “And we all use these animals to get up to that high country.”

And whether a horse is hauling lumber to build a bridge in the wilderness, or carrying supplies for a three-day drop camp for field work, Crosby Davidson wants his students to recognize and understand them as valuable coworkers.

"Getting a horse to where he's wanting to do exactly what I'm wanting to do," he said. “We're both kind of working in partnership to get a job done,” he said.

 A sign at the indoor arena of the Garfield County fairgrounds reminds riders that horses cannot exit through doors meant for people.
Caroline Llanes
/
Aspen Public Radio
A sign at the indoor arena of the Garfield County fairgrounds reminds riders that horses cannot exit through doors meant for people.

Copyright 2024 Aspen Public Radio . To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio.

U.S. Forest Service employees hear from Crosby Davidson at their horseback riding clinic on Feb. 8.
Caroline Llanes / Aspen Public Radio
/
Aspen Public Radio
U.S. Forest Service employees hear from Crosby Davidson at their horseback riding clinic on Feb. 8.
Crosby Davidson gives guidance to a U.S. Forest Service worker as she halters her horse on Feb. 8.
Caroline Llanes / Aspen Public Radio
/
Aspen Public Radio
Crosby Davidson gives guidance to a U.S. Forest Service worker as she halters her horse on Feb. 8.
After getting themselves on their horses, U.S. Forest Service workers walk around the indoor arena on Feb. 8, as Davidson offers critiques.
Caroline Llanes / Aspen Public Radio
/
Aspen Public Radio
After getting themselves on their horses, U.S. Forest Service workers walk around the indoor arena on Feb. 8, as Davidson offers critiques.

Caroline Llanes