If you've been a listener to Ranger Bill for any length of time, then you will be familiar with the following names: King, Bess, Maude, Matilda, and of course Storm. These are the names of the Big Pine National Forest's ranger horses. As in this week's story, Stumpy Gets 30 Days, ranger horses contribute an important part of the work and daily activities of our rangers - riding trail, herding animals, searching for missing hikers and campers, security and crowd control, carrying food and equipment, even marching in parades, and so much more.
I was curious what rangers look for in a horse. Do rangers use thoroughbred horses? How is a ranger horse trained? I asked Tennessee park ranger Marty Silver those questions. And Marty directed my questions to long-time horseman and park ranger Thurman Mullins. The following is an email Thurman sent me recently:
Our friend Marty Silvers forwarded your e-mail to me and asked me to respond. I love all breeds of horses and I guess at one time or the other have owned or worked the majority of breeds. At present I manage a Ranch in my other life and we raise American Quarter Horses and American Paint Horses which are extremely versatile and are used in some areas of the country for any and all Ranger type duties. The US Park Service primarily uses Thoroughbreds or at least they were when I attended their Training program in the early 1970's.
I was asked in 1973 to put together a Horse Mounted Program for Tennessee State Parks. We were fortunate that we had a versatile animal named after the State being The Tennessee Walking Horse. Although all animals are individuals, typically, the Tennessee Walking Horse breed is noted for a great temperament, an easy ride and easily trained for Patrol duties. In Tennessee State Parks they also provided a great opportunity for a living history program. We purchased the original horses but soon received quality donation horses and equipment from the Walking Horse Owners Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse Owners, Breeders and Exhibitors Association. The Carolyn Cross Family, the John Dunn Family, the Red Epps Family, The Bob Womack Family, Bob Cherry and others saw the advertising advantages of seeing their breed on display in Tennessee's State Parks and this was a big help in the initial years. Author and Artist Jack Knox (now deceased) spoke at our first training sessions and Rangers were furnished with his book on the Tennessee Walking Horse.
The primary reason it seemed to me that the US Park Police liked the Thoroughbreds was the consistent height more than any other factor. Many of the agencies across the Nation will argue the advantages of the American Paint, the American Quarter Horse or whatever breed they may be using and they are great versatile horses. Depending on the part of the country I was in, would have a great deal to do with my selection of a mount. I ranched 3500 acres in Tamulipas, Mexico several years ago and the terrain would go from desert to Jungle and our mount of choice were small mules.
Hope this helps and feel free to contact me if I may provide further information,
Thurman Mullins, Long Hunter State Park
Thurman also sent me several photos and newspaper and magazine articles about ranger horses. I will post some of that information in blogs over the next few weeks on the subject of A Ranger's Best Friend.