My adventure with Poncho

The Forest Service owns horses and mules from all types of backgrounds, including those with backgrounds as pack mules for Mexican cartels. Poncho is one of those lucky rescue mules who now lives at the Payson Ranger Station in Arizona. A couple of weeks ago, a team of 6 Forest Service range and watershed folks, including myself, rode about 12 miles into the Mazatzal wilderness (the “Matz”) near Payson, where we camped for two nights and conducted field work. Poncho was great on day 1, besides almost getting me stuck under a tree branch and getting off the trail multiple times. Oh, and he escaped the corral twice during the night, so one of the range people on a different horse had to lasso him up, cowboy style. Poncho really is “as stubborn as a mule” sometimes…

The “Matz” is an extremely scenic place; everywhere I looked there was another breathtaking view. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos on horseback, as horseback riding requires both hands and constant focus at all times. Our goal for this trip was to reach never-before-surveyed springs in the “Matz” and survey them (take various notes, measurements and pictures of the water feature). We have to do these every so often. However, due to the terrain, one of our horses got injured on the first day, so we decided to let him rest the following day. This meant that instead of riding the horses to the springs on day 2, we decided to hike to the ones that we could get to on foot.

On day 3, one of the range folks gave the injured horse what he called “horse Tylenol” and we were off, backtracking all our steps from day 1, where we hit one last spring on the way back. This day was the hardest for Poncho and I. My saddle and the saddle pad kept sliding around, no matter how many times we readjusted it. Poncho was walking much slower than usual because the saddle was making him uncomfortable, and because the other horse was still injured, the 12 mile ride back out of the “Matz” took longer than it should have. It was a long and very tiring day. By midday, my lower back and my knees were aching, I was tired, and it was only getting hotter. After an entire day of riding, we finally got back to our federal vehicles, loaded all the horses and mules back into the trailers, and the watershed team and I were off to Phoenix, while the range team drove the horses back to Payson. All in all, it was a historical trip. The watershed team and the range team worked together to survey springs in the “Matz” for the first time. Another similar, though much longer trip, is being planned because this one was so successful!

So that is my story on how I rode an ex-cartel mule into the remote wilderness for 3 days. This was one of the hardest, yet coolest experience I have had during my internship so far and I would definitely do it again with my trusty buddy Poncho.

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