Redshank Riders host stock packing clinic and demonstration at Vail Ranch

Expert horseman, outfitter and teacher Michael Lewis demonstrates the special rigging used for securing the loads on the mules at the Stock Packing Clinic and Demonstration presented by the Redshank Riders at Vail Headquarters Saturday, Nov. 4.  Diane Sieker photo

Mules, packing equipment, real cowboys, outfitters and trail masters set up camp at the historic Vail Headquarters in Temecula Saturday, Nov. 4, for a stock packing clinic demonstration.

Sponsored in part by Winchester Saddlery, the clinic also included the Cheflavor restaurant serving beverages and a barbecue lunch to those in attendance.

Anza’s Redshank Riders unit of the Back Country Horsemen of California presented the clinic, featuring Dandy and Diamond the mules and packing expert and educator Michael Lewis.

The event was held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a rapt audience of packing enthusiasts, equestrians and those simply curious about the animals and gear. Demonstrations of the various tack, methods of use and rope rigging were given. Hands on practice was offered teaching the “Box,” “Diamond,” and “Basket” hitches or lashing techniques used in animal packing. These hitches are used to secure a pair of pack-bags, pack-boxes or other gear onto a base, such as a pack saddle frame. Then the load must be carefully balanced to avoid discomfort to the animal carrying it.

There were even “iron mules” on hand for people to get up close and personal with the gear used to carry water, food, tools and other supplies on mule- or horse-back along trails where motor vehicles cannot or are not permitted to go. These 55-gallon steel barrels were used to show the saddle frames and cinches and their correct placement on the mule.

The Redshank Riders are a unit of the Back Country Horsemen of America, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving 194 local and state chapters across the country. BCHA chapters are active in 31 states and consist of about 13,000 members who are dedicated to keeping trails open for equestrians, hikers, cyclists and others on public lands. These groups work with trail partners and land management agencies to clear and maintain trails all over the United States.

Three chapters of the BCHA were represented and assisted with the packing demonstrations: Michael Lewis and Greg Bruce with the Redshank Riders, Ray Spence of the San Diego Back Country Horsemen and Mike Williams, president of the Santa Ana River Unit from Norco.

Packing in important tools, food, water, fuel and other items needed in the wilderness to maintain and even create trails for the enjoyment of many different enthusiasts. The art of packing is just that, an art, an acquired skill encompassing horsemanship, a knowledge of the gear and tack, trail sense and just plain smarts.

The mules Dandy and Diamond were agreeable to all the excitement and calmly submitted to all the good-natured attention. Mules, a cross between a horse and a donkey, are excellent pack animals due to their being sure-footed, patient, intelligent and perfectly adapted to work in groups. They also recover quickly from a day’s hard work and rugged travel. Those are important traits for any pack animal and mules excel at these jobs.

Greg Bruce, president of the Redhank Riders was on hand to aid the demonstrations and answer questions.

The BCHA is “not a riding club,” Bruce said. “Their agenda is education and keeping trails open for bikers, hikers and horsemen. We support the people that build and maintain trails.”

The BCHA works with certain trail partners and these include the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, state parks and in the west, the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

These organizations stress “Leave No Trace,” when using the public trail systems. The idea is to teach people to enjoy the outdoor experience and leave as little evidence as to their passing as possible, so that people coming behind them may enjoy the very same experience of beauty as they did. Packing out trash and broken items, keeping to the trails so as to avoid disturbing sensitive habitats and treating the lands with utmost respect are all part of “Leave No Trace.”

Redshank Riders Treasurer Nyna Cheek, also a Temecula Valley High School teacher, and Stacy Kuhns, Redshank Riders State Representative and Education Co-Chair, hosted a display explaining the methods and effects of “Leave No Trace” policies. They also offered education on mules and their impact on humans throughout our history.

Bruce revealed that this packing demonstration will become an annual event that no outdoor and equestrian enthusiast will want to miss.

To discover more about the BCHA, visit their website at

The Redshank Riders can be reached by visiting

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