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Non-Profit Spotlight

Back Country Horsemen

Near the edge of Riverside State Park, Ken Carmichael leans back in his chair near Ranger and Silver, his two shaggy Tennessee Walking Horses. It’s a crisp, clear morning, and soon it will be time to hit the trails. Before saddling up, Carmichael shares a story about the connection between a horse and its rider.

“I owned a horse for 13 years that I bought from a friend,” he says. “Before that, my friend was on a ride with the horse one day out here in Riverside, and he got a terrible headache. He lay down and told the horse to bring him home. They made it back to Rivermere Stables, where he was lifted out of the saddle and taken to the hospital to find out he had a serious brain tumor. If he’d been on a bicycle that day, he’d have died. The horse brought him home.”

It’s a classic American partnership: horse and rider.  And being on a horse might be the most classic—even ancient—outdoors experience on the American landscape.

Carmichael is one of the founders of the local Ponderosa Chapter of Back Country Horsemen (BCH), a nationwide organization formed in Montana in 1973. “Our mission is to preserve the rights of responsible horsemen to use horses and mules on public land,” he says. BCH builds and maintains equestrian trails and facilities, promotes education of the “leave no trace” wilderness ethic, and advocates for its mission among policymakers.

One major recent BCH accomplishment (with leadership from Riverside State Park Manager Chris Guidotti) was the 2013-2015 effort to greatly improve the Riverside State Park Equestrian Center. With help from grants, business partnerships, and lots of donated labor by BCH members, Spokane now has a place for people to exercise their horses, enjoy equestrian events, and of course ride the trails. Horse-friendly campsites offer an opportunity for visitors to pull in a horse trailer and make Riverside their home base for a vacation of riding the region’s best horse trails: Mt. Spokane State Park, Rock Creek, Liberty Lake, Fishtrap, and several others.

Carmichael’s Ponderosa Chapter of BCH has seen the value of partnering with INB. “We set up our banking with INB, but beyond that, we were also invited to use their space to hold our meetings, and that’s really been a help.”

Spending time with Carmichael, it’s clear that there is something basic that drives him—something beyond organizations and grants and projects. It comes down to the sacred experience of the ride: this is what he wants to pass on to future generations.

“It’s a tremendous way to see the country,” he says. “You’re sitting up high, not worrying about footing, and taking in the scenery. And it’s a connection. A partnership. You can tell him your secrets, and he won’t tell anyone.”