NINEMILE, Mont. - Trucks and chainsaws are off-limits in Montana's vast wildness areas, so maintaining them is no easy task. It requires crews to hone backcountry skills like axemanship and cross-cutting.
Along with housing horses and mules for several forest service districts, the Ninemile Ranger Station also houses the Wildlands Training Center. It holds training sessions in a wide range of outdoor skills, including packing, survival and dutch oven cooking.
Its courses are so popular among forest service workers, the public began flooding the center with requests to be able to attend the classes too.
The Forest Service now allows the public to sign up and learn proper outdoorsmanship. People come from as far away as Norway to enroll in the various training sessions.
I got to join in on a two day Defensive Horsemanship course. People take it for several reasons.
Mike Krings' horse is new to him and has been a bit antsy, so Krings brought it more than 500 miles from Decker in southwest Montana.
"We really didn't know if he was a good or bad horse for our tasks, so this training is both to to see if he's suitable for use in the backcountry as well as for me to get a little more horsemanship skills," says Krings.
Others are working on their comfort levels around horses.
Jamila McConnell tells me, "The last time I rode, I had to be about 12-years*old. So, you might as well say I am learning all over again."
One dangerous problem Ninemile Ranch Manager Marc Haskins sees over and over is people overestimating their abilities to control a horse.
"One thing you hear a lot of is that people like to express their ability as being better than it really is, which puts them sometimes in harm's way because their panic sets in when things aren't going their way, because they actually don't know what they are doing," explains Haskins.
Participants like me quickly realized that it is more the riders, than the horses, who need practice.
At the end of the course Krings added, "Some of these drills are helping out and I think it's probably just as much the rider's fault as anything."
McConnell said, "I learned quite a bit about horses and my capabilities as far as riding horses."
The Forest Service says this course is important because the skills aren't being handed down.
According to Haskins, "the ranching part of this life is dwindling out and the horsemanship is too, so to keep the horsemanship going, we've got to provide classes like these to help people get educated."
So, not only are these training sessions making backcountry work and recreational trips safer, they also are preserving an historic part of our Montana lifestyle.