Back Country horsemen train next generation

Mark Davis, Powell Tribune photo Ryder Whisler, 6, concentrates on trail riding lessons Saturday while sporting his wide-brim hat. More than two dozen children took the specialized training course.

POWELL — While Cole Rutherford guided his white mule through a maze of obstacles set out for training purposes, his mom, Megan, was beaming with pride as she watched from the shadows of the Silver Spur Arena. At 8, her youngest of three boys was confident in his commands.

The day’s training will help Cole and twin brothers Thayme and Logan, 10, prepare for summer trail rides in the mountains, Megan Rutherford said. It’s just part of their continuing learning process. Owning their own mules will help build a good foundation for the boys’ futures.

“It teaches them a lot of life lessons, like patience,” Megan said.

It also teaches them responsibility.

“There’s a lot to be said as far as having to get up and go out in the cold and feed [the animals] in the morning before school,” she said.

It was a packed house Saturday at the arena near Powell. About two dozen children learned techniques while in the saddle and parents were also treated with a packing clinic, giving them an opportunity for their own growth. The training day was organized by the Shoshone Back Country Horsemen, who were sharing their passion for area trail riding and hoping to attract new members to the club. 

The group is the most active in the national organization of Back Country Horsemen, clearing about 150 miles of trails annually in the Shoshone National Forest. Without the volunteers, many area trail systems would become overgrown, littered with fallen trees and possibly lost forever. But with an aging membership, they need to attract new members if they want to be able to continue at their current pace. 

Community service is harder to sell these days, said club president Dale Olson.

“Kids are so occupied with other things, like sports and electronics and so forth. It takes up so much of their time,” Olson said.

 However, if the number of kids coming for the training day is any indication of future success, the club has a bright one. About three times as many kids went through the course Saturday than in past years. They spent hours on horseback and shared a homemade lunch of hotdogs, hamburgers, pasta salad and gobs of tasty cookies prepared by club members.

The club members, who have a high level of riding skills and intimate knowledge of the Absaroka Range wilderness, supplemented the training with cowboys and cowgirls and local rodeo stars. 

J.W. Robinson was one of several members offering individual lessons, spending hours with the kids in the outdoor arena. He said it’s more than just teaching them how to ride.

“Hopefully they learned a little about themselves as well,” Robinson said, adding, “It’s exciting to give back to the community a little bit and be involved in helping these kids with their horses and horsemanship.”

With many members “getting up there” in age, “we need new blood in here,” Olson said. “Young people are the future.”

An event like Saturday’s “also gives us a chance to meet the parents and share a little bit about what we do,” he said. “Once you get the parents to join, usually the kids will follow.”

The group has a busy summer schedule building corrals at trailheads and clearing trails damaged in fires — as well as the usual maintenance. Crews usually get to the main trails every two years.

“It’s going to be a full summer,” Olson said, “and we’d like to have some new people come and join us to help out.”