13 hour day… but HORSES

The last week of September was cold but sunny. Up in the mountains, the wind tore through us and I was glad I had thought to bring my fleece jacket. But what really kept me warm was the anticipation; that day, we were to take horses down a mountain trail. It was something people come to Wyoming and spend a hundred dollars to do, and yet here I was, getting paid to ride a horse all day. I was elated: bucket list item completed and I hadn’t lifted a finger to set it up. My supervisor had arranged the whole thing with someone in the office who owned horses, and all I needed to do was be there, ready to jump off my horse and pound in signposts.

My horse that day was named Lassie. She was a beautiful brown mare who immediately gave me the side eye before turning her back on me, unimpressed. But after I brushed her down she seemed slightly less disdainful of my presence, and consented to some groundwork bonding of my having her run in a circle. Then we loaded up the horses: two were to be ridden and the third was to carry the posts and pounder in a crazy looking saddlebag setup. Everything and everyone secured, we began our day.

Bonding with Lassie
Jazz rocking this balancing act with patience

While I had taken horseback riding lessons as a child and had a few experiences riding horses since then, the day had a steep learning curve. Lassie especially liked running me into low-hanging tree branches to see if I would fall off (which, despite being routinely stabbed and gaining quite a few twigs in my hair, I managed to avoid). Generally, we would ride until we either found an old trail post that needed to be replaced, or until we reach an ideal location for a new carsonite post. Carsonites are the brown fiberglass posts to which one attaches stickers or other forms of signage, and are commonly used to designate trails or the boundaries of public lands. We pounded these posts into the ground using our obnoxiously orange and heavy carsonite pounder, which utilized gravity and some human force to drive the carsonite into the ground. But woe to you who chooses a rocky location for your sign – between a carsonite and a rock, the rock wins and you are left with a mangled carsonite that has a small chance of proving reusable. And even more woe to those who touch the carsonite with bare hands while attaching signage, for the fiberglass likes to embed itself in unsuspecting or careless fingers and itches for days after.

Pounding in carsonites
On the trail

The morning moved somewhat slowly. By the time we stopped for lunch, we had fixed or added some 20 carsonites on the trail and entered truly steep and beautiful terrain. After lunch, we began the process of rerouting the later part of the trail, our main goal for the day. But after a few more hours, it became clear that we simply did not have enough signage to complete this task, making it so next year’s CLM intern will also be able to have a wonderful day of horses and trails and signs to look forward to. When we turned around, I switched places with my supervisor, who had been hiking ahead and scouting out spots for signage. Hiking back up the many hills we had covered, it hit me just how impressive horses are, with their ability to travel long distances with great weights on their backs and not really break a sweat, whereas I was dying be the bottom of the fourth hill. But the vigorous hike was an essential break for my aching body, so I couldn’t complain.

Vistas from the trail
Struggling up a hill behind my supervisor

By the time we returned to the trail head the light was starting to fail. We had achieved much of our task, but it had taken longer than anticipated. Driving back to the office, I knew that although my body would not thank me the next morning for the 6+ horse I had spent on a horse, it was completely worth it. Not many people get to have such adventures on a work day and I know myself to be extremely lucky. Although the workday ended up being 13 hours, it was an awesome experience that I will always remember as being a highlight of my time in Wyoming.

Obligatory end-of-the-day photo with Lassie, who did such a good job!

-Buffalo BLM Rec Intern

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