When the request for comments regarding this topic was put out by American Trails, we circulated it among our various chapters of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington. We have had many discussions over the years about how horses and pack stock are in fact the sole method by which physically disabled individuals can still fully access the trail systems on our public lands. Many of our own members are aging baby boomers who grew up during the national explosion in outdoor recreation, and while our legs can’t take us to the same places they once did, our horses do. I myself still visit regularly by horseback backcountry sites I used as a youth to stage climbing and hiking excursions from. It is fairly typical that the “old” people you find on wilderness and backcountry trails these days – are horsemen and horsewomen.
We also find that riding horses proves therapeutic benefits to developmentally disabled individuals, again giving them an experience of motion, control, and exhilaration that they can not get through everyday life. In my county in Washington, we put on weekly riding sessions at a Kiwanis summer camp for challenged individuals. The riding sessions are one of the highlights of stay for many of the campers. While most of our organizational riders are backcountry trail horsemen, none of them hesitate to volunteer to help with these camps. This carries over to the public lands trailheads, most with mounting ramps for the disabled – built by volunteers, perhaps, because we will be the ones using them soon enough.
It is said that we Backcountry Riders are riders till death. I know this to be the case from dealing with the loss of friends who passed away from natural causes on a day they were riding or on a day just after. Horses were the extension by which their trails experiences were truly life long ones.
With respect to the request for comments, we felt that this topic of using horses as an important means of accessibility was a notable omission. We just did not know how to put it into words. Having now read the comments submitted by the American Horse Council (AHC), on behalf of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, I want to emphasize their statement in that I know three thousand horse riders in Washington who feel those remarks are well spoken and exactly to the point. And those are just the ones I know.
Public Lands Committee Chairman,
Backcountry Horsemen of Washington