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BCHC Mid Valley Unit

Youth Horse Camp

BCHC had its second annual Youth Horse Camp.
All photos courtesy of Karen Lopes.
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[Ed. Note: We don't publish names of minors on their pictures.]

Happy child

Happy child and mule

Happy children

Happy children weighing a pannier

Happy children

Happy children learning from a ranger

Happy children

Happy children eating

Happy children

Happy children

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Youth Horse Camp

by Karen Lopes

Mid Valley Unit BCHC 2nd Annual Youth Horse Camp

Kerrick Corral, Stanislaus National Forest

June 27-29, 2014

For the second year in a row, the Mid Valley Unit of BCHC hosted a horse camp for youths between the ages of nine to seventeen.

The committee determined that we had a pretty good program in 2013, and so followed the same general schedule of events. The twelve girls and two boys were dropped off by parents around 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning; some parents had a difficult time saying goodbye and departing. We started with introductions of participants and staff; then Cathy explained an icebreaker activity, where the fourteen participants tried to collect clothespins off of the other participants, while also learning each other's names.

Participants were then given their 2014 Mid Valley Youth Horse Camp tee shirts, with their names on the front. This helped the committee members with the fourteen new names! I went over camp logistics, covering basics such as when using a pit toilet, it is important to close the lid of the toilet, and shut the door on your way out! In addition, we had a strict boundary of where the boys' tent area was, as well as the girls, and there was not to be any crossovers!

Dave gave a brief overview of BCHC Mid Valley Unit; who we are and what we do. He mentioned that all of the adults that were working with the Youth Camp were volunteers, and that various members of the BCHC donate many hours with trail clearing, providing pack support, and teaching Leave No Trace in order to help the agencies that manage our public lands. Soon after Vicki and Tina provided a hearty lunch for everyone, and immediately we were witnessing the development of new friendships as the youth campers began to mingle. It wasn't long before we were headed up and over the hill to the Aspen Meadows Pack Station, run by Josh Bloom.

Josh had seven horses tied up, and John and Doug gave a brief Stock Safety demonstration. In order to practice their safety around horses, participants then grabbed a brush and started grooming the animals. These seven pack station mounts were very patient and forgiving as kids crowded in between and brushed from head to tail. Participants then saddled the horses; for some it was an everyday event; but a few had very limited experience saddling their own mounts. Of course the wranglers took a second look at the saddles to make sure cinches were laying flat and saddles were facing the right direction!

It wasn't long and we were off on our first trail ride. Dave and I rode drag on the first group of younger riders, and Doug and John followed the teens in the second group. This ride took us on a ridge trail that overlooks Bell Meadows, which sits just outside the Emigrant Wilderness, located in the Stanislaus National Forest. From there we looped around and headed up the back side of the Dodge Ridge Ski area. From the top of this ridge we could look North-East and see peaks from the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. We rode directly under one of the ski lifts; I believe that nearly all of the riders snapped a picture of that! Our first ride was only about two hours long, but after the participants dismounted, I noticed many of them walking like they were bow-legged and sore!

Upon returning to camp, we had some tents that still needed to be set up. We had trouble fitting our twelve young ladies into four tents...even though two of the tents were quite large. The committee came to the conclusion that we will be enforcing a weight limit on personal items next year! Some of these girls had three to four large bags for the three day, two night camp! Once the tents were up, and the girls had their belongings settled in, we met back at the campfire ring, which was our main meeting area. (I don't mention the two young men during this time; their tent was already up and they were settled long before we even started with the girls! Garrett actually set up most of the tents!) I introduced Leave No Trace Wilderness Ethics. We began with a simple activity where the students were broken into small groups, and they wrote out all of the items they would need to pack, and all of the things they would need to do in order to "Plan Ahead and Prepare" for a horse camping trip. Afterwards, each group presented their list to the rest of the class. As many of you well know, this is the first LNT principle. Soon after, Vicki, Tina and Cathy announced that dinner was ready, and so we settled in for hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and watermelon.

After dinner, we met in the meadow across from our camp area. Here we discussed LNT Principle #2, "Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces." We discussed the importance of staying on the trail, and then had the young campers find an ideal camping spot, in relation to where the creek and trail were located. Some parked themselves in the middle of the meadow; others next to the creek, and still others chose a grassy area under a lone tree. We explained why camping in the meadow wouldn't be the best choice, and gave them a second try. Soon they figured out that the best location would be back in the trees, away from the pristine meadow and giant mosquitos!

Around the campfire, we each took a turn reflecting on the day's ride. Participants made a comment about their mounts, and then a comment about the ride in general. Many of them loved their horse's names, others liked that their horse moved slowly and carefully on the trail. Most of them enjoyed the various views of the landscape; the mountains, trees, flowers, and clouds. Some hadn't experienced a trail that narrow nor that steep, and that brought up a bit of adrenaline in their blood. (They were tough; even if they were a little scared, they didn't complain!) Larry was back with his guitar, and soon he had the youths singing and enjoying old western trail songs. After s'mores, campfire songs and some relaxing, it was time to turn in to the tents. It took a little extra time on the girls' side, but soon all was quiet as the campers fell asleep for the night.

Saturday morning found us enjoying a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes and fruit, courtesy of Vicki, Tina, and Cathy. As soon as breakfast was completed, we made our sack lunches and loaded them in a set of boxes that Doug packed for the day's ride. We had to get rolling, as we had a full day planned for our young BCHC members. Dave began with "Be Considerate of Other Visitors." Explaining that there will be other people on the trail today, and we must respect their Wilderness Experience. We then divided up into three groups. Doug and John discussed the various parts of a sawbuck pack saddle, and how to check the fit of the cinches, britchin, and breast collar. Dave and Valerie demonstrated how to balance various panniers, using different items one might need on a pack trip, as well as how some of the tools are carried for the trail clearing projects. I had the participants tie a box hitch on our trusty iron mule, Sparky. Even though it was the first time for most of them, they took to it right away. I see some potential box hitch youth contest contenders at our next rendezvous! Participants had about twenty minutes at each station, and rotated through all three. By 10:00 a.m., we were off to the pack station again. Participants were mounted up, some on the same horses they had ridden the day before; others with new mounts to try out. Dave, Larry, and I again rode drag on the younger riders, while Doug, John, and Valerie stayed with the second group of teenagers. We were able to see Haystack Peak, which is located in Yosemite National Park, which lies just South-East of the Emigrant Wilderness. Our group was extremely enthusiastic, and announced each section of trail to the riders behind them. Their favorite seemed to be the rock steps. I'm usually, "Oh, great, rock steps." They were, "Yeah! More rock steps!!" This trail leads us to the Crabtree Trailhead, where the second group caught up to us and passed while we were making some readjustments. From there it is a good uphill climb, and then we ride along the ridge and into the Emigrant Wilderness, where we find Camp Lake, our lunch destination. We enjoyed our lunches, and then it wasn't long before some of the kids were in the lake! Garrett even had his fishing pole and gave it a few attempts before reasoning that all of the splashing from our swimmers wasn't an ideal spot for fishing. After a short time, Dave took the group on a short walk to an illegal fire ring. He talked about how campfires in the wilderness need to be small, a minimum of 100 feet from the trail, and 200 feet from water. Building large, ill-placed campfires are unsightly, can lead to water contamination, and could also earn you a fine from the Forest Service. Once this LNT principle was explained, our two groups were mounted up and departed for home.

The ride home was much quieter, as many of our youth horse campers didn't have that many hours of trail riding experience. They certainly couldn't complain about having ample time in the saddle; they definitely got their fill of saddle time! When we returned to camp, it was close to dinner. Molly Fuller, the Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor, was our guest speaker. After a wonderful dinner of Calzones, which the campers were able to stuff with various ingredients, Molly talked about the anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law September 3, 1964. Molly also had a great activity for our participants that taught them about the "Ten Essentials." After identifying the ten essentials, Molly gave her backpack to the group. She had them pull out the items one by one, and identify if they were part of the "Ten Essentials." Molly did in fact have all ten items, as well as some additional equipment. The group decided which extra items they would want to carry in their backpack, and which items they felt they could leave behind. In addition, Molly explained how to properly use a compass and a map. Even though we had had a long day, our participants were very interested and engaged with Molly's presentation. Next, Larry was back with the "2nd Annual Kowboy Kazoo Contest." Although not all participated in the contest, the entire group took part in the judging. It was a close "Kazoo Off", and although the trophy stayed in the Pedroza's family, we ended up with a new champion, Danielle. (She just happens to be the cousin to the 2013 champion, Anna!) It had been a long, fun, busy day, and we were all ready to find our sleeping bags! The giggles and whispering didn't last very long once we got everyone in their tents this night!

Sunday morning we again enjoyed a wonderful breakfast prepared by Vicki, Tina, and Cathy. Breakfast burritos with all of the fixings! Dave went over Stock Restraint, and we walked around assessing the committee member's highlines. It was soon time to pack up! Participants were given time to roll up sleeping bags, fold up mats, and pack their bags. (The adults enjoyed a short "Morning Devotional" with Doug while the kids were busy packing.) We were then off to the pack station one last time in order for our participants to learn a little about "Volunteer Service." Each of our participants picked up a rake, shovel, broom or litter picker uppers, and went to work. They picked up hay and manure in the yard area, swept the decks of the buildings, and picked up microtrash throughout the entire pack station. We visited with some of the wranglers, then said our Thank-You's and Goodbye's. We headed back to the camp, and participants completed a survey that Cathy created to provide us with valuable feedback. We then had our closing ceremony, where each staffer stood in line and shook hands and/or hugged each camper as they came through the line. They were given Mid Valley Unit pins, and a LNT card to remember their many lessons. Parents began showing up, we ate lunch, visited, and soon our young campers were on their way home.

It was another successful event! We were able to spend three days and two nights with fourteen youngsters, sharing our goals and objective to the next generation of public land stewards. We hope to continue this worthwhile event, and want to give a huge "Thank-You" to our supporters. Terri Arrington, who surprised us last year with a donation, and then made yet another generous donation again this year! Josh Bloom, who gives us a great deal on the stock rentals for our event. In addition, he has been very accommodating to our various requests, allowing our campers more time around stock. Embroidery Plus, in Ceres, who makes a beautiful tee shirt with our Mid Valley Unit logo for each of the participants at a very affordable price. Molly Fuller, who takes the time to talk with our campers about the importance of Wilderness, and how it relates to them.

Thank-You Youth Campers! Barbara, Garrett, Cheyenne, Shelby, Halley, Kaitlyn, Koryn, Nathan, Mikayla, Emily, Danielle, Brenna, Haley, and Anna. Thank-You to your parents as well! And last, but not least, to our Youth Horse Camp Committee. Our fearless leader, Dennis Serpa, completed most of the paperwork and preparation, but then was out of the country for a family vacation during the camp this year. Dave Moser, LNT Master, who covered many of the LNT principles, packing, and stock restraint. Doug Dollarhide, official "boys chaperone", also shared his knowledge of stock safety and packing. Cathy Dollarhide, official "take care of whatever needed doing" person! (I honestly don't know how we did this without her last year!) John Marshall, 4-H Leader, offered his help in Stock Safety, and generally "kept the kids in line." Valerie Perry took pictures, supervised the kids, and also pitched in wherever there was a need. Vicki Whisler and Tina MacLaughlan planned the meals, purchased all of the necessary food and supplies, and then created delightful meals that were enjoyed and devoured by all! Larry Wood, entertainer extraordinaire, delighted the entire group with his guitar, songs, and kazoos. Myself, Karen Lopes, also a LNT Master, taught some of the LNT principles, and helped facilitate the activities of the weekend. Once again, we are very proud of our participants, and our committee for another great event!

You may go to the main Youth Activities page, or Home.

Backcountry Horsemen of California - Mid Valley Unit
PO Box 1709
Modesto CA 95353-1709

Questions about the Mid Valley Unit? Ask Dennise Davis,
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