BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, issue 534

BLM ranger inspires youth with burros and horses

BLM Ranger Reid Hopkins has used the belief that horses build character to help hundreds of at-risk youth become productive citizens.

For the more than fifteen years, Hopkins has trained youth on how to handle and pack horses and mules. The youth represent Rotary in Bishop, California’s annual Mule Day Parade, riding BLM wild horse and burro mules. They also take part in competition. “It helps promote the wild horse and burro program,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins, a BLM Bakersfield Field Office employee, has used horses and mules -- including some gathered from BLM land --to help youth headed for trouble turn their lives around. The program, which teaches equine and backcountry skills, is aimed at youngsters 11 to 17 who aren’t in trouble but are headed that way, Hopkins explained. “We teach them success comes from hard work, period,” he said. “You need to set goals and go for it.” (text continues below)

young men in cowboy hats and riding horses carry the U.S. flag in the parade
Will Kleier leads the One Spade pack string in the Mule Days parade in Bishop last month.

The annual program starts in January and finishes in May when they participate in the Bishop Mule Days. Youngsters learn how to ride and pack, care for the animals and behave in the backcountry. “Leave no trace” ethics and safety are taught during a pack trip into the Golden Trout and John Muir wildernesses.  “We’ve had kids who had never been out of a 16-square-block area in their lives,” he said. “Some of them had never been fishing.”

Current packing equipment is used as well as equipment that would have been used by the 7th Cavalry. “We emphasize the historical side of packing,” he said, using it as an educational tool on western history.

About seven years ago, Hopkins and his wife, Eileen, established 1 Spade Youth Packers as an umbrella organization for the youth program. The program is largely supported by the Kern River Valley Rotary Club and is operated at no cost to the youth or their families.

Hopkins and others follow up with the youth following the five-month program to help them continue their education or find jobs. “Two of them are welders in the Taft oil fields. They learned to tie the knots they use in the oil fields while packing.” Others have found jobs based on their experience such as packing or shoeing horses.

The inspiration for the youth program came from Hopkins’ own experience as an out-of-control youth from a rough household. “I was headed for trouble and one guy showed me the way out. This is my way of giving something back,” he said.

two men soeak as burros watch
Reid Hopkins tells BLM California State Director Jim Kenna about his work with at-risk youth through One Spade Youth Packers, during Kenna's recent visit to the Eastern Sierra.

RELATED: BLM California wild horse and burro program

- David Christy, BLM Central California District Public Affairs Officer (May 2012)

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