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Yosemite rangers to kick up their heels

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Yosemite rangers to kick up their heels

Postby ERIC » Tue May 16, 2006 4:35 pm

Park rangers to kick up their heels

Mounted school graduates latest class of riders today

BY GEORGE SNYDER
MODESTO BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: May 12, 2006, 05:21:11 AM PDT


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — A dozen new graduates of the U.S. National Park Service's Servicewide Mounted School will sport the colors today in a traditional ceremony participants say harkens back to the days of horse troops.

Unknown to many of the millions of awed tourists who visit Yosemite National Park each year, U.S. troops, including the African-American 24th Infantry and 9th Cavalry, patrolled the high passes of the Sierra Nevada at the turn of the last century, protecting the region's newly created national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Image
Yosemite National Park rangers Jost Zwiebell, left, Chris Kuvlesky, Mark Dowdle and Adrienne Freeman practice for today's graduation ceremony from the park service's mounted school.
GEORGE SNYDER/THE BEE


"We're carrying on the tradition of the mounted ranger that the park visitor loves to see," said Billie Patrick, 50, a 25-year veteran ranger at Yosemite, president of the California Mounted Officers Association and the mounted school's no-nonsense instructor.

The school teaches basic horsemanship to Yosemite Park rangers and employees, as well as representatives from other agencies, including the federal Bureau of Land Management and the California State Parks system.

Patrick, between firm shouts of encouragement to the drilling riders via an electronic loudspeaker, said those skills include riding, grooming, hoof care, basic veterinarian skills, packing, trailering and public relations.

The mounts, mostly quarter horses and primarily bays and sorrels — darker horses and from 15 to 16 hands tall — went through their paces, including figure eights, double rings, threading the needle and roundabouts with nary a glitch beneath Patrick's firm eye.

During the six-week course, the students spend at least six hours a day in the saddle, often many more, learning the skills it takes to stay on board.

Graduates also participate in color guard ceremonies, including funerals of fallen law enforcement officers and other official observances.

Patrick, who has been riding horses for 40 years while, participated in a Sept. 11 memorial observance in Washington, D.C., in 2002.

Since its start in 1973, some 300students have gone through the paces at the school. This year's course had a long waiting list.

Yosemite Park Ranger Adrienne Freeman, 31, who will participate in today's 10 a.m. ceremony behind the Awahanee Hotel, also is a park public information officer.

She said she volunteered for the grueling course because of her love of horses and for what the mounted rangers represent.

Freeman, who rode as a youth near Santa Cruz, said it was horses that led her to become a park ranger.

"Why would a public information officer go to horse school?," she asked. "It's because people love horses; it's an animal in the park and one they can touch and connect to. …

"That's how I connected with the parks. … I saw some rangers in Sequoia and Kings Canyon as a kid, and that's when I realized that's what I wanted to be."

Not only are mounted rangers great public relations tools, Freeman said, they help in several other ways.

"We do 40 horse carryouts and more than 200 search and rescues a year," she said.

"Horses particularly help in isolated limb injury situations," Freeman said. "Instead of sending in a 10-member litter team, we use two people and two horses. It's more efficient in certain circumstances, especially in places even a helicopter can't reach."

Not everyone who takes the course is a ranger or involved in law enforcement.

"I just wanted to give back to the park in some way," said Mariposa's Kelly Maples, 22, who works as an administrative assistant in the park superintendent's office. She intends to serve this season as a volunteer.

"I've been riding since 5," she said, "including rodeos. I love horses and this course gives you a sense of what horses go through and how rangers feel on a horse. I'm really looking forward to a great summer."

Bee staff writer George Snyder can be reached at 536-9005 or gsnyder@modbee.com.
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ERIC
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