- by Dan Applebaker
As we get older, and begin to sense our mortality, most of us begin to consider how we can hand down our knowledge and skills to the next generation. We often find that is not an easy task. Often the younger generation does not have the same mindset, desires, interests, or concerns that we have developed. We ponder, when is the right time to step back, “hand down the reins” and become an advisor, while the next generation takes over the decisions and the accomplishments.
Most of us would likely associate “Handing down the Reins” to passing the reins of a green colt to a son or daughter to start, knowing that we have handed down the necessary education of how to turn that colt in to a well-trained horse. Would we then have the confidence and the patience that we could step back and let our next generation train that colt in the manner that they choose - and as we have hopefully taught them?
The great Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux Sitting Bull once said, “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children”. But, the idea of “Handing Down the Reins” can go much further with education than just “handing them down” to our children. Does it not also include how we maintain our lives, our backcountry, and our Back Country Horsemen organization? Does it also mean to instill the desire to learn the traditional use of horses and mules in the back country? Can it be the learning of the traditional use of pack stock and gear, as well as learning state of the art methods of camping to protect our backcountry/ wilderness resource while enjoying the wild lands of our nation?
I’m reminded of our Back Country Horsemen of Oregon bumper sticker stating, “The Wilderness is My Second Home”. We understand that many equestrians that have not visited our Wilderness Areas, even on day rides or especially on overnight or longer trips, may harbor some fear of that experience. Can those of us that are knowledgeable, experienced and comfortable in Wilderness hand down these assets to those that are not experienced and may be uncomfortable in a wilderness setting? There are so many questions.
The Wilderness Preservation System was established by the passing of the Wilderness Act in 1964, along with other Wilderness Areas established individually and under State Wilderness Acts passed since that time. That all happened in the generation that currently makes up most of the Back Country Horsemen of Oregon’s membership, and especially those members stepping up to administer, manage and guide the organization.
If we can hand down the ability to visit, experience, and enjoy our great Wilderness resource; can we also pass down appreciation of wilderness to the degree necessary to support and work to preserve our values of wilderness (as well as our equestrian access) for the benefit and enjoyment of all? Is our willingness to support and work to preserve our Wilderness and backcountry access not the main reason the Back Country Horsemen volunteer so many hours of maintenance work? Isn’t that volunteer work done to build credibility with the managing agencies and the public by showing that, “horsemen really do care”? Does handing down this ability include educating and turning over our Wilderness System to only our youth? What about including the 20 to 40 year old age group in that effort to hand down the reins, or to include even more of our old timer generation?
Can our generation hand down the ability to recognize the many threats (apparent and hidden) to Wilderness as a part of handing down the responsibility of sustaining the Wilderness System we have created? Will our generation have the ability to hand down the knowledge and leadership needed to sustain appropriate levels of recreational saddle and pack stock use in our Wilderness areas? We better, or we may very well lose the ability to access it with our stock. If we are not vigilant in the arena of Public Lands we may yet lose a lot of access during our generation. Without the ability to access our Wilderness Areas, we lose much of the experience and enjoyment so necessary to maintain support for the Wilderness System.
I think we may find that we have been doing a pretty danged good job of “Handing Down the Reins” already. How many thousands of people have passed through the Horse Packing and Wilderness Skills Clinic through the 32 years of educational information and skills it shared and left with more knowledge of the things mentioned here? There is always more that can be taught, more that can be experienced, and more that can be learned.
Winston Churchill said it well, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle”. Hopefully, we can add “riding the many trails in our Wilderness Areas", and hand down those reins to the ones that will follow our lead.