Meet the Trail Community: Equestrian
Horses have provided Kathy Young, president of Back Country Horsemen of Washington, the opportunity to immerse herself in nature all her life. Hear what spurred her connection to trails.
For WTA's 50th Anniversary, we're highlighting trail users across Washington state. Hear what hiking means to them, and the future of their on-trail pursuits.
“I grew up a mile away from here, as the crow flies,” she tells me in the parking lot at Taylor Mountain Forest, a King County Park. “My horse was my transportation when I was a kid. Back then, Highway 18 was more like a two lane road here, and my horse, Fasci, was a way to get around Maple Valley and visit my friends. We’d meet up and then ride through here and up to the top of Tiger Mountain.”
But as she grew up, life happened, and she rode less and less often. “I got married and had kids, and the horses just kind of went away.”
Then, about 15 years ago, Kathy’s daughter Melissa came home from a visit at her friend’s house.
“She said, ‘Mom, Ali has all these ribbons on her wall in her room. I want those ribbons, too!”
The ribbons were prizes for showing horses. So Kathy rejoined the equestrian world, this time with her daughter. She began by looking for a horse, a process which can be daunting.
“When you are going to entrust an inexperienced rider to a 1,100 pound animal, it takes time to find the right horse. We found Kanoka, a beautiful ‘been there done that’ appaloosa mare. Next we found Kiya, my mare, and we were all in. We started going to Western Gaming events, and Melissa did get her ribbons.”
Back to basics and beyond
Kiya helped Kathy renewed her love for exploring trails on horseback. She revisited her old stomping grounds on Taylor and Tiger Mountains, but decided she wanted to go further. She and Melissa branched out, visiting the Methow Valley, where they found a found a horse B&B -- Mazama Ranch House -- and did some riding in the valley. Then they visited Central Washington for a vacation at Ancient Lakes, where they met some members of Back Country Horsemen (BCH) for the first time, and had a few nice rides with them.
“After that visit, I joined BCH. Initially, it was to find new places to camp. Most of what I was doing was frontcountry and I wanted to learn where else I could spend more time in the backcountry with my horse.”
She spent a couple of years on the fringes of the organization, gleaning information on good riding trails and making friends. She often rode with a friend she met through BCH, Brandi Miller. “[Brandi] recorded that she’d traveled something like 1,000 miles on Washington trails over the course of the next year, and I was usually with her.”
As time went on, Kathy’s involvement in Back Country Horsemen increased, and she finally joined her first trail work party, hosted by Back Country Horsemen at Taylor Mountain Forest. Now, that’s how she prefers to spend her time on trail.
“I find [trail work] the most fun and satisfying way to be on trail. We do some riding for fun still, but we always wind up looking at the trail for what needs to be done next.”
Kathy’s involvement in trail work has been good for the organization, too. Shortly after that first work party, Kathy was asked to be the secretary for the local Tahoma chapter. And at a statewide work party last year, the BCHW president Trygve Culp tapped Kathy on the shoulder and said, “I’m retiring, do you want to be president?”
The ask was daunting at first, but Kathy accepted the challenge. She recognizes how much she can learn from the established members of the organization.
“So many of the people in BCH have been there since it started. I’m a comparative newbie, so they have so much to teach me. I recently got my USFS saw certification, and now I’m working on getting a pack horse. I want a horse that I can both pack and ride. You want a good animal you can put a kid or a new person on, so that you can help the next generation see what is out there.”
Training future stewards
For Kathy, getting the next generation outside is of the utmost importance, both for their creativity and their individuality.
“I see so much emphasis placed on being on a team. And there’s a lot of value in that –- I love the camaraderie that develops when a group is out doing trail maintenance. But there’s also a lot of value to spending time in nature alone and having unregimented time. Getting a kid outside allows them to be more exploratory and creative. It’s good for them to play in a stream or the mud.”
One of her favorite stories about fostering that creativity is a recent outing she took with her seven-year-old grandson at Taylor Mountain. It was his first trail ride.
“We went down the trail, and across a bridge, and then we walked through this little stream, on our horses, and he was so excited to have just done that water crossing for the first time that he was riding down the trail, singing out loud, because he was so happy he didn’t know how to contain himself.”
Kathy believes fostering that unbridled excitement in children is important for the future of Washington’s trails.
“We have to create that connection to nature. It’s harder for BCH because of the cost associated with keeping horses, but I’d like to get more people on trails in any way at all. It’s important that people realize what’s available for them to use so they don’t lose it. And we need the next generation to care about it in order to keep it going.”
It takes all kinds to keep trails accessible. Young and old, riders and hikers. To effect change, Back Country Horsemen collaborates with the Pacific Crest Trail Association and WTA and other user groups, creating a powerful force that helps advocate and care for trails, but she knows we can’t do it alone.
“Volunteer work isn’t free, but it’s more cost-effective sometimes than a paid trail crew. BCH spent 30,000 hours clearing trails last year. But it would be easier to get on top of the maintenance backlog if there was more funding. So we also spend time talking to legislators –- we want them to know we love and care about these places.”
And what’s Kathy’s favorite place she’s working to preserve?
“If I had to pack up and go tomorrow, I’d probably head to the Goat Rocks. But the truth is, the best trail is the next one on your list.”